No Author Left Behind

by Pari Noskin Taichert

ButterflyAny parent knows the joy of hearing a child mispronounce a word. Among our household favorites was "flutterby" for "butterfly." I cried when my younger daughter said it correctly for the first time.

But being mixed up isn’t always so charming.

Am I the only one confused by the marketing frenzy surrounding the last Harry Potter book? Here are a few paragraphs from one web article:

" . . . for those who somehow don’t know about Potter 7, Scholastic plans a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign.

‘This is so much more than the publication of a single book,’ Lisa Holton, president of Scholastic Trade and Book Fairs, told the Associated Press. ‘It’s a true celebration of the Harry Potter movement and of the joy of reading.’

HarrypotterThe Scholastic campaign is called ‘There Will Soon Be 7’ and will feature a Knight Bus National Tour, stopping at 40 libraries in 10 ‘major metropolitan areas,’ and millions of Potter bookmarks, easel backs and tattoos."

. . . uh . . .

"Celebration?"
"Joy of Reading?"

Um, okay, please help me here . . .

Since when does a business that is printing 12 million copies of a book NOT look at the bottom line? Pardon my skeptism, but all this marketing is designed to sell.

I’d just argue that the campaign isn’t really necessary, not at the level planned at least.

Our family has every Harry Potter book. My kids love ’em. So, I don’t mean any disrespect, but I’m kind of grossed out by what Scholastic is doing.

Why do the biggest books, the biggest name authors, get the biggest PR and the most advertising?

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the old saw, "Go with the winners." But I don’t buy it as a sound business model.

In my sillier moments, I’ve thought about proposing a No-Author-Left-Behind program where publishers would try to meet the needs of all of their authors. Sure, this would require them to be, perhaps, a bit more discriminating about the number of books they purchase and publish each season. Standards would have to be defined and applied . . .

Would that be so bad?

Anyway, just imagine if Scholastic took those multimillions and spread some of them into the marketing efforts for the rest of their authors. Wow. I bet they’d still sell all of those Harry Potters.

What worries me is that authors nowadays worry about the wrong things.

What’s happened to the tear-your-hair-out-of-your-scalp concern about writing the very best books you can?

Most novelists I meet spend more time talking about marketing. Their concensus is that unless your book sells at auction or your print run is in the six digits, you’re just not going to get the publisher attention necessary to make a career of this business.

This same model can be found in other business sectors — especially when it comes to entertainment. However, sometimes, when a new product is introduced into the market, a business sinks relevant money into the effort.

L_firstplaceblueribbonWhy wouldn’t publishers assume that EVERY BOOK they buy has the potential to make it big? Do they really have so little faith in their own judgment? Why don’t they want to invest well in ALL of their products?

I don’t get it.

Sure seems bass aackwards to me. 

16 thoughts on “No Author Left Behind

  1. billie

    Well said, Pari. I totally agree – and love the no author left behind idea.

    I was at the local bookstore here this weekend and they have a huge display counting down the days until Potter 7. Of all the books on the earth, this one needs the marketing the least.

    The bookseller did tell me they will put on a big bash when my book is published, though, so I’m happy they get just as excited about new authors starting out!

    Off topic question, as I have a character in Socorro right this moment looking at a firefly on her window. Is this even possible? Does New Mexico have fireflies? If so, what do they look like? One of those tiny details I need to fact-check. 🙂

    Back to the desk in the magic mansion.

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  2. Naomi

    I’m two minds about this. On one hand, I totally understand. J.K. Rowlings and Harry Potter appeared on the scene when kids weren’t reading as much as before. Now with all this excitement, kids are lining up to be among the first to get their hands on the next installment. I’m not sure if it has a strong carryover effect into other reading material or not. And this is the last one, so it warrants the extra attention, I guess.

    I feel bad actually for smaller independent bookstores in all this mix. With all the deep discounting, a lot of them don’t make much money. But they still have to keep Harry Potter stocked to please their clientele.

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  3. pari

    Hey, Billie,I’m glad that local bookstore is so supportive of its authors. The thing is, it’d be nice if bookstores around the country could learn of the many authors being published today rather than those few biggies. This isn’t a whine . . . just one of those ponderings.

    As to fireflies, good thing you asked. They’re quite rare around here; maybe they have some up north, but I doubt they’d be in Socorro. From what I gather, they like the world to be a bit more moist.

    Now, there might be dragonflies near the river or in some pastures . . . but even that might be stretching it.

    I’ve gotta ask . . . Socorro? I’m grinning here. Tell me more.

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  4. pari

    Naomi,Thanks for the perspective. I think the phenomenon has been a sure-fire sell for Scholastic for the last few books at least. The excitement would still be there, sans the millions and millions of dollars.

    Re: indiesThat’s interesting. Are you saying that the bigger chain stores can sell the books for so much less that the indies have to keep pace? Everywhere I’ve gone to buy HP, the price has been the same whether it’s at Borders or Bookworks.

    Or is there some kind of different discounting schedule at the distributors?

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  5. Louise Ure

    I’m still of the Celebrate Harry Potter camp, just as I was of the Da Vinci Code. Both books raised the profile of books, and got people reading, even if it was just one book a year.

