Fun With Flats

One of my favorite bits of bookseller marketing is the Mass Market Paperback Flat, which publishers send along to bookstores a few months in advance of the paperback release. Here you see the flat for The Last Colony, which is imminently headed toward paperback. I like them because among other things, it’s the actual cover of the paperback, so one can admire all the pretty stamping and foiling that will be on the first printing of the paperback (the nice touch on this one: gold edging on the title — it makes me feel special). On the backside is all the information booksellers need to know, such as release date (July 29, 2008 — just head of the release of Zoe’s Tale), order-inspiring blurbage, images of other paperback books available and so on. And, apparently it’ll also have its own mixed floor display available. Man, I want one of those for my own.

This is part and parcel, however, with my general fascination with marketing, and particularly marketing here in the publishing world. I quite naturally have an interest in the marketing of my own stuff, of course, but in general the mechanics and practices fascinate me. It’s de rigeur for authors to be ambivalent about this stuff, since we’re not supposed to acknowledge that the success of our art depends to a greater or lesser degree on the business of selling books. But as you can imagine I find this studied ambivalence to be a little silly. I’m writing to be read by as wide an audience as possible, and successful marketing does me a world of good in that goal. So it’s important to me to know how that marketing works, and to be engaged in and cooperative with it. It does help that the Tor folks know what they’re doing with this stuff — it makes my part of it a lot easier. Note to self: Send a big fruit basket to Tor’s marketing folks.

Anyway, this is what the paperback cover of TLC will look like. Folded over 336 pages, that is. It won’t be as flat, then.

24 thoughts on “Fun With Flats

  1. Alright, maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what a 24-Copy mixed floor display is. It sounds really nice, though.

  2. If you’re really facinated by the world of marketing, then you should watch this BBC documentary about the history of consumerism and Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernaise, the man who invented PR:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AakzpvbMYec

    It’s long — four one-hour episodes, broken into nine- or 10-minute segments for YouTube — but required viewing if you wish to understand the world we live in.

  3. This strikes me as rather odd:

    It’s de rigeur for authors to be ambivalent about this stuff, since we’re not supposed to acknowledge that the success of our art depends to a greater or lesser degree on the business of selling books.

    I’m a member of a number of professional writers organizations and I’ve almost never seen a pro who didn’t acknowledge that our successes depend on selling books. Far more often what I see is a great deal of debate about which marketing efforts work and which don’t.

    I’m personally not terribly thrilled about self promotion but that’s more for utilitarian reasons, in that I think that an awful lot of it doesn’t work on a scale that’s relevant to true career building and time spent doing promotion is time that can’t be spent actually writing. I don’t think I’ve ever met a science fiction or fantasy novelist who wasn’t frankly delighted with publisher-promotion or bummed that they didn’t get more of that.

  4. Kelly McCullough:

    “I don’t think I’ve ever met a science fiction or fantasy novelist who wasn’t frankly delighted with publisher-promotion or bummed that they didn’t get more of that.”

    I’m not suggesting that they aren’t, actually. But I think none of like the idea that promotion might be more than support — i.e., that savvy packaging and marketing might be more important than our own writing as a motivating factor for sales. Thus ambivalence.

  5. @DKT: it is a cardboard cutout that holds 6 rows of 4 books each in a grid, for easy placement on the floor (not on the shelf) in a bookstore. you can see these at most (if not all) big box bookstores.

  6. Wait — everyone KNOWS you buy SF books because of the cover, so SF authors should be aware of the marketing plan. Also it helps to know that one should include great battles and half-dressed characters in your stories in order to facilitate the making of said cover art. Otherwise, the cover will have no connection to the story, not that that has ever stopped one from buying or selling a SF book. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

    PS- a floor display is nice, but you’ll know you’ve really achieved cultural supremacy when the United States Postal Service puts graphic wraps on mailboxes, as in the R2D2 promotion for the Star Wars stamps. (grin)

  7. Love the blurb comparing you & Stephen King. Couldn’t make out who is quoted, tho.

    Just as a curiosity, after you’ve oggled and cooed and said “go me!”, do you for example frame & hang on a wall? (For, you know, admiring and cooing over on days when everything has just sort of devolved into fruitless frustration in search of where your talent is hiding.) Or do you simpy toss it in a drawer somewhere and get on with the business at hand ?

  8. Heh. Your mention of the gold letter edging hints at something I’ve never seen much discussion of online – the significant difference between UK and US cover art and layout. Of course there are exceptions, but in general US covers are far more gaudy, complicated and garish than their UK equivalents. I’m thinking especially of the Baen Vorkosigan covers here…

    What this means for the marketing gurus perception of the difference in the readership on different sides of the Atlantic, I’ve got no idea – if anyone who actually knows about such things cares to comment, could be quite interesting?

  9. @9, etc.

    Bookselling Fun Fact: to the fine people on the front lines, those displays have a decidedly un-romantic name — it’s called a “dump.”

