Several recent experiences have underscored for me that while the rampant “solve a problem” marketing works for some products and services, it is not ideal for books.
Ask any MBA, and she will tell you that in order to have an effective marketing plan, you must first answer, “What problem are you solving?” The idea is to provide context for your messaging, to give your audience something tangible to grab on to. But since problems have been being solved for quite some time now, marketeers are quite simply running out of problems. The obvious answer? Invent more problems! And solve them! Yippee!
With books, I find that much of the Ebook Controversy falls into this category. In the end, there’s no problem. As Mark Billingham brilliantly summarized at Bouchercon last year, the ubiquitous nature of escalators has yet to do away with stairs. We have and use both. Similarly, ebooks are not going to do away with print books, nor are ebooks going anywhere in the foreseeable future. We have both. We will continue to have both. No problem.
But life is more interesting with problems, so we have a seemingly unending stream of marketing seeking to stir up hullabaloo where none exists. Is it coincidence that James Patterson took out big ads and beat the publicity drum about “saving” print books mere days before his latest novel hit shelves and screens? If you believe it is, I have a bridge…
But the fact is, it worked. And it’s not the first brilliant marketing move James Patterson has made. The thing is, he’s already a brand. He can afford—in every sense—to employ negative-first marketing. This, however, is true of few authors and books.
A great book—a story that captivates readers populated with characters that we want to read about—is not solving a problem. It is enriching lives, potentially inciting discussion, sometimes fostering imagination, and inciting a range of vivid emotions, but it is not solving a problem. This is why publishing, in all its forms, is better served when it adopts a positive-first approach to marketing.
When I think about all the marketing associated with the Harry Potter books—and heaven knows, there was more than a little of it—it all began with the assumption that readers would love each book, and that consumers would want to buy it. Can you think of another publishing industry campaign before or since that invested tens of thousands of dollars in midnight events and stunts designed solely to spark even more sales of a book that was already guaranteed bestseller status? I can’t.
The reality, of course, is that I can count on one hand the authors and publishers who have the resources to undertake a campaign of this scope. But we all have the ability to believe in the product—the story, the characters, the author—and to believe in finding the right readers, the ones who will enjoy it as much as we do but might not otherwise know it exists, and to tell them about it. Not because they have a problem we need to solve, but because they will appreciate knowing. They will be grateful for the information.
They love a good story as much as we do.