In a recent Newsweek bit, a very enterprising fiction author is promoting his book by joining book clubs and discussing his work. Heâ€™s become so popular that book clubs are now booking him to appear and talk. I assume his sales are up too.
Thatâ€™s a smart guy.
But what about non-fiction authors, particularly those with controversial subject matter or languishing sales? Thereâ€™s only one way to promote such a book: think big.
Witness the recent success of authors mentioned by world leader/literary critics Osama bin Laden, Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.* These men are more powerful than Oprah. After all, she mainly influences females in the US. These guys get world-wide press coverage every time they speak (or send videos). They are passionate in their respective fields of interest, and seem to enjoy discovering books that few others have read.
Such powerful men are busy men. How would an author best get their attention? One way is to make offensive public statements. Or one could write about hot religious, military or world-commerce topics. One could also draw political cartoons if one has the ability. The field is wide open for all kinds of material. Sycophants as well as opposing thinkers can all try to get a mention by one of these men.
But studies show that the general public recalls images far better than words. With this in mind, aggressive authors needing to boost sales should send press kits to volatile world leaders and make sure to include a pristine copy of their book.
Seeing such influential men on TV holding up the book or even burning it in effigy, can impel thousands of US and international readers to buy copies of the book in order to see what all the fuss is about. Whether these consumers read or burn the books is immaterial. Theyâ€™re paying for each copy. Thatâ€™s what counts!
Authors could send their book to world leaders who have been suspiciously silent on their personal book recommendations (or condemnations). Think Kim Jong II and Vladimir Putin. The right book could inspire these men to begin an international discussion.
President George Bush has discussed a number of books but his opinions donâ€™t seem to hold much water with readers. Those books did not enjoy the meteoric ride to the bestseller lists like the books mentioned by international leaders.
Truly enterprising authors will do their homework to spot up-and-coming world leaders/opinion-makers and send press kits. Such men will no doubt be flattered by the attention and acknowledgement that their opinions matter.
What doesnâ€™t work? Trying to shortcut the process by self-creating controversy to force interest. If a world leader isnâ€™t willing to publicly endorse (or condemn) a book, no one cares.
Case study: Three years ago, a Canadian author published what she thought would be a really controversial book on Islam. Canada yawned. The author failed to get a single death threat and sales languished. Since then, sheâ€™s had to travel far and wide to offend enough people to create a few death threats. She valiantly struggles to make international waves with her book and opinions. Her publicity plan just isnâ€™t large enough in scope. Directly contacting the real opinion-makers is what could give her the global attention she craves.
Although the name Osama bin Laden is tossed around in press releases about her book, did anyone ever think to actually send him a press kit? Obviously not. No wonder she has to work so hard for what publicity she gets.
The key to successful global publicity is understanding that one must allow the trendsetters to make their own opinions about the book. All the author can do is present their work to these men. The rest of the heavy-lifting should be done by the person who has the most news coverage (which does not mean an author who sends out press releases twice a week). As illustrated above, if one does not present their work to key international figures, the hope of garnering hot and free publicity dwindles to zero. These men are too busy to read The New York Review of Books.
Before an author begins such a publicity campaign, itâ€™s wise to make sure that Amazon has enough stock and that all channels of distribution are wide-open and functioning flawlessly. Hiring a Web designer to give the authorâ€™s Web site a makeover might be part of the plan, as well as starting a blog and making sure that the site is search-engine optimized. This way international Googlers can easily find the authorâ€™s work and learn how to purchase books.
If the author writes something particularly offensive, the final piece of the puzzle is to make sure that the author is secreted away in a mountain bunker and does not go out in public. Sometimes readers take the book recommendations of world leaders the wrong way.
This is a big plan, but if done correctly, it could very well be the only promotion plan an author needs. No more of this touring through 50 cities in 30 days, no more radio interviews or endless press releases. Authors can quit worrying about whether or not their small-town newspaper will run a â€œlocal authorâ€ profile on a slow news day.
Promote globally; hide locally.
*Donâ€™t forget that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did his part in helping a book win many new readers.
Next up: how to get a book banned in order to ensure popularity.
Disclaimer: I think it would be obvious, but everything below the top two paragraphs is farcical. The part about the Canadian author is based on some actual fact; the rest is my broad interpretation of the facts.
Something like this has already appeared on Salon.com, but I only discovered that as I was writing this entry. When I conceived the idea, I thought it was pretty original. This is my mashup of The Onion and hundreds of similar articles about author promotion; most of the advice centers around press kits and press releases.