Jennifer Belle’s New Book Promo Gambit

This week several of my clients asked for my reaction to thisĀ news item below:

This Memorial Day weekend, if you see a woman on the street or the subway laughing her head off while reading Jennifer Belle’s new novel, “The Seven Year Bitch,” it might be an act. Belle, the best-selling author of “Going Down” and “High Maintenance,” usually isn’t at a loss for readers. But this time around she’s gotten super-entrepreneurial. After receiving more than 500 resumes, she auditioned 100 actresses and hired 40 to fan out across the city and burst out laughing in public while reading her book. The actresses are being paid $8 an hour, a source said, and will hit high-traffic areas like the Red Steps above the TKTS booth in Times Square. Belle says it’s like in India where people hire professionals to cry at their loved ones’ funerals. “I’m hiring actors to laugh at my book,” Belle explains. “Publishing is no laughing matter these days.”

Yes, books DO have it tough, competing for attention with all the entertainment options out there (including the overwhelming number of bad books). So I’m all in favor of smart, economical ways of promoting a great read–especially as I have YET to work with ANY client–or hear from ANY author I’ve met–who was thoroughly pleased with the job that their publisher did on marketing and promoting their book.

Now, liquor companies have been hiring buxom models to order drinks emphasizing the BRAND name as they order for a long long time as in: “Mr. Bartender, a [TK BRAND] vodka martini, please.” And every major fashion and consumer company in the world–be it cars, watches, furs, or hardwood flooring–will give away merchandise or greatly discount it to celebrities who promise to drive them, wear them or be photographed at home with them.

So my initial response is, why is this book promotion campaign offending and why is there a double-standard for books vs. all that other STUFF?

There is a double-standard for books. By way of comparison, no one would ever think LESS of an animated film’s merits because there were film-inspired happy meal toys being used to incentivize kids to order health-endangering fast-food. (Though that is arguably a way to kill off your audience…)

Given this double-standard and the noble associations that there are for reading in general, why hasn’t the book industry been smarter about capitalizing on this prestige?

It seems to me that in thinking that books are too high-brow to be marketed, no creative energy goes into it which I find very upsetting as publishing revenues are the major way smart thinkers in this country make a living and without decent income streams for thinkers, the dumbing down of our culture will continue. This we’re-too-good-to-sell-ourselves kind of sanctimoniousness reminds me of back in the early aughts, Fay Weldon’s book, THE BULGARI CONNECTION raised a lot of holier-than-though indignation for accepting sponsorship from the jeweler to underwrite the book and get product placement in the title. What about all great works of art of yore that actually integrated portraits of the patrons or portrayed them in a flattering light to boost their local reputation?

Certainly I’m not saying EVERYTHING is for sale, but in an era when there are fewer and fewer patrons–private or coroporate–why damn a writer for being resourceful? Frankly I feel it should be a BIG alarm bell to the industry that an author even having a promotions campaign is NEWS, then THAT should be seen as a symptom of a major problem.

That said, coming back to the prestige of the book, why can’t marketing campaigns be built on integrity, on a genuine connection to what’s being sold? Not only does that approach sit better with my conscience, it’s just better business. Real enthusiasm is infectious. There is no better way of selling than by showcasing someone’s passion or someone’s passionate testimonial–whether it’s the creator of the object (in this case the author) or users of the object (readers) who love it. I know I would happily go on the record for free to rave about any number of authors as well as my MacBook Pro.

So, in this era of social media and cheap video tools, access to thousands is within the reach of all to create. There are ways that Jennifer Belle [whose books I haven’t read but know were well-reviewed for their genre and achieved bestsellerdom over several titles because of her devoted following] could be capitalizing on her existing wealth of fans, calling them into action for free with contests, book clubs, themed parties, building an interesting traveling tour (that’s NOT a mere reading by the author!), partnerships with other brands’ circulation channels that are naturally simpatico with her book’s identity and her existing brand, etc.

And all this comes back to feeling genuinely connected to and respecting your customers–not like they are some anonymous mob OUT THERE buying triple cheeseburgers that could kill them but you don’t care because they’ve already paid you for the junk. That’s the attitude behind selling junk. [I have heard of a major food conglomerate that doesn’t serve some of its offerings in its own corporate headquarters cafeteria because of the health risks associated with them would endanger their staff–now THAT to me is criminal disdain of your customers.] If you believe in what you’ve got to sell, you should just need to spread the word in smart ways–and not have to trick others to buying it. If you respect your customers, in this case, your readers, you would never want to do anything to violate their trust in you or think less of you.

So AUTHORS!–embrace marketing as sharing your passion for your book. Love your readers and treat them with respect and they will love you back by endorsing you in positive reviews and even by purchasing a stack to give to friends–I know I do and I know I’m not alone.

Posted in Book Biz, Branding Ideas, Writing Education and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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