  10. The reason I’d heard is that greater than 50% of books in the US are not sold from bookstores but from supermarkets, especially sci-fi and fantasy. So the gaudy covers are designed to positively scream “Science Fiction!” or “Fantasy!” as loud as they possibly can, to compete with the “Romance!” and “Lit-ra-chure!” and tabloids they’re set next to in the aisle.

    It’s pretty awful, but that’s what happens when the primary sales market happens to be set in a space that is smaller than a single genre would be in a bookstore.

    Class assignment: Compare the covers of a typical fantasy or science fiction novel to that of junk food products, such as a bag of chips. Note the similarities. Come away shaking your head.

  11. Lee S:

    They mostly go into drawers. I have the original artwork for the OMW hardcover, and I have framed poster of my astronomy book cover. But other than that it’s mostly in storage.

  12. I think you just like it because it shows the price per copy in all it’s glory…

    And on that note, given that the US dollar and the Canadian dollar have been at parity for something like six months, why are books still more expensive in Canada?

  13. Well, I’ve known plenty of authors who complain about their cover art, blurb, lack of ad placement, etc.
    Especially the cover art: “Did they even read the summary? There’s no horses on that planet!” and that kind of thing.

    This also harkens back to the TruFan thing: Will you still have cover art for your Magic 1000? Will that mean you’re commissioning the art? I know most authors have little control currently over their cover art (notable exceptions: Janny Wurtz+Don Maitz [married], C.J. Cherryh+David Cherry [sibs], Neil Gaiman+Dave McKean [practically married, kidding]), a change to the market might help that, but you’re (a) sharing your trufans and their money, and (b) having to do a bit more of the market-y work to develop the face of your books.

  14. July 2008?

    Mmmm. Well nigh time for me to go hunt for scraps.

    You can buy the mixed floor display in bulk, apparently.

    What marketing does work best for books? I remember the Liar’s Diary event, which did impact Amazon rankings. But you can’t pull that off anywhere near often or even occasionally.

    I remember Amerian Gods and Neil’s blog, but that was back when the landscape wasn’t so littered with blogs, and he had an audience already, with which to seed an even larger audience.

    The Harry Potter craze spread… as far as I can tell… initially by word of mouth. I remember reading about it in the SFBC and thinking, “Sounds good. I could use an escape into a world of magical reality, as opposed to a pure fantasy I can’t relate things in my world to.” (I’m a fan of that stuff. I think it’s why I like Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint so much.) But before that I’d never heard of it.

    Yet something else must have happened. What did? Right place, right time—or was something else there? It’s not like Scholastic Books has been able to repeat the success, although they have—from what I’ve seen from my scrap-hunting around here, oh my gods—tried many, many times since they could see the end of the money tunnel.

    Books that are promoted by other, more well-known writers probably also see jumps in sales—I remember Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell‘s jump was pretty significant, and seemed mostly driven by mentions on big folks’ blogs, like Neil Gaiman, in praising terms.

    Is there a PR person we can talk to? There must be. We know of agents and editors. Who are the other folk behind the curtains? Where are *their* blogs?

    The thing is, marketing only works as long as the book entertains. But given entertainment (and I know a lot of people sniff at the bar for entertainment), where does it go next?

    I mean, manga in the US. That’s like an entire industry brought to life by a combination of things like the power of the old Warren Ellis Forum, which managed to push comics and graphic novels and their ilk into the mainstream. You could almost say it was the work of one man who managed to bring a lot of people together, and the thing snowballed from there.

    How do these memes spread?

    What about all this viral marketing stuff? By now it’s been overdone, but I remember when it first showed up with respect to Heroes. And after that it took off. But I don’t know that it would work for books; perhaps because no one’s tried? Although it may be too late now; that kind of meme engine seems to have run its course.

    Undoubtedly, these things are much more likely to succeed for someone who actually knows about things and isn’t a random peanut in the gallery or an idiot.

    There are such a lot of factors.

  15. #15, a lot of bookstores are selling at the US cover price now (or at least, that’s what they advertise). I can’t tell if it says $7.99/$8.99 or $7.99/$9.99. Either one makes Equivalent Currency Panda sad.

  16. I know with some writers there’s a reaction involved. Since so many publishing services (with author-focused sales departments) put the emphasis on promotion, there’s a belief among some that it’s an either-or situation so they choose to be writers rather than promoters.

  17. Regarding your “note to self,” Edible Arrangements offers a tasty twist on The Usual. Shorter shelf life at the office, but memorable. We’ve had them at the Boskone art show reception for the last couple of years and they’re as good as they look.

  18. I can’t help but notice you have Pier’s Anthony’s Macroscope novel. I think I read that 25 years ago. Did you enjoy that book?

  19. Todd:

    Actually, it came to my attention just recently, for various reasons, and I only just got it (as in, in the last couple of days). I’m looking forward to reading it. My only real experience with PA stuff is his later fantasy work, but I’ve been told his early science fiction stuff is quite good, and I’m interested if I think that’s the case myself.

  20. John:

    I think you’ll find that some of PA’s earlier stuff is pretty good. I like his later fantasy works, but I really enjoyed the earlier works much better. He’s written so many fantasy books, it’s hard to keep it straight anymore.

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