Like you, I’ve been trapped in what seems like a book marketing fantasy gone mad.
Look, I’ve been publishing and marketing books for a long time, and enjoy watching the really big book launches that still dot the cultural calendar.
Politicians launching much-awaited books like Bill Clinton’s 1000+ page My Life was a pretty big deal. Every book launch by Tim Ferris uses tactics no one else has seen. Guy Kawasaki has conducted numerous launches for his best selling books over the years, grabbing publicity with a remarkable series of innovative efforts.
Even on a smaller, indie-author scale, we see book launches that succeed because they manage to get some media attention for the book, for the author, or for the ideas being presented.
Attention: that’s what marketing is all about in the end.
How to get it, how much of it you can get, and how to direct it to your book.
That’s why this fantasy has hit with such force. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Last week news broadcasters started talking about a book that was going to launch soon.
The publisher, knowing they had a book that would make an impact, had ordered a print run of 200,000 copies and arranged a book tour of news and talk shows.
Sitting at an Amazon rank of about 48,000 during preorders before the planned January 9 publication date, everything looked ready for a decent showing.
But that’s not what happened.
Once excerpts started to appear in New York Magazine, everything changed.
I watched as television news anchors started breathlessly reading from the excerpts.
(Excerpts, by the way, are a great way to stoke anticipation for a new book, and are similar in that way to movie trailers.)
By this time advance review copies had also made their way into the hands of these same anchors. I watched in awe as one anchor after another would hold up the book, sometime clutching it to them, and announce, “I’ve got my copy!”
Do you know how difficult it is to even get your book cover shown once on national television? It’s really hard for most authors.
Now, as I clicked through the channels, the cover of Fire and Fury was everywhere, on every news show on every network. Wall to wall publicity.
Then the President attempted to stop the publication of the book.
As anyone in the book business knows, this is the easiest way to ensure a huge readership. “Banned? Must be good! Where do I get a copy?”
Jill said, “I’d love to read it, can you get me a copy?”
That’s when I discovered the pre-order status, and that the book wouldn’t be out until the ninth. I put in a pre-order for the Kindle edition so she could get it right away.
As we watched all this going on, I mentioned that the publisher would probably be much happier if the book was on sale right now to take advantage of all this publicity. After all, another story might push it off the top of the news tomorrow.
Then Henry Holt (Macmillan), the publisher, responding to the threat of a lawsuit, moved the pub date up by 4 days. Kudos to them for moving quickly to capitalize on a truly unusual situation.
The next day we awoke to pictures on national news of people standing in line to buy the book, something I haven’t seen since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows launch in 2007.
Photos of stacks of books, people paying at the register, all the visual cues that would tell you something was going on.
Later in the day we got word the book was #1 on Amazon and had sold out everywhere. Some stores in New York and Washington said they sold out in minutes.
I could almost hear the thrum-thrum-thrum of the presses at big book printers firing up to start printing the millions of copies that will be needed to fill this unexpected and unprecedented demand.
Back on cable TV, every show was now about THE BOOK. The cover was everywhere. Photos of Michael Wolff, the author, were everywhere. He gave an interview, and some cable shows pre-empted their own programming just to show reruns of his interview.
One anchor gave voice to the action stirred up by this book, saying “This is the biggest book in American right now,” holding her copy, with bits of paper sticking out everywhere, up so the audience could see it.
Even in the wildest fever dreams of book marketers everywhere, this kind of coverage isn’t a possibility. And yet, every day so far it rolls on, with no signs of letting up.
At this point it’s pretty easy to predict, less than 10 days into the year, that Fire and Fury will undoubtedly be one of the biggest sellers of 2018.
Lessons for the Rest of Us
It’s unlikely a self-publisher will ever achieve a book launch like this one, but it’s just as unlikely for anyone else to achieve it either.
Nevertheless, there were some interesting lessons to be learned from Fire and Fury, even now, just two days into its official launch.
- Print books still rule—Without exception, all the talk by all the folks I saw on television during this extraordinary phenomenon referred to Fire and Fury as a print book: they showed pictures of the books stacked up; videos of bundled-up folks on the East coast lined up at bookstore registers to buy the print book; and discussed the availability—of the print book. Not once did I hear anyone mention the word “ebook” or “Kindle” even though you could download the book instantly. I’m not sure what to make of that, and I did yell at the TV once or twice, but it remains a fact in our culture, and especially for nonfiction books like this one.
- Your book needs to stand out—Every book needs to have a reason to be published. Wolff’s book had details and stories not available anywhere else about the most captivating political figure of our time. What makes your book stand out? Does it contain information or a viewpoint or expertise only you can provide? Does it do something better, more completely, or in an easier to understand format?
- Get your book into the hands of influencers—Any author can do this with a bit of research. Get your book and your pitch to the people who have the best chance of amplifying your message because it speaks to the interests of their audience. This alone has been a powerful force propelling Fire and Fury to its current position.
- Controversy sells books—Disagreeing with a person who has a huge following, or putting forward a controversial viewpoint, or taking exception to the usual way of doing things are all ways to get attention for your book. But make sure you have your facts straight, and you can back up your arguments because a controversial book will be examined closely for any defects in citations or logic.
Because the original pub date isn’t until this Tuesday, you can guarantee that as the scheduled promotion starts to roll out, including interviews and articles on news shows and in magazines, the Fire and Fury phenomenon will continue to burn brightly.
And would someone tell all these news anchors about something called an “ebook”? Please?