Books and advertising

A recent post in Michelle Sagara‘s blog about books, publishers and promotion got me thinking a little. I don’t know about you, but I always feel distinctly weird when I see adverts for books on TV. They’re usually ads for stuff by “authors” like James Patterson, but it still feels weird.

Advertising a TV show or movie is easy: give a brief little précis, show a few clips with appropriate music and voilà.

That kind of thing doesn’t work with books. For a start, there are no clips to show. And as for that little précis, beyond repeating the jacket summary and the one sentence gushing from a fellow author, there isn’t much to say without going into way too much detail for an ad. The James Patterson ads usually have some scene-setting shots of generic hotels, pneumatic models and, if it’s a crime or thriller, a few shots of a bloodstained gun. That’s somehow not really selling me on the book and the primary focus of the ad is usually the words JAMES PATTERSON in the largest typeface possible.

I’ve noticed the odd ad for other authors lately but they’re all of the same style.

I have a bit of a vested interest in this kind of thing (being the ever-hopeful author type), but I just don’t think that this kind of advertising works for books. Music, films and TV are all fine, but not books because you just don’t have the right kind of material to make a TV (or even worse, radio) ad.

If I ever get to the point of having a publisher discuss promotional things with me (and really, they’re not because publishing houses have such a small promotional budget usually) then I might well run very fast if a TV ad was mentioned just because I don’t think that it’s the right medium. Michelle Sagara mentions that books are primarily sold through word of mouth and I think that’s quite true. Whether that mouth is Steven King or Cory Doctrow mentioning it in an interview or blog post, my local bookseller putting up a “we like this” note on the shelf edge or a buzz going around forums, the best marketing for books tends to be word of mouth. The second best marketing technique is the right book cover, but that’s an entire post all of its own!

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