If I enter a dark room of my house, my cat will announce its presence. One short vocalization that signifies: “I am here, you poor creature that can’t see clearly in chiaroscuro.”
Despite the reputation of the feline for social independence, cats have an acute sense of when they are out of your attention span. They also have a phenomenal judgement for how far your reach extends, no matter what posture you take relative to them.
If you try the experiment of reaching for a cat without shifting your stance, you may find that the cat is typically about one inch away from your farthest reach. Unless the cat has voluntarily approached you, this is no accident.
As for the house cat that will announce its presence, the same thing may happen in a brightly lit room if the cat senses that your mind is elsewhere and hasn’t noticed them. There must be a subtle body language cue you are giving off that tells the cat: “The person who is responsible for my welfare is unaware of me, and this is unacceptable.”
Your cat may only want you to know that they are there, no further attention may be required. The point of this post is to apply knowledge of my cat, whose name is Hector incidentally, to book marketing. I’ve just told you my cat’s name because I’m wondering if I didn’t mention my cat’s name, Hector might pick up some associated cue that he was being ignored.
Does that sound silly? Ordinarily not paying attention is more obvious. I can’t forget the time at a breakfast gathering, when the woman I was talking to suddenly walked away from me while I was in mid-sentence. Evidently, she was looking for an opening to talk to a friend across the room and misjudged a slight intake of breath of my part as her opportunity to break away.
I’ll disclose to you my secret way of judging how close married couples are. Talk to the husband, just talk, and see how many times, if ever, he refers to his wife by name. This experiment may take some time. But if you have repeated casual conversations with a man, and he never refers to his wife by name during any conversation, or at least says “my wife”, I would wonder how close the couple is. But saying the name counts for much more, because a name refers to a person. Saying “my wife” makes it seem like you are referring to a generic. Like a prescription you would buy at the drugstore because it was less expensive.
Point to point communication with specific people is more effective. Ask Hector. That’s why I’m opposed to publishers making use of generic email addresses like “publishermarketing.com”. Marketing inquiries should always be addressed to specific employees. And lines of communication must always be two-way. Don’t put out a mailing, or send out sample copies, without a specific contact name attached. And don’t put an open letter from the editor or the publisher in the mailing lauding the book, if that person cannot be reached by the recipient. In an era of social media, that’s not good enough.
Talking about Hector’s reach, have you ever felt that influential bloggers were just out of reach? Any cat lover knows that the cat picks you. Better than trying to reach for the cat, you should wait until the cat wants to approach. Otherwise they’re likely to remain just one inch out of reach.
It helps if you know what a blogger is interested in. Most people who read Three Guys have picked up that JR and I like different books. When we discuss a book together, that choice is usually a compromise. We are far more likely to be critical of a book in a discussion. If we were reading the book on our own and had misgivings about it, we would probably stop reading it and you would never see a review. Bloggers are voluntary readers.
Perhaps publishers should identify key blogs since some are more influential than others. Then take the time to figure out what books those bloggers would like. Another puzzling piece of behavior that I’ve noticed is a limitation set on how many e-galleys you can download. Even among likely reads, I’ll look through a dozen galleys before I find one that I want to read. The blogger’s mind fits a book like a key fits a lock. You try your key in door after door, until you find a portal that opens.
Book marketers can seem strangely passive at times. It’s common for bloggers to offer a sample excerpt on their site or give away a few complimentary copies. But it’s rare for marketing people to offer such perks non-solicited. For most bloggers, if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get. Marketers have the power to be very influential media consultants but they rarely exercise that power on their own initiative. What I’d like to hear from a marketing person is: “How can I help you to put the book over?”
Trust is involved. When Hector climbs up on my chest and lays his head directly on my neck, I know he is not going to bite into a vital artery. When Hector lies across the narrow upstairs hallway, he knows I won’t step on him or push him aside to get past.
I once dealt with a marketer who didn’t want me to release a review too early. That’s a common request that I always honor, even though I’m convinced it’s a questionable marketing tactic. But this marketer went farther and actually threatened me. They said if I wanted their future co-operation I would have to honor their request. It was said politely but a threat is a threat.
I was pretty amazed to be threatened. Right away I was thinking about how I could possibly avoid having to deal with this person in the future. The incident gave me a bad feeling about working with the publisher at all.
That’s the thing about cats that you have to understand. They can always just walk away.