Thursday, March 5, 2015

Authors & Publishers: Take Note of Car Ads

There are two dominant types of advertisements for cars.  One tries to sell you on a brand or specific car model.  The other showcases prices at car dealers.  Could either approach work to sell your book?

Authors should never lead with price as the reason to buy their book.  Even at free, no one wants to waste their time on a book they believe won’t deliver whatever it is they are looking for.  When it comes to cars, ironically, the price is emphasized when, in fact, the price is relatively high.

Car ads usually won’t highlight the total sticker price of a car.  Instead, it’ll emphasize a low monthly payment, bury the upfront and extra fee numbers, and hope you are seduced by what is in big print.  If you sell on price, instead of saying your book is $14.95, say it’s 99c per chapter or 1c for every 30 words.

The brand ads for cars are closer to what you’d want to model, except these ads often don’t emphasize substance such as mpg, safety ratings, and the things we should judge a car by.  Instead they market an image that appeals to our personality or senses.  Don’t you want the car driven by the successful businessman or the one with a beautiful woman draped over it?  Commercials emphasize speed, and yet, what roads and traffic conditions – and laws – really allow you to race like a daredevil?

Should your advertisement market to consumers with facts and reasoning about your book, or should it sell the ideal, the fantasy, the psychological thrill?

Book advertisements may not really have a model outside their industry, but they could learn from the ads of other industries, including film, theater, and sports.

Book ads haven’t changed a lot over the years.  They still quote testimonials of famous people, pull from reviews and highlight the author’s name if a known entity.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing if those ads sold you on the anticipated benefits of reading such a book, whether a novel or non-fiction?

Here’s an example of an ad that falls short.  A two-page spread in the Feb. 22 NY Times Book Review for A Spool of Blue Thread never gives a single line as to what the book is about.  Knopf spent all of this money to say Anne Tyler has a new book out.  But there’s the problem.  If you are a fan, you don’t need the ad to remind you.  And even a fan wants to know what the book is about.  For the vast majority of people who never read her books or even heard of her, they won’t buy a book solely because she got nice blurbs.  I think 85% of the ad is great but by not using some real estate to scrawl a few descriptive sentences is a colossal failure.  But, to be fair, other publishers take the same approach, hoping you’ll judge a book by its cover – or title or blurbs.  The following ads lacked any descriptive copy: The Future of the Mind, Mightier than the Sword, The Room, Redeployment – and that was just to page seven in that same NYT Book Review section.

Sometimes the hope is that the merit of who gave the blurb will win you over – or that the blurb will actually explain what the book is about.

Books can’t be sold like cars or dresses.  Books represent experiences, ideas, emotions and dreams.  The ad copy should tap into the core of the human essence.   

We may be a visual society or one that attaches itself to brand names, but you need to give me more than the Huffington Post saying the book is a “wonderful read” or The Seattle Times saying it “couldn’t put this book down.”  Tell me what the book is about!

Ads should be like a back cover of a trade paperback – tell me who wrote the book, toss in some blurbs, and give me a bulleted description of the book.  Anything less is useless.

What does it say about the intellectual process of reading if our reading decisions are made based on skimpy ads that are so far removed substantively from the craft it seeks to promote?


2015 Book PR & Marketing Toolkit: All New

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. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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