Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My two cents on the evolution of book publicity.

I'm having a conversation with Moonrat on book marketing. Or rather, we're having some back and forth postings, her post being prompted by my previous post on book reviews (if you check the comments, she feels kind of strongly about this, haha).

As a publicist who may or may not like to try her hand at book publicity one of these days, I find that it is increasingly difficult to control and effectively create buzz with positive messaging across all industries, no matter what kind of product you are selling. Consumers these days don't need us to tell them what to like anymore - they have a plethora of other options to go after. What used to be reading newspapers or magazines plus taking recommendations from your friend at school, or your local book club, now involves forums like online chatrooms, communities, blogs. People that consumers are more prone to trust than, say, your highbrow professional. I work in a very different industry than publishing, but I believe this is a general trend across everything - as publicists, we have to create new and more inventive ways to reach our audience and convince them. Old models don't work anymore.

So books for example. New York Times and New Yorker have these long-standing reputations, for instance. Their reviews are important to the industry. And sure, I'm sure some of this trickles down to consumers sometimes, affects the most literary of consumers. The high-brow intellectuals. Maybe even book snobs like me. (Okay, seriously though, I try not to be a book snob, I'm not well-read enough to be one) And it's impressive to say that a book is acclaimed by the New York Times. Any consumer will hear that and be like "ooooh". But they won't know the name of the guy who's reviewing, and frankly they don't care. They actually care more about Oprah (if you're a middle-aged woman) or, actually, what their best friend thinks of it, or their coworker, or whatever. At the end of the day, the reviews may or may not convince a person to buy a book, but I'm willing to bet that it'd have to be a book that they've heard someone else mention already. Someone whose taste they trust, be it someone they know personally or some group or online forum they belong to where it had been mentioned. To me, the reviews become an intellectual exercise. I read a book I liked, and then I read the reviews to see what someone else thought, what someone who reads books for a living thought, just to compare notes and understand better this novel I just read.

Let me think about this - most of the books I have on these lists here have been books recommended to me by other people at some point in time or other, or authors who have been well established, (how they became well-established is another question, and you can argue that back then, it was due to something like reviews or whatever), with the remaining due to me spending hours browsing the bookstore or reading blogs of other readers online (or industry news online because I'm a nerd), looking for new, potentially risky buys, interesting books to add to my collection. I consider myself a pretty avid reader, and while I'm not a person of particularly discerning (or is it discriminating?) taste in that I generally like most fiction that has been well-written, I think I can also tell what kind of taste my friends have in books after I've known them long enough. They turn to me for book recommendations because I'll read just about anything, and pick out the stuff I think they'll like for them to read. I've done a lot of the backend research for them in terms of books because I like it. I read - not reviews, but other buzz news - and I'll pick up the book, and I'll recommend it. But I'm an AVID reader, who likes being nerdy like that. My friends could care less, and they're probably the majority. So who do they listen to? People like me, who actually enjoy doing research on books.

I'm not saying word-of-mouth is the only way to go. There's product placement in the stores; i believe book covers are a HUGE part of it; even placement on the website. And yes, like Moonrat said - this is largely due to the BUYERS. They decide where it goes in the store, where it is on their website. They help build the buzz, and THEY read the reviews. I guess what I'm saying is I feel it's a little archaic. With more options to find information than ever, the consumer doesn't need the big wigs to tell them what they like, nor do they always trust them either. Blogs are important. Word-of-mouth is important. Being on Oprah and the Today Show is important (that's a little more traditional, but it's not a review, per se) . It's all about buzz, it always has been, but the way you build that buzz has been changing over time. Do I have a solution? Of course not - I'm a lowly peon of a publicist for something not even publishing related. I'm just saying, is all. Speculation. I could be completely off-base. Maybe real book publicists would laugh at me. Who knows. That's just what I think.

As an aspiring author who hopes to one day make it through the hoops and get on those shelves, of course, I'm wracking my brains trying to understand this industry, and what exactly needs to be done to get the word out there. Oh, you can bet, if I ever make it that far, I will be pulling out my PR knowledge to do anything and everything I can to give my book legs.



*note: I realize though, that this is all very cyclical. Everything ties into each other. Why does the book show up at all? Buyers? Editors? Agents? Of course it comes down to the fact that the material has to be good and someone has to believe in it a heck of a lot. But beyond that, why is it that some great novels never make it to the front of the store?

[edit] I'm thinking about this again, and you know, it's not that I don't think reviews DON'T affect the consumer AT ALL. Sure, they're the professionals, the way we use doctors to give our stories and products more leverage and grounding in my field. But I guess it really does depend on who your target audience is and who you're trying to sell to. A lot of people don't read reviews. I don't know how to get the snowball rolling, but I'd guess it really depends on the book and what you can make of the platform right off the bat.

4 drops:

Vivian said...

"As a publicist who may or may not like to try her hand at book publicity one of these days..."

This piqued my interest. I got here by way of the duel on The Road (Frank vs. Tim), and I'm wondering if it would be worthwhile to hire a publicist for my literary magazine, upstreet. If you're interested, e-mail me through the website. If you want to be reassured that I'm not a crazy stalker, but a serious prospective client, ask either Frank or Tim.

moonrat said...

I totally think you should be a "real book publicist."

Ari said...

It's amusing the way you compare book reviewers with doctors.

angelle said...

ari - well, i'm comparing them in a purely industry sense. in my line of work, you rely upon professionals whom consumers will look to as "authorities" in their field. i'm in healthcare - doctors are considered the ones to ask on their opinion of health and wellness products. following that logic then, book reviewers would be considered to hold authority within the book realm, or at least, as moonrat noted, we would hope so. but the question i'm raising here is, ARE they anymore? DO consumers look to them to tell them what books are good anymore? How much weight do they really hold?

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