    Rather than a No Author Left Behind program, I’d settle for a “Read Two Books This Year” effort. Can you imagine the difference that would make to booksellers (and authors) everywhere?

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  6. pari

    I’m thinking a “Buy two books this year,” campaign, Louise.

    Okay, let’s see, two hardcovers . . . um around $50 spread over 52 weeks . . . That’s about a can of pop from a machine or a candybar . . . definitely less than a pack of ciggies/week. Just about everyone — except America’s poorest of the poor — could spring for that.

    If not hardcovers, then paperbacks.

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  7. JT Ellison

    Billie, I’m JUST writing a scene with lightning bugs (fireflies). How weird is that?

    This is one of those subjects that I don’t know enough about to comment. My personal experience is that the Harry Potter phenomenon started kids who never read before on the road to literacy. My nephew and niece were NEVER readers. They finally got into the books after seeing the movies. They ate them up, moved into fantasy and sci-fi. They both read voraciously now, which is stunning to me, having watched them grow up playing video games. They even go to the library, which does my soul good.

    If the marketing captures the attention of the kids and their parents, parents read the books so they can discuss them with their kids, perhaps there’s a tipping point. Maybe these young readers will become the next generation of crime fiction readers. Then we’ll all benefit because they’ll be buying books.

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  8. pari

    J.T. and others . . .This isn’t a negative comment on Harry Potter, not at all. I think the books have done a great deal of good in the world. They HAVE gotten kids and parents to read — though I’m not sure that that translates to other books, either. But, they’ve still done great good.

    My question remains: Why do books that have such incredible momentum on their own, books that already will sell out, need to have multimillion marketing campaigns at this point?

    That’s what I don’t get. And, I’d love to hear the logic from others.

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  9. billie

    I should probably add that we LOVE Harry Potter, so I’m not whining about the success either. But to spend millions on marketing – seems excessive to me too.

    Pari, this is my second novel, which after a year on the back burner is undergoing heavy revision (that I just actually finished and cut 45 pages, wowee!) which takes place in Virginia, Texas, and New Mexico.

    Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Socorro, Bisti, Whizmer.

    🙂

    Weird to be revising it after reading your wonderful books – b/c now I think of your characters as well as mine!

    And thanks for the firefly info. If it’s a rare possibility it will work even better. I can note that it’s rare in the story.

    JT, synchronicity in action. 🙂

    I’ve got some kind of baby animal thing going on here – found a baby bunny yesterday afternoon that took up an hour of my time, and then a baby raccoon last night that took even longer. I’m wrapping up my time here. Sigh. Back to the real world.

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  10. Lisa

    I read somewhere (which may raise questions about its veracity, but it might have been somewhere like the NYTimes) that some independent bookstores won’t even carry the last HP book, because they know they won’t be able to match the discounted prices at the big chains. It’s not entirely clear to me if that means the chains are selling at or even below cost on the assumption that once in, shoppers will buy more books, but that’s what I read.And as for the HP impact, (and I too love them), as someone who spent 2002-2005 teaching writing at a state university, I can tell you that certain Britishisms (“amongst” instead of “among” being the most prevalent, but there were many others) are writing vernacular among the 18-22 yr old set, at least out here on the East Coast. For whatever that’s worth.

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  11. billie

    Thanks, Pari!

    I’m back home as of tonight, but the caretaker/groundskeeper promised to keep an eye out for the babies there.

    I’m back to my crew. 🙂

    Reply
  12. pari

    Oh, I love that, Lisa.Amongst? How marvelously archaic.

    Thanks for the possible clarification on HP and discounting.

    What I don’t know is if Scholastic distributes through, say, Ingram or if it has its own system. Seems to me that that would make a difference as well.

    Maybe I’ll try to write a post about book distribution and how it works . . . or doesn’t.

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  13. Robert Gregory Browne

    JT said: “They ate them up, moved into fantasy and sci-fi. They both read voraciously now, which is stunning to me, having watched them grow up playing video games. They even go to the library, which does my soul good.”

    This, along with the millions of similar stories around the country and the world, make all the publicity money being thrown at the Potter series well worth it. Getting kids (and adults) excited about Harry Potter gets them excited about books in general and we all benefit from that excitement.

    And while I understand the concern about the rich getting richer, so to speak, I don’t see it as being much different than the movie industry, which continually throws money at the big players while the “smaller” talents are forced to scramble for independent financing.

    And some of the best movies made barely get seen.

    It’s just the way the corporate world works, unfortunately. And I don’t there’s much we can do to change it.

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  14. Mike MacLean

    Pari,

    Great topic. Like some of the others, I’m of two minds about this. I’m slow to criticize anything connected to Potter. In a world of video games and cable TV (I had maybe six or seven channels growing up, today there are 100s) the little Wizard got kids to read. But I share your questions. Would fewer books be sold if Scholastic spent only half of its promotional money? My guess…no.

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  15. pari

    Rob,Thanks for the comment. No, I don’t think we can change the model. And, yes, it is found throughout the entertainment industry.

    I just wonder why it exists the way it does. Probably because it’s easier than, say, trying to increase top-of-mind for lesser-known works.

    Mike,Again, no criticism of Harry Potter here.

    It’s actually Scholastic’s approach that makes me scratch my head.

    Reply

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