Road to Publication: Marketing without Selling

It’s about the author, not the book. That is one promotion strategy for a publisher, particularly in the memoir genre, the category for my forthcoming book Committed. So it is with a combination of admiration and curiosity (as to the possible results) that I find myself a guinea pig for my publisher. Black Rose has, in its most recent newsletter, pitched me as an author without mentioning anything about my book or when it will be coming out. Here’s an excerpt:

I want you to meet one of our authors!

Patrick Ross has a map obsession. His childhood bedroom walls were lined with country maps detached from National Geographic. As an adult he’s collected a dozen or so replicas of antique maps from the 15th through 19th centuries, but he also cherishes an original Montreal subway map and a “map” of the electromagnetic spectrum. To Patrick, a fine map is the perfect representation of the meeting of the left and right brain, a marvelous fusion of art and science.

1407955750692You can read the rest of this short biographical essay here.

My publisher informs me that they have a very large readership for this newsletter, which primarily includes readers who have enjoyed previous Black Rose books. They want to provide value to their subscribers rather than inundate them with press releases. So they provide value up top–offering a 50% discount through the end of August for new purchases while touting free eBooks–and then they jump into my story. But to avoid the hard sell they don’t name my book, nor do they say when it is coming out.

What are your thoughts on this approach? Would the essay have made you more curious about the author and his book? And, perhaps more importantly, given that nothing is on Black Rose’s site yet about the book, what would you have done to learn more?

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

28 Responses to “Road to Publication: Marketing without Selling”

  1. Definitely an intriguing approach! And their article did make me curious about you, so if I didn’t know you at all, I would have googled you and I assume that would have led me to your website. But their bio seems more revealing than most websites are, so I have a stronger sense of you as a person and writer and would have made a note of your name and book–that’s very clever marketing!

  2. I am not sure, why would they introduce you as an author and not share more about your upcoming book. As a customer I purchase books not authors. I may after reading a book become a fan and want to know more about the author but if I were to go to this website I would be looking for a book not information on an author. So I think they should have marketed your book first along with who you are. Just my opinion

    • Gigi, I hear you. I’m kind of getting my head around this myself. I wouldn’t have minded a mention of the book or a link, but I do understand the notion of not having their newsletter readers fear that they’re going to start getting spammed.

  3. Great that your publisher is starting to promote you. Marketing can be illusive. This piece seems to be creating some heightened awareness and interest in who you are to a new audience.

    When Committed is launched – you will seem more familiar to these potential readers when they see follow-up mentions.

  4. Yes, I agree with David G. above re the illusive approach. Your publisher is being almost too obviously crafty as they end with the “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” motif of mental instability on the road. Always compelling. I say it works. This of course is only the beginning of their strategy to emblazon you onto the minds of their committed readers. And furthermore, given that the publishing world remains in such flux, one can only guess what might work and what not. So far I like this approach. I’m beginning to regret that I, myself, don’t take drugs, haven’t been institutionalized, don’t see a shrink, haven’t tried to kill myself. Dammit, I don’t even smoke. I might start when I turn 75. Or is that a little crazy?

    • Will you be too upset, PJ, if I tell you there are a couple of references to Pirsig’s book in Committed?🙂

      I’m glad you feel it works, and yes, it works best as the start of a larger strategy.

  5. The Black Rose approach borders on the annoying. If I’m interested in the writer, I want to know what he’s written. I often read an article about a book and author and call my independent bookseller right away or download it to my e-reader. I read so many reviews and hear about so many books, I don’t have time for the “building the author image” strategy..

    • I hear you, Adavigo… and yet I sometimes think it behooves us writers to do what we can to bring a more mindful pace to this whole business of promotion. Doesn’t the tortoise still win the race? That’s a legit question — I don’t know. I hope he does. I’m tortoise-esque myself. I’m in it for the long haul.

    • I hear you. And my hope is that those with your approach–a pretty common one, I suspect–will do what you do if they hear a direct reference to my book once it’s out.

  6. What does “tell it slant” mean to you?

    Hope you are fruitful, productive in all​

    • Ahh! Yes, “tell it slant” is the creative nonfiction approach of telling a story through the emphasis of certain details, and that is what Black Rose is doing here, telling my story and that of the book through a slant.

  7. Patrick, upfront I have to say I LOVE the short bio/intro. Very intriguing! Yes, I’d want to know more🙂

    You already know I’m very fussy about aesthetics and readability, so there are things I’d love to see different in their posting that would make its purpose more effective, I think:

    They bolded “50% discount” and “August50”, but they also should bold (and enlarge) “I want you to meet one of our authors!” and your name.

