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Week 5: Marketing and Publicity

For this session, we had Sarah Braybrooke from Scribe UK come and talk to us about the business of marketing and publicity—a complicated business, to be sure. We started with a very simplified breakdown of the differences between the two terms:

  • Publicity refers to the promotion of something (in our case, a book). It used to be free for a publisher or author to obtain publicity, and although it often still is, there are some situations where one needs to pay to gain some level of exposure. Print and broadcast reviews or interviews are just some forms of publicity one can expect.
  • Marketing is when a publisher or author talks directly to the reader or the bookseller about their book. This might take the form of running an ad, in print or online, or paying a bookstore to put up a giant display. Nowadays you can market yourself using Twitter or Instagram and appeal to the broadest bases, but there’s still something to be said about coaxing booksellers to advertise your book, too.

Over the last decade, these two forms of awareness have been merging together. More often, it is agents and publishers who package the author as an entity for promotion along with the book itself. There was some discussion in the class on, if not the ethicalness of this, then the “ickyness” of having to emphasize certain aspects of your identity for the sake of selling a book. Sarah offered two key notes in response to this. First, by entering the publishing industry, you’re going to have to let someone else handle your identity for you, most likely, again, an agent coordinating with a publisher, to ensure the best deals (and book sales) for yourself. Second, the moment you do produce a book, you’ve crossed a line past anonymity, which all but guarantees you’re exposing yourself to review and criticism. You might as well have a team advocating on your behalf.

For the reminder of the class, we were divided into groups and each given a random book. We were meant to study everything about it—its cover and title, the author bio, any information on the flaps—and then provide a thirty-second pitch the book to Sarah providing reasons why she ought to buy a hundred copies for her bookstore. The activity was pretty interesting, although it was very hard to make an argument when you weren’t quite sure what the book was about. In the end, we centered around key details around the plot, the reason why the author was worth anyone’s time, and of course, the price of the book.