Marketing Lessons from Mad Men

@jamesscottbell


On a recent episode of Mad Men, “The Monolith,” a huge IBM computer is being installed in the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners. Don Draper, reduced to hack work as some sort of vindictive punishment, watches from his office.
A character named Lloyd is overseeing the installation. Taking a smoke break, Lloyd asks Don if advertising really works.
Don says, “It helps if you have a good product.”
Boom. All advertising wisdom and marketing strategy must ultimately be filtered through this one non-negotiable. You’ve gotta have a good product, a quality thing to sell.
This is as true for books as it is for Brylcreem. You can pour

all the time and money you want into getting the word out, but that only gets you an introduction. To succeed people have to like your product enough to become a repeat customer, this is why businesses that believe they have a good product to offer customers spend so much money on marketing campaigns from the likes of IRN, LLC and other marketing agencies.

So how do you know when you have a quality book? Here’s one way:
Find five beta readers, one of them a professional editor whom you pay. Do a little research and put in a little effort, and you’ll get a quality group together.
Four out of the five beta readers need to tell you they really liked your book. They don’t have to love it, though that would be the best result. But they have to more than like it. They have to really like it.
These are your scientific categories:
1. Loved it!
2. Really liked it!
3. Liked it.
4. Only okay.
5. Dreadful.
6. Don’t ever ask me to read anything of yours again.
7. I am getting a restraining order against you.
Your book needs to score a 1 or a 2 from 4 out of the 5 beta readers, and the professional editor must be one of the four.
Is that a high standard? You bet it is. Because if you want to be a name brand and not the generic, that’s where you need to aim.
The second thing Don says to Lloyd is, “What makes your product unique?” This is only slightly less important than the first lesson. You might be able to build a readership with well-written genre pieces that are, nevertheless, derivative. But to truly break out you need to give your writing something more.
What is that thing? It’s you. It’s your voice giving your story everything you’ve got. It’s your imagination churning to make your concept just a little fresher. It’s you going beyond the first thing that jumps into your mind. In every scene you are not settling for what’s obvious.
One exercise for coaxing out your voice is the page-long sentence. Every now and then in your WIP choose a single emotional moment. Then write one run-on sentence until it fills a page. Let your imagination go wild. Most of this you won’t use. But you will find, usually toward the middle or end of this exercise, some narrative gold. This is the stuff that sets you apart.
The third marketing lesson from Mad Men is this: don’t get drunk. Drunk Don Draper is not charming, artful or clever.
The fourth marketing lesson comes from a Don Draper pearl of wisdom: “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.” In advertising, the client demands to be dazzled. They need to believe the agency is going to work magic for them.
It’s the same with readers. They’ve given you a chance, they’ve paid their money and they’ve got your book. Will they love it? Make them love it. Then make them love the next one, and the next. It’s a high bar, as I mentioned, but it’s the only one worth stretching for. True, you’re not always going to make it, but you’ll be a better writer for the effort.
The final marketing lesson is this: It helps if your author photo looks like Don Draper. Lacking that, remember that people do form an opinion of you based on your public persona. Don’t just fling yourself wildly into social media madness. Be professional, courteous and positive. Make people glad when they read something from you, be it book, blog, update or tweet. Take the long view. Your career is a marathon and intemperate remarks can become pebbles in your shoes.
Brylcreem had one of the most famous ad lines in history: “A little dab’ll do ya.” 
Try a little dab of advertising wisdom and see if it doesn’t help your writing career.

So do you think about your books as part art, part craft and part product? Don’t you think you should? 
1+

Marketing Lessons from Mad Men

@jamesscottbell


On a recent episode of Mad Men, “The Monolith,” a huge IBM computer is being installed in the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners. Don Draper, reduced to hack work as some sort of vindictive punishment, watches from his office.
A character named Lloyd is overseeing the installation. Taking a smoke break, Lloyd asks Don if advertising really works.
Don says, “It helps if you have a good product.”
Boom. All advertising wisdom and marketing strategy must ultimately be filtered through this one non-negotiable. You’ve gotta have a good product, a quality thing to sell.
This is as true for books as it is for Brylcreem. You can pour

all the time and money you want into getting the word out, but that only gets you an introduction. To succeed people have to like your product enough to become a repeat customer.

