Thursday, May 23, 2013

Does Your Book Marketing Have A Leak?

Once you own a house, you never stop shelling out money.  Painting, landscaping, electrical work, roofs, fencing, windows… it all needs to be maintained, fixed, replaced, or enhanced, either for style and comfort or basic functionality.  The American Dream includes owning your home, but every time I pay a bill related to my house, I question it. 

So when the opportunity came to hire a plumber for a leaky sink I went into do-it-yourself mode.

First, I ignored the problem, letting the sink drip while a plastic container caught the droplets.

Next, I avoid it, by shutting the water off and just segregating the sink.  If it’s not dripping, there’s no problem, right? Denial only got me so far.

Then my wife threatened to call a plumber.  I saw dollar signs flash and got to work.  I actually got on the floor to really investigate where the water was coming from.  It turned out to be something relatively simple, but when you avoid fixing things you imagine the worst.  I needed to replace a $4.95 faucet connector.  I went to Home Depot, and got two of them, deciding to avert a future problem by replacing the one that wasn’t broken as well.

My wife was pleasantly surprised, but not without a list of other things needing attention.  For now, I survive another day without having to get hosed by my house.

The scenario taught me a few lessons that can apply to how you approach book marketing. .

1.  Don’t let any task seem too daunting or overwhelming. Confront it head on.

2.  Problems don’t fix themselves – and in fact grow worse with time.  But when you zero in on them, the solution may not be as costly or as painful as you feared.

3.  Sometimes you need professional help and even though it seems like a cost to you, you’re investing in something big and important.  It’s worth it.

4.   Balance your needs and wants.  When I heard the sink was failing, I had to step into action.  But other to-do items on the list were not as pressing nor important.  Set your priorities and attack them one at a time.

5.   You need a push to get you in the right direction.  For me, it was a nagging wife (I love you, if you’re reading this, honey), but for authors, sometimes the nag or pull has to come from within yourself to take action.

Book marketing may not be like a leaky sink, but sometimes they both feel like they lead to money going down the drain.  But have hope and perseverance – sometimes you can fix the problem yourself and other times, thankfully, a professional is available to help.

Interview With Coke Author Mark Pendergrast

1.     What type of books do you write?  Good question, since it is hard to pin me down.  One reviewer called me "the ultimate freelance journalist with an eclectic mind."  I don't like being typecast, although I seem to be the caffeine man with my two most popular books, histories of Coca-Cola (For God, Country & Coca-Cola) and coffee (Uncommon Grounds).  I've also written a really fascinating history of mirrors (Mirror Mirror) the covers everything from the myth of Narcissus through huge telescope mirrors and their ability to serve as time machines into the past of the universe. 

And I spent five years writing Inside the Outbreaks, a history of the Epidemic Intelligence Service -- yes, there really is such an orgination, a sort of medical CIA that began in 1951 as a part of the CDC looking for bioterrorism but EIS officers continue to serve as the world's primary disease detectives.  Almost made into a TV series -- but they were into supernatural stuff that year.  And Victims of Memory, probably my most important book, about the repressed memory epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s in which misguided therapists guided people to "remember" childhood sexual abuse that never occurred in reality.

And Japan's Tipping Point, a short but important 2011 book I wrote after landing in Japan to research renewable energy only two months after the earthquake or tsunami/Fukushimameltdown. I argue that Japan is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the rest of the world in terms of dealing with peak oil and climate change.  Oh, and I almost forgot my children's books.  Jack and the Bean Soup retells the story of Jack and the beanstalk as an elaborate but very funny fart joke book.  You get the idea.  And Silly Sadie, currently in press, is another fractured fairy tale in which a goofy princess turns into a frog and is nearly turned into frogs' legs for the royal dinner.

2. What is your newest book about?  For God, Country & Coca-Cola is the unbelievable saga of how Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 as a nerve tonic and soda fountain drink to cure a mythical disease (neurasthenia, a status disease for high-powered businessmen and sensitive women) as well as a hangover and headache cure.  It contained a bit of cocaine, more caffeine, and even more sugar, plus essential oils in the secret formula -- which is in my book, by the way, in two versions.  I found a facsimile of the original formula seen for the first time in this third edition.  I could go on and on about Coca-Cola.

It was controversial in its early years, forced to take out the cocaine in 1903, but still called "dope" throughout the Depression.  Yet by the time of World War II, it had become a symbol of the American way of life, mostly through relentless advertising of "the pause that refreshes," also positioned as Santa's favorite drink.  It was deemed an "essential morale booster" for the American soldiers, and Coca-Cola men were sent oversees in army uniforms at government expense to start 64 bottling plants behind the lines, thus setting Coke up for worldwide conquest in the post-war world. 

