Missed Opportunities

Not too long ago I was watching a primetime television show, as I am wont to do. And lo and behold, there was a commercial for the next Stephen King novel. It contained all of the bells and whistles of a movie trailer, and made those book trailers put together by authors on their own dime (mine, for instance) look woefully inadequate in comparison.

Which got me thinking: what an enormous wasted opportunity. Now I’m far from a publishing expert. Despite years working as a freelance writer, book publishing is still relatively new and shiny to me. And perhaps because of that I can see when they’re dropping the ball.

After all, not to begrudge Stephen King these promotional efforts, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say his sales are probably consistently healthy. When Stephen King has a new book coming out, his die-hard fans will know about it months in advance. And it’s not like that’s a small following. In addition to the commercials, there were probably full page ads in major book review sections and magazines, special mailings to bookstores, co-op placement…which is all well and good. But since a major complaint in the industry is that there are fewer and fewer of these blockbuster authors to rely on these days, why not seize the opportunity to create more?

For example, what if part of the commercial was devoted to a relatively unknown author whose work is similar to King’s? Showcase both titles, so that once the fans have torn through King’s latest offering, when they’re still hungry for more, another book leaps into their mind. Perhaps even set up some sort of promotional marketing, a reduced price for the purchase of both titles. You let King’s fans know about his latest release, and hopefully you introduce them to someone new. Why not take advantage of a built-in readership and expand on it?

Sounds pretty basic, right? Especially since when a J.K. Rowling decides to hang up her hat, or Dan Brown takes years to produce his next runaway bestseller, publishers start reeling as their sales plummet. Compare it to a sports team: put all the money in your stars and lose depth. If Peyton Manning gets knocked out of the lineup, you’re in deep trouble. But build a solid stable of players behind those stars, you’ve still got a chance of making the playoffs, or generating solid sales.
(On a side note, I actually have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Dan Brown. Go ahead and laugh, but can you imagine the pressure that poor man is under, having to write a follow-up to Da Vinci Code, knowing that the critics are waiting with knives that grow sharper by the year? I
picture him locked away in a room somewhere a la Howard Hughes, naked and filthy and pacing. But maybe that’s just me).

Anyway, that’s my two cents. Build a team for the future, with a wide, solid base, not one that perches precariously on a few backs. But I’d love to hear what you think…

15 thoughts on “Missed Opportunities

  1. I totally agree with you. Mainly because when my favorite “big name” authors are between book releases, I am on the lookout for a new author to read. I rarely have time to make it to the bookstore, much less the time it takes to peruse the sections I enjoy to find a new author that sounds interesting.

    If there were more advertising about these lesser known individuals, I might actually have something to read other than Mental Health Nursing or Fluid and Electrolytes Made Easy. Not that those aren’t interesting or important to my education, but a body’s got to have a little more to survive on to mentally make it through the day.

    I love to reread the books I have, but I enjoy discovering a great book by a little known author even more. And I will brag about it to everyone I know!

    I guess another problem I have is that I need a book that will take more than 2 or 3 hours to read. That makes it a little harder to find newer authors because so many books that are out now have such small page counts. Help?

    You can always recommend someone to me! I will read it no matter the page count, but I like them to be thick books.

    I read the last Harry Potter book in less than 3 hours. Stephen King’s books take even less time because of the suspense keeping me locked in. Dan Brown has his work cut out for him. (Read them all, read them fast, waiting, waiting. . .) Dean Koontz, same problem. Laurell K. Hamilton, Karen Marie Moning, yours. . . They are just really good books, so the reading goes too fast. Then I am lost because I have nothing else to read, except nursing texts.

    I read a Norman Mailor book once. Took forever (3 days), but it was on the boring side.

    I know I am not the only psychotic reader out there. So you as you said, we would all benefit from the advertising of newer or lesser known authors. Heck, I would benefit just from the knowledge that they exist. I can take the rest from there.

  2. I don’t think the publishing industry gets the “coat-tails” concept.
    Once in awhile a star will take someone under her or her wings, with more than a blurb — maybe on a tour together.
    But, you’re absolutely right — a missed opportunity on a grand scale.

  3. So…did you share this with your publisher? It’s a brilliant idea, and a complete “duh” moment for publishers. Kind of like, what took so long for them to figure out they could put other stuff in M&M’s besides peanuts?

  4. Amazon has been doing somehting similar for a couple of years now. Check a book’s listing, and there’s often a section that says, “Buy this book, and this other book, for $$$.” I haven’t done it–I never lack for books I’m already looking for–so i don’t know if an additional discount is involved, but at least they’re getting you to look at more than just one book.

    This is among the reasons why publishing is suffering. Too many eggs in one basket, and no new ideas for getting more eggs.

  5. Have to agree with Mr. King here (cheers, bud). Amazon also has a section of, “People who bought this also bought…” and it’s a great way to get people buying similar authors they might not know of. In this case, it doesn’t even require Amazon to select which authors go with whom, they just use a program that tabulates the highest commonalities and groups them.