So how do you know when you have a quality book? Here’s one way:
Find five beta readers, one of them a professional editor whom you pay. Do a little research and put in a little effort, and you’ll get a quality group together.
Four out of the five beta readers need to tell you they really liked your book. They don’t have to love it, though that would be the best result. But they have to more than like it. They have to really like it.
These are your scientific categories:
1. Loved it!
2. Really liked it!
3. Liked it.
4. Only okay.
5. Dreadful.
6. Don’t ever ask me to read anything of yours again.
7. I am getting a restraining order against you.
Your book needs to score a 1 or a 2 from 4 out of the 5 beta readers, and the professional editor must be one of the four.
Is that a high standard? You bet it is. Because if you want to be a name brand and not the generic, that’s where you need to aim.
The second thing Don says to Lloyd is, “What makes your product unique?” This is only slightly less important than the first lesson. You might be able to build a readership with well-written genre pieces that are, nevertheless, derivative. But to truly break out you need to give your writing something more.
What is that thing? It’s you. It’s your voice giving your story everything you’ve got. It’s your imagination churning to make your concept just a little fresher. It’s you going beyond the first thing that jumps into your mind. In every scene you are not settling for what’s obvious.
One exercise for coaxing out your voice is the page-long sentence. Every now and then in your WIP choose a single emotional moment. Then write one run-on sentence until it fills a page. Let your imagination go wild. Most of this you won’t use. But you will find, usually toward the middle or end of this exercise, some narrative gold. This is the stuff that sets you apart.
The third marketing lesson from Mad Men is this: don’t get drunk. Drunk Don Draper is not charming, artful or clever.
The fourth marketing lesson comes from a Don Draper pearl of wisdom: “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.” In advertising, the client demands to be dazzled. They need to believe the agency is going to work magic for them.
It’s the same with readers. They’ve given you a chance, they’ve paid their money and they’ve got your book. Will they love it? Make them love it. Then make them love the next one, and the next. It’s a high bar, as I mentioned, but it’s the only one worth stretching for. True, you’re not always going to make it, but you’ll be a better writer for the effort.
The final marketing lesson is this: It helps if your author photo looks like Don Draper. Lacking that, remember that people do form an opinion of you based on your public persona. Don’t just fling yourself wildly into social media madness. Be professional, courteous and positive. Make people glad when they read something from you, be it book, blog, update or tweet. Take the long view. Your career is a marathon and intemperate remarks can become pebbles in your shoes.
Brylcreem had one of the most famous ad lines in history: “A little dab’ll do ya.” 
Try a little dab of advertising wisdom and see if it doesn’t help your writing career.

So do you think about your books as part art, part craft and part product? Don’t you think you should? 
0

Living in the Past

I received a nice present in the mail this week from one of my best and oldest buds,  he being former radio personality extraordinaire, editor, movie critic and all around good guy Jeff Gelb. Jeff was and is a huge fan of popular culture, including detective fiction. He was at a Pulp Fiction Festival (the genre, not the film) in Los Angeles recently, visited the dealer room, and popped for a couple of old magazines from my past: Real Detective and For Men Only. Don’t tell anybody, but I got a little misty-eyed when I opened up that plain brown envelope and found those treasures.


Those magazines were a part of my childhood. I grew up in an era when gentlemen got haircuts every two to three weeks whether they needed it or not. The barber shops didn’t have all of the frou-frou crap that they have now. Amenities consisted of a barber pole in front, leather chairs to sit in while you waited for a barber, a gumball machine, and magazines. None of the barbers — not stylists, but barbers — would have been mistaken for Ru-Paul, either. Each and all would be squared away, wearing pressed black pants and white collarless button-up shirts, like they were interns or something, with their tools of the trade on a sink behind them. Hair tonics like Vitalis, Brylcreem and Wildroot were lined up with military precision, with different styles and lengths of scissors laying at the ready next to them. The big deal at the barbershop, however, was the reading material. There were comic books, sure, but there were also stacks and stacks of different magazines, such as the Field & Stream and Popular Mechanics.  And then there were the marginal publications that weren’t quite of the level of Playboy but were “gateway” literature, if you will. One or more of the barbers might frown if you were in short pants and busily thumbing through such lurid articles as “Babes, Brawls and Border Smashing” — many was the time I missed hearing my name called, so absorbed was I in the reading material — but the general rule was that if you were old enough to get your hair cut without mommy waiting with you then it was none of their business. The drugstore and supermarket didn’t consider their magazine sections to be the library, but at the barbershop you could read

 Stag and  Saga and the aforementioned For Men Only. The covers were always adventure-themed, with generic, very capable-looking Marlboro men rescuing women in danger of losing their lives or their underwear, in no particular order. The so-called “true detective” magazines ran a close second, with exciting article titles gracing lurid covers. A publication that met readers of both types of magazines was an irresistible piece of trashy wonder titled The National Police Gazette. The latter was an extremely popular periodical, though no one would admit it. When I was an altar boy (yes, I was) my school was selling magazine subscriptions as a fundraiser.  I asked a geriatric priest I knew if he would be interested in purchasing any subscriptions. He asked, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, “Ya got Police Gazette?” I responded “I wish!” which brought a coughing fit on him so severe that I thought we were going to have to call the emergency squad.

Those magazines are long gone. Stag and the like reached a point where they had to, uh, up (or maybe down) their game to compete with such upstarts as Penthouse and such and just couldn’t meet the production quality (yeah, I know, I know).  The true detective magazines collapsed under their own weight; there were just too many of them. Still, I miss those magazines, and I didn’t have any of them (the “why” is a tale for another time), which is why my friend’s generous gift meant so much.  One of the many sad things about their absence is that they provided a good place for fledgling authors to hone their chops and make some money along the way. Lawrence Block, Stephen King, and Harlan Ellison all paid for electricity and food and diapers with stories in such magazines. The issue of For Men Only which I received contains an excerpt from a new (at the time) book by Alistair MacLean titled THE WOMEN TAKERS, which, we are helpfully informed, is a $5.95 bestseller (that is what a hardback book would set you back in 1968). The same issue contains some lurid but well-written short fiction written by Donald Horig, who would go on to become a well-respected and prominent baseball writer. Horig is still alive, probably cringing at the mention of the story, entitled “The Taming of Mona.” If he’s embarrassed,he should not be.  There are still a few avenues for writers to display their wares — the science fiction and mystery digests come immediately to mind — but  there aren’t many. They’ve gone the way of the traditional barber shop. I miss both.

I ask this question primarily of older readers, but you younger folks can absolutely join in the fun as well: what magazines do you miss, ones that you read during your childhood and teen years but are no longer published? It can be anything from Pageant  to  Humpty Dumpty to Photoplay to, yeah,  The National Police Gazette, but what do you miss? And why?

0