I have had the privilege and honour of promoting over half a dozen of the most controversial books of our times and coincidently it started with a book on Dr. Kalam and came to a pause (wouldn’t like it to be my last) with a book by Dr. Kalam before I took a leap of faith and moved out of the publishing house I was working for. But these opportunities enriched my understanding of how controversies work and how if used well can do wonders for your book. Sending out copies as part of your regular mailing exercise might get you coverage but in order to get tremendous coverage really having an effect on sales, you need to plan and strategize.
Of the immense learning of how the media works, quickly sharing a few tips and learnings:
What makes “controversy” controversial: I guess one doesn’t need to explain what can be termed as controversial but it is important for a book marketer to understand what makes controversy meaty enough to be negotiated for in terms of the kind of space that the media needs to provide it and the length or extent of coverage it needs to be given. It is on you how you can let something small seem explosive and make something big fizzle out because of not focusing or highlighting it correctly.
Understanding the media mind: Once a head of one of the biggest media houses (and a well regarded one at that) said “what’s news in this. This has been written and covered several times.” While in case of another media house journo, it was something worth a front-page mention. It served as learning for me to find the right fit. Media survives on news. It is relative as to what “news” would be news for which newsperson. Also every individual has a certain interest and bent of mind. You must be able to gauge that with a media person as well. While working with them try and find out what interests them and what they like reading/writing on.
Controlling a controversy: you should be able to control what you wish to get carried and who you wish to carry what. Of course the media houses involved need to be given options but the power of using these options to gain the maximum out of the media houses should lie with you. Based on the effect that your information would have, negotiate on pages, extent of coverage; follow up news coverage and visibility (masthead, lead story etc)
Time your controversy: if topical you need to time your controversy correctly. If something that doesn’t need to wait for an opportune moment use latter half of the week to spill the beans. It is observed that the readership is higher towards the end of the week and on a weekend. Also not every time does one have breaking news. Do not time it around some big happening as the likelihood of it being pushed to back pages (in print) and not remain a lead story (in electornic) goes up. But incase it happens try to get a follow on story. Do not give more than a day or two to release what you want carried especially in print. Electronic can be immediate.
Choosing the right fire starter: it is important to be clear right in the beginning whether its better for your book to be pitched to a single national media or to multiple media houses depending on their strengths. Don’t neglect the news agencies, as they help penetrate better. One good decision on the media and you should be able to start a forest fire and reach a wider audience.
It might lead to another controversy if I name them but there have been times that the book has sold on the notion of being highly controversial whereas the only controversial bit that it had was already carried by the media but the author and the publisher went home happy. Jaishree Misra once shared how her effigies were burnt at the time of release of her book Rani. It must have been tough on the writer for a while but it added to the book becoming an instant bestseller.
All it takes is an understanding of whether your book has the potential to create controversy. During the time of it being so, your life would be hell as you would be inundated with calls, some overtly friendly while others carrying threat but at the end of it all, every additional copy that sells will make you smile with satisfaction and give yourself a pat on your back. It is great fun to see the media tamasha and be part of it. While I read a few forthcoming books to gauge which one of them is a potential threat to my peaceful time, until the next MarketMyBook update…