    Would that the publishing industry could come up with an idea like yours, Ms. Gagnon. I think authors are coming up with some great new ideas for publishers, but maybe are fighting an uphill, “It’s always been this way” battle.
    I loved what Sean Chercover did, showing the different covers and letting people vote (after the fact, of course). But wouldn’t that be a great marketing tool if they did it in advance! People could feel some ownership when the book finally came out, because they could have a say in what the cover looked like, and a reader who feels involved is one who will champion that work to others.

    Just my $.02

  6. REALLY GOOD points here, Michelle. Of course, a new author could always try the “James Patterson” promo. As a matter of fact, I noticed that one of his “co-authors” now has a book of their own out.

  7. That’s sheer genius Michelle!

    In any other business succession planning is critical, from high tech to baseball.

    Why publishing doesn’t seek ways to get a reliable supply chain set up, as well as build a good demand curve, is beyond me!

  8. If publishers would run with the idea of “coat tail” advertising they would almost certainly improve sales in a drastic way. I love great thrillers, military/espionage and world war 2 in particular (give me a good story about smashing up some nazis, soviets, or terrorists and I’m all over it…Semper Fi).

    Good new authors are hard to come by though. If the publishers made a system that pitched the next Forsythe, Clancy, or Ludlum to those readers (especially with that author’s endorsement) man o man…not only would their sales increase, but those new authors would flip with joy. And the readers out there would find themselves enjoying spending the money on them too.

    Wise up o’ great publishers. We, your people, need you to stand and be kings!

  9. I think it’s all about protecting the franchise. And it’s about good business. Note that I just wrote the same thought two ways.

    After a publishing house has forked over $3.8 gajillion for a writer’s next four books, it makes sense to back it up with a million bucks in promotion–even though the writer’s books would flourish without the advertising. It would make no sense, however, to spend even $50,000 to promote a book whose author received a $40,000 advance. (Would you install a $5,000 stereo in a car worth $4,000? I wouldn’t.) This is big reason why that first negotiation on the author’s advance is so important. It’s important that the publisher have a vested interest in making sure a book succeeds.

    I think there’s also an element of ego stroking, and I don’t mean that in a negative light. There comes a point in some writers’ careers when contracts reasonably require $X in promotion and advertising, along with first class airfare to stay at Ritz Carltons on their 20-city book tour. For a publisher to say no is to open the door for another publisher to steal the franchise.

  10. I have run some ideas past my publisher, but as you say J, the response is generally, “this is the way we’ve always done things,” with no regard for the fact that lately, it doesn’t appear to be working out that well for them. And Camille, you’re completely right, occasionally an author will take a writer under their wing (as Lee Child did for Cornelia’s first book), but why isn’t this a standard publishing technique? Why not always pair one of their well known authors with a lesser-known one on a shared tour? I know not all bestsellers would be willing to do it, but they’d probably be surprised by how many would. I always joke that publishing is one industry that’s the worst possible combination of the 21st century (in that you’re career is made or broken on the basis of the computerized sales records) and the 18th century (in that there remains very little innovation on the marketing and production end. I still send my manuscript corrections by mail, which is insane to me).
    And Ss Bratt- based on your reading list I definitely have some recommendations, I’ve been on a reading tear lately and have tons of suggestions. Email me directly if you’d like some…

  11. Makes sense doesn’t it, Michelle?! Who knows why the publishers don’t do this – but I suspect they worry that if they get the wrong ‘coat tail’ pick the public will take it out on the big name…like that would ever happen. I think they just focus on what they hope will be the blockbusters and find it difficult to contemplate any different kind of model than the one they’ve used for years now. As for Dan Brown – he gets no sympathy from me. He has an eager audience waiting for a new book – he should deliver. He will make gazillions no matter what it’s like and the pain of having to produce the ‘book that followed’ the Da Vinci Code will be finally over!

  12. One thing I note about S.King’s promo is that it’s extremely short, and uses rapid-fire cutting techniques. It gives just enough convey a sense of the tone, plus a few eye-catching images, and then–out. Here’s another idea–what if a few lesser-known authors pool their resources and develop a high-end trailer that promotes them as a group? And places it wisely? Just thinkin…

  13. Lots of great ideas! I’ve been suggesting a big author/new author effort to publishers for 10 years and as well a “testing book covers” before you publish the book and discover the cover doesn’t work. There is no other industry that knows so little about their consumers and does less to improve sales than publishing.

    It’s astonishing!

  14. There’s a website called Literature Map – http://www.literature-map.com/
    and if you type in an author’s name, it’ll give you suggested authors that have at least one aspect in common.

    I have NO idea what the criteria are for the suggestions. I typed in Alexander McCall Smith for a customer, and in addition names you’d expect, it threw in Loren Estelman and Kathy Reichs. I have no idea. But it does give some ideas, anyway.

    Great idea, Michelle!

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