MARKET FOCUS: Judging books by the coverage

Sales are everything in the books sector, and PR drives them.

Sales are everything in the books sector, and PR drives them.

While trade-book PR is most closely related to consumer product PR, the cultural relevance of fiction and non-fiction gives books more clout with the media than most products. PR, not advertising, sells books. "Publishing houses are structured with big publicity departments and very small advertising departments - if at all," says Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity at Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House. "Editorial space moves sales." Both writer and publisher have a vested interest in publicity, so most in-house PR teams are sophisticated, dedicated, and effective. Bogaards says publishers usually employ 10 or more PR people. Knopf has 14, and publicists are generally assigned to a book as soon as it is acquired. Most report that long-term relationships with writers are as important as long-term relationships with the media. "It's important that you feel a commitment to the books you're working on," says Dan O'Connell, publicity manager at Houghton Mifflin, which publishes about 100 hardcovers a year, and has a PR staff of seven. "We tend to keep the same authors, so we develop relationships and gain the confidence of the author. When it works, it's a mix that you don't want to mess with." Random House, which Hoover's ranks as the highest-selling US trade- book publisher, has six divisions, and is recognized for its successful media relations. "Our job is to serve our authors and our contacts in the media," Bogaards says. "Random House believes in the efficacy of PR. We have always seen a link between PR breaks and sales." Book sales soar Although 2002 was a tough year in which to sell anything, the Association of American Publishers reports that trade-book sales increased last year. Adult hardbound sales were up 14.9% from $6.37 billion in 2001, and paperback sales were up 14.2% from $1.93 billion in 2001. Year-end juvenile hardbound sales gained 10% from 2001, and paperbacks finished the year up 3.6%. Women writers and some new writers did particularly well in 2002. "We're seeing some first-time novelists deliver explosive sales," Bogaards says, citing The Lovely Bones: A Novel by Alice Sebold and The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer. "It's extremely rewarding." Cookbooks also sold well, a trend that some attribute to people traveling less and spending more time at home. Last year also saw a handful of established adult writers, such as Carl Haaisen and Michael Chabon, try their hand at children's books. "I think we ascribe that to a certain crossover appeal of Harry Potter," says Michael Jacobs, Scholastic SVP trade division. PR investments seem to range dramatically from title to title. Scholastic spent $750,000 on the launch of JK Rowling's fourth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But Bogaards says budgets are "not as big as you might think." He adds that Knopf assigns at least some money to every title, with budgets typically ranging from $2,500 to $50,000. Sarah Bailey, publicity director at Chronicle Books, says most of her PR expense comes from mailing, radio tours, and SMTs. "You can do campaigns for very little money, as long as you've got time and hands," she says. "The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook was a New York Times bestseller that sold 3 million copies, and it cost very little. It was persistent elbow grease - sending the book out and constantly following up." PR agencies are usually hired only to work on highly specific niches, SMTs, or events. "Large publishers have very qualified in-house teams," says Bob Newman, president and CEO of Newman Communications, which specializes in book PR. "They'll hire a firm like ours to supplement what they've already done." Bailey says Chronicle Books has seven in-house employees and often hires freelance PR people to do radio campaigns or SMTs because it's more cost-effective. Scholastic hired Dan Klores to organize and field media calls for Harry Potter because its 10 in-house people just couldn't handle the volume. "If we don't have expertise in certain niches, we'll bring people in," Jacobs says. "We're pretty liberal about that." Writers who are signed with smaller publishers, or who are self-published, frequently hire freelancers and agencies to increase exposure. Newman's staff of 20 handles 200-300 books a year, and an average book campaign ranges from $10,000 to $50,000. Strategic Vision in Atlanta recently added book publicity to its list of services, and reports monthly retainers of $1,500 to $10,000 on four-, six- and 12-month contracts. Sales response to media hits can be tracked fairly easily. Amazon.com is a good indicator, and Publisher's Lunch and Book Scan also have online tracking services. "Publishers are always trying to find the causal link between a media hit and sales, so we're always studying what has impact," he says. David Johnson, GM of PR and marketing at Strategic Vision, says sales response to PR is not necessarily immediate. "We had a client who expected immediate response, and she was so upset that she had invested in PR and saw no return," he says. "Then in about two weeks her web stats went through the roof, and the publisher called to say she had 1,500 new orders." O'Connell says that wholesalers and retailers are also better connected, so publishers are getting data from them quicker than in the past. "Sales reports show bumps pretty quickly," he continues. "We rely on our sales reps to give us feedback on what's working for them." Recipe for a bestseller The right mix of coverage at the right time is crucial. "Television can make a huge impact on a bestseller," Newman says. "Print has the longest and strongest impact for books. Radio gets you the best volume - Fresh Air is the Oprah of radio. If you can mix one or two national TV shows, an AP story, Fresh Air, an SMT, and a cover story in US News & World Report, it can make a bestseller." Of course, every book is different, and strategy differs from title