Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits. I was doing the former on the Thursday last, wondering how I was going to fill my Saturday space, when my UPS delivery man (one of God’s truly good people) provided me with the answer. It came in an over-sized black padded envelope, and didn’t feel quite like a book, even though it bore a return address from the fine folks at HarperCollins. I was able to open it after a bit of struggle and the deployment of a knife, scissors, and a flamethrower (in that order). Demonspawn, our family cat, immediately appropriated the envelope, and was last seen attempting to contact his darkworld masters through the closed end; I took possession of the contents. These consisted of an oversized milk carton and a mass market paperback titled “and she was” by Alison Gaylin. The milk carton is a four-sided advertisement for the book. My initial reaction was, “What the fu-heck is this?” My second was, “This is pretty cool.” I have been described as easily amused, and hard to impress. This little bit of advertising slight-of-hand, worthy of Donald Draper, managed to do both.
The conventional wisdom is that you’ve got to get out on social networks, groom and cultivate your website, and make friends with a fourteen year old to show you how to use Twitter if you want your book to have a chance of getting noticed, let alone of selling copies. And it’s probably true. But this milk carton as marketing tool is retro thinking out of the box. “and she was” concerns a missing child, and indeed, there is a picture of the child on one side of the carton. The other sides contain blurbs from Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Lee Child, and Lisa Gardner; an essay from Ms. Gaylin about Hyperthymestic Syndrome, an element which figures prominently in the book; and some bullet-point marketing information with a photo of the book cover.
Expensive marketing? Sure. But. The milk carton is our new kitchen table centerpiece. Unlike Facebook and websites and Twitter and the like one can pick it up and touch it and be reminded of the fact that the book is out there and for sale and there’s a copy of it sitting nearby, waiting to be read. No one has asked me to review the book, but of course this is what the whole package is all about. And the premise certainly looks intriguing. Hyperthymestic Syndrome involves the ability of a person so afflicted to remember, in full, any given day of their life, with all five senses. If I had learned of the book via e-mail there is a 50-50 chance I would have read it. Send me a milk carton, and I’m your loving baby boy. I’m going to read “and she was” and I’m going to review it.
Am I old-fashioned? Or is there a marketing genius at HarperCollins who is taking us back to the future? If we all are using Facebook and Twitter and e-mail blasts to hawk our wares, are we making their particular needles stand out? Or are we all busily building a brand new huge haystack in cyberspace? And does it mean that to really, really make your book stand out, it is going to take more money than ever to do so?