While walking through Times Square with my eight-year-old son the other day, I saw the world through his fresh pair of eyes and found the hustle and bustle of the world’s most famous playground to serve as a model for ambitious writers looking to market and promote their books.
The little guy had never walked through this part of the city at night before. He was in awe of the bright lights, crowds of people, and the street peddlers. He was like a tourist, though the city is in his backyard as a resident of neighboring Westchester.
I grew up a city boy, making hundreds of trips on the subway from Brooklyn, to the core of a city that always has a flow of activity. It is never boring here.
My son observed how a lot of places sold similar stuff – NY-centric T-shirts, artwork, hats, and plastic memorabilia immortalizing landmarks and skyscrapers. He saw that the way to win business depended on a number of factors:
1. How attractive your display is (colors and lights help)
2. Your price (we were drawn to the $1 skyline photos)
3. Opportunity (a food vendor comes in handy when walking a lot)
4. The merchant that stayed open later won the business of stores that closed earlier
5. When you have a crowd gathered, sell anything – someone’s buying it
Authors and publishers can learn from this. Granted, most of the consumers came from other countries and states, or the suburbs, so they tend to buy useless things that get your attention for the moment. But when you’re a hardened New Yorker exposed to this daily, you tune it all out.
Authors and publishers need their version of Times Square, an area dedicated to books and all things literary. Consumers like book fairs. We need more of them – permanently. There should be a district in every city and town that caters to the arts, where a few blocks are dedicated to galleries, bookstores, and other intellectual experiences. Where as a red light district caters to the x-rated side of humanity, we need a green light district that showers us with the thinking side of life.
Times Square will always be around. It’s a big mall of theaters, restaurants, hotels, stores, and street vendors and scammers. The three-card Monty tables, hookers, and drug dealers have long been pushed aside, but the flashing-light streets are still littered with people looking for entertainment who themselves become part of the act.
Times Square seems insane to an eight-year-old. He noticed how no one paid attention to the traffic lights, including us. I told him that the rules are different here – you react to your surroundings.
He noticed a heavy police presence. I told him crowds of people invite criminals and terrorists.
He didn’t seem to need a deeper explanation.
I showed him where the New Year’s Eve ball drops from but he couldn’t imagine how that happens – a crystal ball falling from a building and not breaking.
He wasn’t fazed by all of the TV screen billboards sucking up the real estate on the sides of tall buildings. His generation is used to digital bombardment.
As our journey wrapped up and we picked up my wife and daughter (they saw Annie, my five-year-old's first Broadway play), we realized we’d spent several hours walking the streets. We had a memento to share – a street artist’s charcoal sketch of the two of us. It was terrible – my son looked like a girl and I looked like a freak.
Lesson learned: Some things sound like a cool idea, but don’t always turn out that way. The $15 piece of failed art was our proof that if you sell something, someone will buy it.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013
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