to title. "Over time you find out what works for different types of books," O'Connell says. Bogaards says fractionalization of the marketplace means books need more coverage opportunities than in the past to reach the same number of readers. "Ten years ago, a couple of key national media hits could launch a bestseller," he says. "Now more seems to be required to break through the consciousness of the consumer. It's not enough to saturate on a national level. You really have to dive down to local levels because that's how a lot of people process information." Oprah's book club, now discontinued, is thought to have done more for book sales than any other medium. "You could hear the collective groan of publishers when Oprah announced she was discontinuing," Bogaards says. "It was devastating." Good Morning America, Today, and Live With Regis and Kelly recognized the opportunity and started their own clubs. It is generally agreed that these shows are proving to have a tremendous impact on book sales. Bogaards explains that framing has a lot to do with the impact on sales, and it's not enough just to land a feature on one of these shows. "You can get a morning-show feature and see only a marginal impact at point of sale because the segment wasn't forceful or compelling," he says. "Forceful advocacy or the personal enthusiasm of people in the media can cause a demonstrable run in the marketplace. For instance, when Charlie Gibson said he found The Dive From Clausen's Pier tremendously moving, viewers responded by buying." Writers who are good with the public are assets, and publishers try and keep them on the road as much as possible. Scholastic sends 500 authors into schools every year to build readership. "Often you think an author is going to be dreadful in front of the media, and they are, but they're great with the kids," Jacobs says. "It's a much different dynamic. There is more time to be genuine in a classroom. It's about connecting, not trying to be slick." Prizes guarantee sales Prizes and awards are also a guaranteed road to coverage and sales. Richard Russo's Empire Falls was a bestseller with 100,000 hardbacks sold, but after it won the Pulitzer Prize it sold 750,000 copies in paperback. "An awareness level was achieved overnight that we hadn't been able to attain with a year-long campaign," Bogaards says. Even nominations for small awards can stir up media attention, especially for struggling self-published writers. "A lot of them are free, and writers can nominate themselves," Johnson says. "The Baltimore Sun ran a feature based on our press release saying we nominated one of our clients for the Writer's Digest self-published book of the year award," he says. "Several radio stations became interested in her all of a sudden. Before then, we had been sending the book out for review and no one wanted to touch it." Random House has staff members that do nothing else but pitch reviewers. Bailey says online reviews and author essays are particularly helpful because they are accessible when people make buying decisions. "It's information that people can use," she says. "Not everybody listens to Fresh Air, and they're not doing it while they're shopping." Booksellers are also highly influenced by media coverage, often using it as a gauge to determine how many books they buy. "In the early to mid-'90s you could make promises on the PR that you were going to do and get strong buys," Newman says. "Now they want to see the media commitments or they won't make the buys. National hits are the most important to them." Tradeshows are good places to generate excitement in the bookselling community before books are available for sale. The idea is to release advance copies and get as many booksellers as possible talking about your books. "We try to schedule launches at times of the year that work for bookstores," O'Connell says. "We want to put books on the shelves when that type of book has a market. The media also has times when it is looking for different things. It's about balancing between the media and the book buyer." ---------- Harry Potter vs. "The Next Harry Potter" Back in July 2000, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (the fourth title in a series of seven) became the most successful book launch of all time. New York-based Scholastic, the publisher behind the groundbreaking PR effort, admits the Potter phenomenon will probably never be replicated on such a scale. But that doesn't mean it can't borrow some of the PR strategies to generate buzz for other launches, such as The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, an established German author who is new to the US market. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling Launched July 2000 Approx. budget $750,000 Strategy Build on the anticipation that was already created Tactics Keep the title a secret until launch; simultaneously release in the US and UK at midnight on July 8, 2000; no advance copies, not even to reviewers; contest for children Results Broke all publishing sales records, selling nearly 3 million copies in the first weekend; initial print run of 3.8 million copies was the largest for any book; sold over l4 million copies to date; 124 weeks on The New York Times' bestseller list ------------ The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke Launched September 2002 Approx. budget $l75,000 for marketing, PR, and ads (large for a first book, and about the same as the first Harry Potter book) Strategy To mirror the launch of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and get readers excited and talking about the book Tactics 6,000 advance copies, extraordinary for a first novel; marketing to independent booksellers through Booksense; key account meetings with Cornelia Funke, including American Library Association Results Articles in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today both asked "Is this the next Harry Potter?"; coverage on CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown and in The New York Times; sold 175,000 copies in the first three months; initial print run 75,000

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