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Marketing “Crazy” Like a Fox: A Prize Winner’s Method

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When the Harbor Press book, Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! – Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind (by Michael J. Bradley, Ed.D.), was recognized for marketing excellence at this year’s Benjamin Franklin Awards ceremony, there was special reason for us to celebrate. That’s because our company operates on the premise that book publishing is, above all, an exercise in packaging and marketing. Without diminishing the importance of the publisher’s role in conceptualizing and shaping a book editorially, at Harbor Press, marketing considerations influence how book projects are chosen, shaped, packaged, and sold.

 

Choosing

Author Michael Bradley met all the marketing prerequisites: he was a talented writer; he was credentialed; and he had the skills needed for handling media interviews effectively. The challenge was to match him with the right subject, with promotability being a prime consideration. After the author expressed interest in new research about the development of the teen brain, we saw the potential for a very strong news hook. With already intense media interest in teenagers, we reasoned that a book explaining how the teenage brain works could be a publicity bonanza.

Predictably, the brain research story turned up in cover stories in Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, and it got big play in all the major daily newspapers. That helped us get lots of TV, radio, and press exposure, including a spot on TheToday Show.

The choice of a title was alsoaligket-driven. We wanted something short and snappy, amusing and provocative. Something that would make media contacts sit up and take notice. Something that would stop bookstore customers in their tracks. The title we settled on apparently worked, because whenever we called reviewers, press, TV, and radio contacts to ask if they had received and seen the book we sent, they responded, “Oh YES, I remember that one!” And one of our star endorsers began her comments with “Forget the provocative, in-your-face title…”

 

Shaping

A major marketing objective was to get first-rate endorsements and a celebrity Foreword. An undertaking like this calls for a lot of brainstorming and persistence, not to mention luck.

We cast a wide net, sending review copies and requests to a long list of names that included celebrities, authors, and psychology and psychiatry professionals. In order to make it easy to say, “Yes,” we sent each prospect a galley, a personalized cover letter, a stamped return postcard, and a hand-written note. For example, the note to Carroll O’Connor called his attention to the chapters on drugs because O’Connor was a spokesman for Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Our first bit of luck came when he calledus within a week of our mailing to say he was willing to write the Foreword.

That left endorsements, but unlike our experience with O’Connor, it took several weeks and hundreds of follow-up phone calls to obtain 10 of them. Even then, we did not have a name that would bring instant recognition on the cover. Close to the deadline for completing the jacket, our in-house publicity person was watching A&E Biography and heard Martin Sheen speak of his “friend, Carroll O’Connor.” By that time, she had developed quite a telephone friendship with O’Connor, so she called him for a personal reference to approach Martin Sheen. O’Connor gladly gave her Sheen’s home address and a personal message to send with a galley copy of the book. Talk about luck!–the galley was forwarded to Sheen in New York City just a day before he was to take off for vacation in Europe. He read the book on the plane and phoned from his hotel saying, “Tell Carroll he was right. Everybody needs to read this book.”

 

Packaging

At Harbor Press, we give a lot of thought to the way a book looks, since the cover, more than anything else, drives store sales. At BookExpo, I went through the exercise of looking at wall after wall of cover displays to see which stood out from all the rest. I discovered that in a sea of gorgeous four-color covers, the occasional black-and-white photo cover caused my attention to zoom in.

Working on that premise, we built our cover around a black-and-white photo of a group of teens defiantly staring down our prospective customers–something parents could relate to. The only splash of color was the word “crazy” which was printed in brilliant red. And to take advantage of our celebrity Foreword, we added a red banner across the top heralding, “Foreword by Carroll O’Connor.”

On the back cover, we printed a series of six rave endorsements, including two from famous persons, and two from people with impressive professional credentials. To make sure that nobody missed them, the names and credentials of all the endorsers were centered and printed in red. When Martin Sheen materialized at the last minute, his endorsement naturally went to the top of the list.

 

Selling

Because our marketing plan called for a full-scale author tour and a national media campaign, we relied on freelance publicist Peg Booth of Booth Media Group (www.boothmedia.com); we had worked successfully with her in the past. It wasn’t long before she showed me how to be nimble on your feet when the chips are down. The day after our author tour began, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Naturally, all the media and the nation were preoccupied by those events, and the news media were handing out cancellation slips to everyone, including celebrities and big-name authors. However, Booth immediately went to work re-pitching Bradley as an expert who could tell parents how to help children deal with the crisis. Two weeks after 9/11, she was able to re-book the entire tour, preserving almost all of our original dates and adding some extra ones.

Since Harbor Press has signed Dr. Bradley to write three future books, one important marketing objective was to sell not only the book but also the author. So we created an author Web site, http://www.docmikebradley.com.

The aim of the Web site is to create a community of parents who know and like Dr. Bradley’s writing and will want to buy all of his future books. Therefore, a central strategy of the site is to capture contact information for visitors, so that we can market to them in the future. Structured with this in mind, the Web site requires registration in order to win a free book, to participate in a forum with Dr. Bradley, or to subscribe to a free e-newsletter.

Recently we began another grassroots marketing strategy, booking the author as a keynote speaker before PTA state conventions and other parenting groups. The parents who will hear and learn about Dr. Bradley and his book at these events are in a position to influence the decisions of many other parents. These speaking engagements have been low in cost and well received, and they have always sold out of books.

 

Results

In its first four months of sales, Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! sold close to 30,000 copies. Sell-through has been excellent, and we’re confident that the paperback incarnation of the book will be a steady seller for years to come. We also believe the experience gained will continue to improve our chances for creating future best-sellers.

 

Harry Lynn launched Harbor Press in 1985 as a mail-order health book publisher. Since then, its books have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, and they are published in more than 20 foreign languages. Two have been licensed to New York publishing houses in major six-figure deals. In recent years, Harbor Press has selectively published a small number of trade books which it aggressively promotes and publicizes, drawing on Lynn’s 18 years of experience as a New York TV News Producer.

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