Marketing Envy

A fellow author and I have become friendly and are in the process of doing an ARC swap, which means that we’re sending each other the pre-publication version of our books that are handed out to reviewers and booksellers. Mine (The Android’s Dream) is on its way; his arrived yesterday, and it’s all I can do not to ignore everything else and read it, because I think the author is that good, and I’ve been lusting to read this book since I heard about it. I made the mistake of reading the first page and then nearly had to chew off my own arm because the hand would not let go of the book. But I have The Last Colony to finish first. Now I have a prod to get that thing done.

Yes, I’m taunting you by not telling you the name of the book and author right now. Never fear, I have no doubt I will discuss this book in the future. But right now the reason I’m not telling you the name of the author is because I’m going to engage in a moment of total shamefulness, and I don’t want his good name sullied by association: Dude, I’m so totally jealous of my friend’s book marketing campaign.

Not jealous of my pal, who is a great guy and who I wish to have the immense success that I think his writing deserves. I’m a sad, petty little man in many ways, but this way is not one of them. I like it when people I know do well. But jealous of his marketing campaign? Oh, my, yes. His marketing campaign, as detailed on the back of his ARC, has the sort of rich buttery promotional goodness that makes other authors want to reach for it, yearningly yet hesitatingly, in order to pet its silky perfection, coo in its precious ear, and whisper to it they wish it were theirs.

So what does this marketing campaign have that’s so damn special? Well, and you should by no means think this is a complete accounting:

* Interactive website, with audio and video
* Floor display with special riser
* Soundtrack (?!!?!?) on iPod Shuffles
* Streaming video trailer on YouTube
* National advertising campaign including the New York Times
* Print, radio and TV interviews
* Confirmed author appearance on Good Morning America

Good Morning America! Damn it, I want to be on Good Morning America. I want to sit there, bleary-eyed from a 5:30 makeup call, the taste of corporate television green room pastry still in my mouth as I explain to Diane Sawyer what it was that possessed me to open Android’s Dream with a chapter-long fart joke, while Diane sits there with that pleasant, unreadble anchorperson smile on her face, only the glint of her eyes to signal her internal monologue, which begins, I’m seated with a madman. It’s not too much to ask.

Yes, I was on Oprah once. But that was ten years ago. I didn’t have any books to hawk then. And I sort of doubt Android’s Dream is a good fit for that book club thing she has going. Although I think it would be amusing to have millions of Oprah viewers flood the stores to buy my book, take it home, crack it open, read the first page, and think Oh, Oprah, honey. You’ve clean lost your mind. These are the fantasies that keep you up nights, giggling.

My marketing campaign as listed on the back of the Android’s Dream ARC: Trade show appearances and SF media advertising. No iPod Shuffles.

Which is not actually a complaint. Tor has done a fine job selling me and my books. Indeed, in two days I board a plane to Denver to attempt to charm and delight booksellers into taking more copies of my work. And I adore my publicist at Tor, who is smart and motivated and when I think of great promotional ideas and send them to her, sends back e-mails that says “yeah, we’re already doing that,” but says it in a nice way that doesn’t have the words you damn meddling fool of an author subtextually appended to the end of that previous statement. And the books, well, they’re doing just fine, thanks.

(Note to self: Send Tor marketing department a really large fruit basket.)

So this is not me complaining about my marketing. It’s just me coveting someone else’s marketing. Sort of how I can really like my minivan (and I do), yet covet someone else’s Bugatti Veyron 16.4. Yes. Just like that.

Mmmm… Bugatti.

I’m very excited for my pal. He writes so well, but as any author will tell you, writing well isn’t nearly enough. It makes a difference when your publisher has your back on the marketing. His publisher not only has his back, they’ve strapped a rocket pack on it and are standing there to the side, holding a box with a big red button on it that says “LAUNCH” and asking him, so, are you ready? Damn it, that’s just cool. Yes, I covet his marketing campaign. That doesn’t mean I don’t want him to have it.

Which I suppose, technically, means I don’t actually covet it.

Man, I can’t even do pettiness right. No wonder I don’t have those iPod Shuffles. Oh, well, at least I can still cop to envy.

Mmmm… envy.

44 Comments on “Marketing Envy”

  1. I only covet the best. If you’re going to break a commandment, you might as well do it right.

  2. Damn, and now *I’ve* got envy. Sigh.

    Ah, the writer’s dream. To be on Diane Rehm and be so sparkling that she invites you back for the weekly roundup on Fridays.

    Then there’s the flip of the coin where she cuts you off early and switches the show to an open phones format.

