JE: We like to bang our drum around here for books we love, and we like to think we make a difference for those books. Some publicists take us more seriously than other. But even the ones who take us seriously, are always telling us: “Please don’t run your coverage until launch time.” I understand the logic. Publicists want to focus the attention, and monetize the coverage. But if publicists were smart, they’d ask us to post this stuff three months BEFORE pub, because book blogs function best as places where the conversations starts–don’t you think? I feel like we (book bloggers) drive interest, not book sales–particularly because many of our readers (agents, editors, writers, booksellers, etc.) can get a galley (for free) of anything they want simply by asking the publisher.
JR: DH and I had drinks with a prominent editor last week, who agreed that conversations should start as early as possible, especially on debut fiction. But I’m not sure everyone feels that way. We typically run our own schedule, but the people behind a recent literary debut wanted us to focus publicity the week of on sale. That kind of thinking is pre-internet. I get the fact that you spent money on publicity, but we offered it for free, we are self motivated, and we loved the book. No one said anything to me about the Mr. Peanut or The Imperfectionists and those reviews broke way early.
Publishers don’t know how powerful blogs can be, especially if we like something. I don’t even ask anymore (If I love a book, who is going to tell me to unlove it?). My question to publicity people is this; where does the book buyer hear about new books? Do they read about it in advertising? Hear if from friends, TV/Radio, or from their favorite bookseller? How about the Internet, most people spend ten hours a day in front of the computer, (they’re not working all the time), so why not approach the opinionated book bloggers who have a presence?
Publishers must think that the book buyer has only a few choices, which is wrong. At best, they are overwhelmed with distractions, and sometimes books don’t even rate. Look at how many books get published each month. Publicity departments are swamped and there just isn’t enough marketing money to go around for every book. When a blogger raves for free, unsolicited, then things are moving in the right direction, and publicity didn’t have to lift a finger. Blogs are taste makers, simple as that.
DH: The inconsistencies in publisher policies are pretty amazing. It’s common for booksellers to get galleys. Since we are an insider’s blog, I think many, if not most, of our readers can get their hands on a galley.
I was fortunate recently to get a manuscript of the new novel by one of my favorite writers. I’m two thirds through it and as soon as I am finished with it, I’ll write and post the first of a three-part review. The novel is months from its release date. But no one at the pub told me that I couldn’t write a review if I accepted an ARC.
The purpose of a galley is to generate advanced buzz. Why give out galleys if you don’t want the recipients to talk or blog about what they have read? It would be odd if publishers requested a vow of silence. Talking…blogging…same thing essentially…it’s conversation. But blogging is conversation with the world. Isn’t that a good thing?
Book marketers need to understand that their role is to facilitate conversation about books. I am willing to define books themselves as distilled conversations. Blogging, reviewing, interviewing are just extensions…amplifications of the original literary process. They are essential to a literary culture. And you need such a culture if you want books to thrive. And yes, if you want them to sell. The sooner the talk starts the better, and the more often the talk takes place the better, especially if it is really good talk. What is marketing? Make people talk. That’s it!
JC: Not to stray too far from the subject matter here, but this whole discussion reminds me of a comment we got on part 2 of Tory’s FB post, where the commenter said the writers’ discussion was self-indulgent. My first thought was ungenerous. My second reaction was that maybe it seems that way, but that all these writers are working in a quickly changing environment, where they have to decide how much of a role they want, or are even capable of playing in marketing, sales, pr, etc.
I think a lot of publishers are suffering in the same way. Roles have changed. The old ways of working are so fully tattooed inside people’s brains that it’s hard to break the cycle. X was mentored by Y was mentored by Z, and never should the process change. And in some places ingenuity is given great lip service, but is only given credence when it comes from the top down. We’ve hinted at this before, how in a changing landscape, a nimble actor works best and fastest, and turning around a major marketing battleship is long and slow, and dangerous if you get it wrong. That’s why everyone wants to see what Richard Nash and friends are up to next.
But I think the idea is out there – that blogs can be part of the buzz machine that gets the word out. Some publishers have become very proactive about it – trying to get word out both well ahead of time and on publication, and some are still trying to turn the boat around.