There's also a chapter about Coca-Cola inside Nazi Germany (Fanta was originally invented as a Nazi beverage), a chapter on Communists spreading rumors about the evils of Coke, a chapter on the 1985 debacle of New Coke, etc.  This new edition brings the saga up to date, with the company foundering, suffering from a racial discrimination lawsuit, SEC/FBI probes, health scares, allegations of torture and murder of union employees in Colombian Coca-Cola bottling plants and supposedly depleting the water table in India.  Morale was in the tank when Neville Isdell took over as CEO in 2004, but he turned the company around by 2008, when he handed the company off to current CEO Muhtar Kent, who has ramped it up a notch, trying to double sales by the year 2020.  All this while sugary soft drinks like Coca-Cola are under attack as prime culprits in the obesity epidemic.  The company has diversified, offering 3,500 drinks worldwide, about a quarter of them low or no-calorie.

3. What inspired you to write it?  I grew up in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola was invented and its world headquarters remain.  My mother wouldn't let me drink it. She thought it was bad for me, so I snuck it with delightful sinfulness at my friends' houses.  I like to say my book is my revenge on my mother.  There were other family connections.  My grandfather was a pharmacist who served Coke and who testified at an early, crucial Coca-Cola trial, and my grandmother nearly married Robert Woodruff, the long-time head of Coca-Cola.  Mostly, though, I wrote it because the story is so powerful.  Coca-Cola, a non-essential product, is the world's most widely distributed single consumer product, available legally in all but two countries in the world -- North Korea and Cuba -- and it has enormous power and cultural impact.

4.  What is the writing process like for you?  Well, how should I put this?  I love having written something entertaining and thoughtful, but I don't much like the process of writing, sitting in a chair in front of my computer.  I get absorbed in it, though, and often forget to get up and walk around enough.  I could go on in detail, but basically, I like to write in subsections, little stories that have a dramatic beginning and ending and that can be read at bedtime.  Then I read it the next day, revise it, and go on to what happened next...

5. What did you do before you became an author?  I used to play the alphabet occupation game to see how many letters I could cover.  Let's see -- accountant, babysitter, carpenter, ditch-digger... but mostly I was a teacher and librarian.  I majored in English literature and taught high school English for three years, then elementary school for two years.  I have always thought of myself (and still do) primarily as a teacher, but I couldn't take our public school system.  So I went back and get a masters in library science and was an academic librarian for over a decade.  All the while, I wrote freelance articles for fun, then got a book contract and never looked back...

6.  How does it feel to be a published author? I feel as if I have finally found what I was meant to do.  I also like to sing, and one of my favorites is Jimmy Buffett's song, "A Sailor Looks at Forty," which has a line, "my occupational hazard is, my occupation's just not around," which I always identified with.  

7.  Any advice for struggling writers?  I'm still a struggling writer, so how dare I offer advice?  If you write non-fiction, don't make anything up, but make it read like a novel.  Write about what you care about, but you really also need to keep some sort of eye on what will sell.  If you don't love what you're writing, don't bother.  It's too hard and uncertain.

8. Where do you see book publishing heading I'm not happy right now with the book publishing industry, which is struggling to stay afloat in the wake of the recession, readers turning more to Tweeting and Facebooking, and the rise of ebooks, which so far don't offer much return for anyone.  That means that publishers tend to chase the latest success and turn down a lot of good book proposals because they are ruled by accountants and marketers.  "We love your proposal but don't see a big enough market for it" has become an unfortunate mantra.  That's not to say that great books aren't being published.  Also, the good news is that it's cheap and easy to self-publish.  The bad news is that anyone, including lousy writers, can self-publish, so it's hard to get attention.  And print reviews are dying -- though blogs and online reviews are growing.  So, it's a changing world of publishing out there.

For more information, please see:


Time To Throw A PR Hail Mary?

What Happens When you Really Get to Know Your Connections?

Book Publicists Don’t Know Everything

Writers Read This: You Are Marketers

Pitching To Understaffed Media

Why Authors – and Publicists & Publishers Need A Therapist

Going Small Nets Big Media Splash For Authors

Online Retail Tax Levels Book Marketplace For Bookstores, Amazon

Amazon TV Could Lift Books

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This blog is copyrighted material by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2013 

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