    I’ve been told I need to work on my neuroticism to be a published writer. I think I’m progressing. :\

  3. Curse you Scalzi. Now I wil lose even more sleep wondering who and what this book is.

    On the other hand, I wrote the soundtrack to my novel in nine months.

    The novel? Two Years this October. Draft Version 3.0.


  4. Coincidentally, I came to update the fans on how to NOT be successful in stalking John. On way to fail miserably is to call/email the bookstore and say “can you contact John to set up a book signing?” According to the slightly snooty email from a large, but local, bookstore, you must contact John’s publicist (through Tor, I imagine) and tell him/her that you’d love to have John come by your city for a book signing.

  5. Hi John

    I work for a small independent publishing house in South Africa (sadly, we publish no science fiction), but I was very interested by your comments on marketing. We’re always trying to think of new ways to market books, and we believe word of mouth is one of the best ways to sell.

    In an effort to increase word of mouth for one of our titles, we will be selling it together with button badges with extracts from the book – do you think that will work?

    The idea is that people wear the buttons, and are asked about them, thus forcing them to talk about the book.

  6. You can still covet it, and yet let him keep it, if you don’t consider marketing campaigns to be a zero-sum arrangement. All you really want to do is clone it. Although, I guess at some level marketing campaigns eventually have to reach a zero sum, as the resources and opportunities can’t support an infinite number of them, but still, I doubt we’ve hit that saturation point.

    You could do a soundtrack, and release it on your website. I can picture it now…. long bits of silence, with occasional bursts of tippity-tappity keyboard sounds, punctuated with bits of cursing followed immediately by forceful delete key pounding. In the background every once in a while Athena can be heard asking if you’re done yet, and Krissy telling her no….

  7. Caroline:

    Interestingly, I know someone who did something similar to that here in the US, to promote a magazine. She was distributing buttons that had different parts of the same story, so people who saw the buttons would be looking for the other buttons in the series. This was done at a science fiction convention so there was a good chance of eventually running into the people wearing all the buttons. I don’t know how successful it was on the marketing front, but it seemed like a neat idea to me.

  8. If you get a chance and a car, drive up 285 (not 70) for the fall aspens. They won’t be at their peak, but approaching. You’ll have to get as far as Kenosha Pass (

  9. Jorge:

    You may, however I will neither confirm nor deny any speculation of the author in this comment thread. Because I’m cruel.

  10. As an author, I’d imagine you’d rather negotiate a larger royalty percentage than have the money be spent on marketing, no?

    All things being equal (you and your friend sell the same number of copies), presumably you should be able to make more money, because Tor isn’t spending as much on marketing. Either that, or Tor is making more money than your friend’s publisher. :-)

  11. Anne:

    You’ll do better to call an INDEPENDENT bookseller – not one of the Chain Stores – and ask them to see if John can come talk/sign books. The Big Name Stores have to go through the publisher (it’s about buying more books & the price deals they have with the chain stores, not about having control over John’s signings/speaking appearances).


    (1) Mmmm, Bugatti!
    (2) Improper Coveting: Does this mean you suffer from simple envy and are not covetous?

  12. I don’t think it works like that, Dossy; it’s not like he gets a higher percentage of the royalties because they don’t have the marketing campaign (or I don’t think it is; do please correct me). After all, you can keep all the profits if you self-publish, and you don’t have to spend a cent on selling the thing if you don’t want.
    Marketing is (or seems to be) an effective way of selling books and making money. It sounds like a really nifty campaign, though I’d like a Scalzi-brand RocketPack available at all cons. That’d be way better.

  13. Dossy Shiobara:

    “As an author, I’d imagine you’d rather negotiate a larger royalty percentage than have the money be spent on marketing, no?”

    Not really. Generally speaking, the marketing budget is entirely separate from whatever royalties accrue to the author. They’re handled by separate departments. Books aren’t like music, where every promotional expense is charged against the artist.

    Also, the more money that is going to the author, the more money is usually spent on marketing; A marketing department is going to spend more on a book that an editor bought for $100,000 than for one that was bought for $10,000, because there’s that much money the book has to make back.

  14. Does that kind of book marketing work very well? Books tend to require much more effort to enjoy than New! Lemon Fresh-scented movies, television shows and scandals, so it always seemed like the posters and B&N cardboard standup things might not be worth as much as pumping the author full of cocaine and crullers to make it through another week of telling local news hosts about the love story that is the real subject of his new history of Nazi heavy water experiments.

  15. Hi Caroline,

    If you haven’t encountered them already, take a gander at Coach House Books in Canada: they’re a small literary press who do a lot of innovative marketing in order to get the word out as far and inexpensively as possible. They’re pretty effective at it, and very friendly people, too.