    I think your name should also link to your website so people don’t have to google if they don’t want to. The link, as you know, makes someone much more likely to look further and they would find out about your book at the same time. Not sure why they wouldn’t at least give people the title and release date, if nothing else, so there’s the connection when they release. People may not easily remember you’re the author they read about 2 months prior.

  8. It’s facinating to me to notice that Walmart’s approach so successful. Here is a company that from the get-go, they wanted to make things cheap. They very much hold to that philosophy, promoting a coupon share policy, so that they can match any other deal out there. And who would of thunk it – LOT’s of people flock to Walmart because it’s so cheap! Lesson to be learned here. I guess the opposite could be said of Apple though…

  9. Hi, Patrick:
    Thanks for letting us into Black Rose’s marketing efforts and weigh in. First, Black Rose is smart to test out unconventional marketing centered around building relationships between readers and authors. I would suggest a modification to your opening statement: “It’s not about the book. It’s about the Story-greater-than-the-book.” It’s actually NOT about you the author. What Black Rose aspires to do is to tap into a story-behind-the-book or a Story greater than the book. That Story has to do with a guy obsessed with maps who ultimately maps intimate parts of his own history with mental illness.

    Their aim is to pique curiosity, first. They have revealed information and, in classic form, have held back on us.

    I think their strategy and intention is right on. I’m not so sure about their execution. The biographical sketch is oddly dropped into the newsletter and then has no contextual closing. The sign-off seems abrupt. It’s the type of profile that also begs for an image or two of your maps or of you and your maps.

    Still, they’re taking a smart approach in building up a frame in your future readers’ minds: Maps & Roads & Mental Illness History Patrick Ross. If they keep building up that frame by unfolding more and more information about you, then it could have more effect once the book is released.

    The final suggestion I would offer is that Black Rose include a system for tracking what is working and what is not working. That’s the advice these days for all small publishers.

    I hope this is valuable.

    • Jeffrey, it’s clear here what you bring to your clients in terms of your understanding of the book business. I really value your input here. And yes, your opening statement is a far better way of putting it. (Frankly, for me as a reader it’s not just about the author.)

      And you raise a good point about tracking. I believe they use MailChimp, which I know gives some pretty decent free analytics and has the option of selling you more. I’ll follow up with them at some point and ask what they learned.

  10. Hi Patrick,

    Definitely an interesting approach. I think it does a good job of getting the reader interested in who you are, and it’s a refreshing change to as you say, the ‘hard sell’. However, I think there should definitely be a link to your website or information on your book… At the moment it’s a little anti-climactic, and actually leads to a ‘dead end’, and I’m not sure a reader will go out of their way to start their own search.

    I also agree with Jeffery Davis (above) about how the bio is randomly dropped into the newsletter, this could have been done differently. That being said, it’s definitely nice to see publishers branching out with their marketing strategies, and giving their readers a break from all the ‘salesy’ hype.

    All the best with your book🙂

  11. You asked if the essay would have made me more curious about the author and his book. And yes, I think it would. The essay was interesting enough that I would have remembered it and thought in the back of my mind that I might want to read more about this person. I probably wouldn’t have googled you. But if they featured you in another newsletter or somehow made the connection in some future advertising, I’d be even more interested in you because I would already know you to some extent. They can’t wait too long, though, or I might forget what I learned in the first essay. When the book is actually mentioned, the lead-in needs to remind us what we already know and like about you and your story.

    • I’m glad the essay was engaging; that’s important, and what they were going for. Engaging without hard-selling. You’re right about the delay aspect and memory; heck, I’m starting to have more and more incidents where I stride with determination into a room only to realize I can’t remember why I strode in there to begin with!

  12. Hi Patrick. I think the same as Behind the Story above. I loved the essey, it’s intriguing for me. I think I would remember it a lot better and more easily than any dry presentation of the book, and I think ‘remembering’ is the key point here.

    It may be just me, but for me knowing what kind of person the author is determines a part of my interest in him/her. If their interests are similar to mine, I’ll be more interested in their work. If they had similar experiences to mine, I’ll be likewise interested in them.

    So yes, this kind of approch works for me. I actually find it quite interesting. It’s kind of more human, you know? It isn’t just about ‘buy my book’, it’s more about connecting with people. I like it.

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