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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Looking Back At Book Advertisements, As Seen In A Book



How have books been advertised in the past?  

A book, Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements by Dwight Garner, published in 2009, shows with hundreds of examples how books were advertised throughout the 20th century.

Garner, a New York Times book critic and the founding books editor at Salon.com, brought together original ads for some of the most acclaimed and best-selling books of the last century.  We see ads for The Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, On the Road, Lolita, The Joy of Sex, Catch -22, Helter Skelter, Satantic Verses, and dozens of other classics.

“These ads show us famous books when they were simply new volumes jostling for attention on bookstore shelves, not yet icons of our literary culture,” reads the cover flap.  Indeed, this book shows over 300 vintage book advertisements, revealing not only clever copy and attention-getting imagery, but a sense of the nation’s psychology, sociology, and political makeup with its choice of presentation.  Ads not only sell us on a book – they tell us about ourselves.

“These advertisements are full of insights about how publishers sought to market provocative and intellectually thorny works of literature to mass audiences,"writes Garner. He adds: ”Book advertising is an under-explored topic.  Scholars have mostly slipped around the subject. Most of the ads here have not been seen, let alone scrutinized since they first appeared in print.”

Though “book advertising’s print heyday’s behind us,” says Garner, “the century’s earliest book ads were generally straightforward, leaning on typography more than on other design elements.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t fascinating.”

Gone with the Wind, Farenheit 451, The Grapes of Wrath, The Fountainhead, All the King’s Men and the Naked and Dead, are among the advertised titles featured in the book.  The ads seem so simple and reflective of the past – content-heavy and filled with wall-to-wall words.

Ads can really capture what a book is about and they can sell readers on certain points or themes.  Ads also showcase a stunning image, making onlookers curious.  Many ads feature reviews or testimonials, but maybe that will change soon.

Today, book ads are dying.  They’ve moved online, though you still see them in PW, publishing trades, and some book review newspaper sections. Social media posts and email blasts are today’s book ads.


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.

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