    No, I don’t work for them :).

  16. “Try appealing to his ego.”
    “Also, appealing to my wallet.”

    I believe the plan is to appeal to his stomach.
    For the moment, we’ll be saving the money to buy all the Scalzi books that are due out in the next few months.

    “You’ll do better to call an INDEPENDENT bookseller – not one of the Chain Stores – and ask them to see if John can come talk/sign books. The Big Name Stores have to go through the publisher (it’s about buying more books & the price deals they have with the chain stores, not about having control over John’s signings/speaking appearances). ”

    Thanks for the advice, Penny.
    I do consider the store I contacted to be an independent store, though a big one. They have three stores here in the Denver area. Apparently there is a critical mass threshold beyond which they must talk corporation a corporation.
    I’m not a familiar as I should be with the smaller bookstores. [hangs head in shame]
    If only there were a trade show where I could go meet the booksellers of the mountains and plains!

  17. I don’t think I’ll be doing an out-of-tradeshow signing alas, and it’s probably too late to set one up. Sorry. I should have thought about that earlier.

  18. And we all know there’s no how/no way anything vaguely SF/fantasy will ever be part of “The Oprah Book Club.”


    I don’t know if I’ll ever sell anything beyond the small zine market. I think I’d love most of being a pro/somewhat-well-known writer. I know I already enjoy doing radio shows and panels! My only fear is “the autograph.” Not that I don’t like to meet people – I really do. But I have the world’s worst handwriting. Worse, I have arthritis in my hands and doing the same thing for more than an hour at a time is troublesome.

    [[SO what is Neil’s ARC like? Grin, duck runaway!]]

  19. Anne C.,

    Was it the Tattered? I love those stores, and I’ve found they do occasionally invite SF writers in for a signing, although I had to see OSC at Borders.

  20. Yes, I was on Oprah once.

    Oh, that is a story you have got to tell. Please? I’ll send over a chocolated-dipped fruit basket where the fruit and the basket are dipped in chocolate.

  21. Laurie Mann, never give up and don’t settle for any market to be you’re only one. This is from somebody in the same boat. Well, actually I’m paddling behind that boat for the moment. Also, use big fat pens, sharpie makes a good one. It helps with the cramping etc.

  22. If this is the book I think it is (and I won’t give it away, since you want it kept secret for now), you missed my favorite bit — the “special industry Big Mouth mailings.”

    I don’t know what an “industry Big Mouth” is — hey, if you and I both got galleys of this, maybe it’s people like us — but that’s something you definitely want your book to get. Ask for it specifically on the next one…

  23. Janiece:

    “Was it the Tattered? I love those stores, and I’ve found they do occasionally invite SF writers in for a signing, although I had to see OSC at Borders.”

    Yes, it was. I do love the comfy feel of thier stores. Their signing schedule is quite full for the fall (they’ve got Brian Jacques! squee!) so I kind of understand why they let the publishers come to them.
    I miss the Rocky Mountain Book Festival. I met Wil McCarthy (local SF writer) there.

  24. Ray Banks has soundtracks for both of his books. They include a couple of Tom Waits songs, which I find interesting since Waits forbids use of his music in commercials.

    I suppose an author being a huge fan (to the point of cussing me out on a blog for getting the name of THE BONE MACHINE wrong) doesn’t count.

    Think Sweet will let me use “Little Willy Won’t Go Home” when my next one comes out?

  25. In America, “envy” often means wanting as much (or more) as the other guy, combined with a willingness to change one’s own behavior to achieve it. This is more admiration than envy.

    Brad DeLong is talking about the “spite of the rich” in making the poor feel bad by the conspicuous consumption they practice — basically in support of tax increases on the rich. Even if the taxes don’t help the poor.

    I call a desire to tax / punish / destroy the rich, envy.

    Contrasting American and Russian dreams when neighbors have a prize cow:
    The American dreams of a BETTER cow.
    The Russian dreams that the neighbor’s cow DIES
    — that’s envy.

    Anyway, how can I have time to read real books when there are so many great blogs to read, and even comment on — plus work to do? Good luck with yours; who are you reading?

  26. Laurie Mann:

    “And we all know there’s no how/no way anything vaguely SF/fantasy will ever be part of ‘The Oprah Book Club.'”

    I understand A Million Little Pieces was a fantasy.

  27. Hey, you could always do a youtube promotional video yourself; what with no longer having to tape bacon to the cat you must’ve oodles of spare time to do this in…

  28. Just a not on “Floor display with special riser ”

    Oh god how bookstore staffers hates those fucking things. At least in the stores I worked in.

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