This week was my favourite love-to-hate-you subject: marketing. Selling books is like any other industry in the sense that if it sells copies then it is a good idea. I say love to hate, I have had a great career to date where sales and marketing is concerned. I am very good at it but I find it at times onerous, mainly because of the marketeer’s tendency to treat every product in the fashion of reductio ad absurdum, clinically diagnosing its selling points and going after whatever strategy works to the advantage of the product. I understand that business is business and the reality is that if I will not market like that then others will, so one finds a way to be clinical yet ethical. After all, a job where one is ashamed of one’s work is not worth having.
As a man with ambitions to strike out on my own I valued immensely the lessons about marketing found here. For example, keeping one’s eye on online fora such as Mumsnet had never occurred to me but it is clearly a huge market ripe for optimisation and exploitation (in the not-so-sinister sense). I had no idea that being the Mumsnet book of the week had such a profound effect on sales, but Kevin Duffy of Bluemoose has had huge success that way. I also learned that Radio Four is hugely influential and exposure there all but guarantees a bestseller, although securing airtime is a Herculean task if ever there was one.
Ultimately the lesson here is simple: cream rises. Great products sink due to bad marketing whereas effective marketing can make millionaires out of mediocrity – see Bill Gates whose computers were, in the nineties, utter garbage, but won the day with a combination of being there first and using the Rolling Stones’ music in advertising. I remember too that Microsoft employed Brian Eno on a brief several pages long to produce the three-second chime when a Windows machine booted up. It seemed crazy when I read about that but it is true, and this is a lesson for booksellers everywhere. The tiniest details can have a chaos theory-style effect on sales. Like the flap of a butterfly wing that causes a hurricane, the small things can whip up a frenzy. I now feel less as though marketing is one of the dark arts and more a necessity. In a saturated industry the message is clear: stand out or die.