Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Publishing Is Similar To The Playboy Club

The Playboy Club is a new television series launched on network television this fall.  The news media gave it a lot of coverage heading into its debut, highlighting how the 1960’s were coming to life the way Mad Men has done for its depiction of Madison Avenue.  It sounded cool – pretty women, hot costumes, nostalgia, and a peek into the world of the iconic magazine publisher, Hugh Hefner.  But the ratings never appeared and the show got canceled after airing just three episodes.  It may be surprising the show failed, but it’s more surprising at how quickly the network pulled the plug.

Imagine if book publishing worked that way, where a title that doesn’t sell to expectation is yanked from the shelves and burned?  Actually, publishers do work that way on titles that they release but never really support, leaving books to fend for themselves without advertising, publicity, or marketing help.  With book shelf space shrinking even the chance of a consumer discovering a book while browsing a store will decrease. As the book industry moves online, PR and marketing, in my opinion, become more important than ever.

What happened to The Playboy Club is a lesson to book publishing. Just because you present something as if it should be a hit doesn’t mean it will actually become one.  Also, don’t think you can always capitalize on the popularity of a brand (Playboy) or think you can duplicate a hit like Mad Men simply because it takes place in the 1960’s.  Publishing, like TV, and the movies is known to milk a name or a genre for all it’s worth, flooding the market with titles indistinguishable from the competition.  Perhaps publishers – and network executives – will look a little harder to create original, creative, and non-formulaic entertainment. If not, expect to see more cancelations of shows and returns of books.

Interview With Literary Agent Barbara Moulton, Founder Of The Moulton Agency in San Francisco

  1. What is it like to be a literary agent in today’s marketplace? It is more challenging than ever to find a  project that will sell. I've been in publishing since 1987 and I have never seen the market this tight. The big publishers are extremely risk-averse. Even if an author has a television series launching with the book it is not a guarantee for a deal. Small publishers are filling the gap, however, and getting very creative. They are much more willing to break out a new author as long as there is a solid platform for marketing.

  1. Where is the book industry heading? It is not news that everything is going digital, which I think is great because more men will buy e-books across categories. I like to think that there will still be a solid paper book market, because I love actual books, but I love that there are more ways to read a book than ever before.

  1. What do you love most about being part of the book world? The vast majority of book publishing people are smart, interesting, insightful, masters of general knowledge. I worked at HarperCollins in NY in the late 1980s, and the 7th floor, trade editorial, was packed with some of the most interesting and intelligent people, from 22-68 years old, many of them still in the business today. The greatly missed Larry Ashmead is a perfect example. He knew something about everything and was warm, funny and fascinating. He published numerous best sellers in nearly every category.

  1. What myths do authors operate under in regards to marketing and publicity? That publishers will automatically promote their books. The age of the publisher-sponsored author tour is a long time gone. Authors need to be self-promotion machines, whether fiction or nonfiction, you need social marketing, self-made seminars and workshops, personal connections with major media, tweet-mania, and a general savvy for getting your words on the air.

  1. What advice do you have for struggling writers? Don't quit your day job. Writing has to be a passion that you will enjoy whether or not you experience "success." Writing is long hard work that doesn't end when you finish writing your book. It is not for the faint of heart! Find an agent with whom you see eye-to-eye, because as the business changes you need one consistent person in your corner.

  1. What do you look for in the talent you decide to represent? I specialize in nonfiction, and I like working with journalists. Journalists are good at meeting deadlines and appreciate constructive criticism. They are experienced writers without a lot of personal ego attachment. (I was a journalist before moving over to book publishing, so I also tend to relate to them.) In other writers I look for the spark of passion about their subject, the ability to persuade, and the advocate-personality. I also prefer sanity in a writer. Many of the great writers didn't have that piece, but I still prefer it.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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