Friday, January 20, 2012

Pretty Girl Dilemma

I went to a comedy show last weekend and at its conclusion the host and two performers remained for an audience Q and A.  One of the questions posed asked them if anything traumatic in their childhood made them turn to comedy.  One of the comedians admitted to being ridiculed in high school and it was through joke-telling that he curried favor with his tormentors. Then he went on to say what he believes is truth, that boys who are nerdy, fat or ugly may end up pursuing comedy as a career but that there’s an industry dearth of women in the field because attractive or pretty women don’t get picked on and don’t have to do anything to get others to like them. Is this really how life is?  Thought I think even pretty girls get bullied or have their own psychological issues or demons, I tend to agree that anyone who is good looking doesn’t necessarily have to work as hard as others.  People will naturally gravitate towards them.  If that’s the case, how does it apply to book marketing?

Ponder these questions:

  • If your book title is “attractive” is that enough to win a sale?

  • If your cover image visually draws you in, will that clinch the sale?

  • If the book is about or filled with beauty -- animals, nature, photography, fashion, attractive people, sex – will it have a better chance to sell than others?

  • Does it matter if the author photo is hot?

  • Should the person marketing your book be attractive or have a sexualized voice?

Advertisers and marketers already know the answer to these questions.  How many people in sales are good-looking?  How many advertisements feature unattractive people?

I guess it’s human nature that we’re talking about here.  Business is based on the assumptions and practices of other businesses and consumers.  When it’s to the advantage of a business to not sell on sex appeal, it will do so, but otherwise it defaults to good looks. All things being equal, do you want to buy from someone you think is visually arresting or someone who is ordinary, or downright ugly?

So now I wonder about the book marketing practice.  Is my industry also dealing in sex?  Why are so many book publicists at publishing houses young women?  Why do certain books only get published if the author is attractive, such as books on health, diet, design, relationships, etc?  Why do the television networks only put on-air talent out there that is for the most part, pretty?

It is the way of the world. I think it’s gotten better though. It’s not just pretty, young, white women who are showcased. There is more diversity in marketing, advertising, PR and the news media than ever before – including race, sexual orientation, sex, and other surface characteristics.  But I also can see that the pretty girl dilemma is still out there and it has infused the book and media industry even though the industry prides itself on intellect, communication, and savvy.  But the public wants them smart and pretty – until consumers tell us otherwise.

Interview With Jennifer Lankford, Publicist for Coliloquy

1. What inspired the launching of Coliloquy? Honestly, it was the most natural progression ever. Lisa Rutherford was just coming out of gaming and I had been buried in social media tools for a few years. We both wanted to do something more consumer-facing, and we wanted it to be something that we loved.  We are both voracious readers and storytellers at heart, and when we realized that we could build something truly unique and work with amazing authors…It's been so fun and rewarding!

2. How does Coliloquy at as a digital publisher of active and interactive fiction for the Kindle? We look for stories that are pushing against the boundaries of traditional book formats, where we feel like our technology can add real value to the author's craft. We also look for authors who think differently -- they may not have a full manuscript, but they have a great story idea and maybe want additional reader feedback or want to test some ideas out. Once we sign an author, we work with them to understand our platform's capabilities and brainstorm ideas for their books. We then provide traditional editorial and marketing support, leading up to publication.

You say that this is Amazon's first networked application and you are using the digital format to play with the fiction narrative form. What does that mean for the writer or consumer?

That's a big question! For authors, it means that we want them to strip away their expectations about how to write for the publishing industry, and tell their story in the best way possible -- be creative and test ideas. The combination really de-risks the writing process, by speeding the time-to-market and giving them actionable reader feedback.

For consumers, it's about increasing the depth of the relationship with authors and their characters. Right now, the publishing industry is focused on selling copies of a book, regardless of how much you enjoy it. Our authors genuinely want to delight and engage over a long-term story-telling experience.

3. Where do you think book publishing is heading? On a macro level, e-reading devices make it stunningly easy for readers to access and consume literature. In terms of distribution, efficiency will trump the legacy publishing industry, and we'll see more and more literature moving to a digital format.

The space we're playing in -- innovating around the art form, based on the technical capabilities of a digital platform -- is still in its infancy, and we are so excited to be a part of how that develops.

4. What do you love most about being a part of the industry? The authors and the agents we've worked with are fantastic, and we love helping authors write new forms of fiction. It's been a blast!

5. What did you do before creating Coliloquy? Here's a link to our bios:
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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