A book is said to be the ultimate creation of man and the act of writing a book is as painful as any other creative process. Yet, little do the writers know that the book they are writing must be read as well. For that it needs to be sold, and for it to be sold it needs to be marketed first.
In recent years, the phenomenon of book marketing has picked pace. There used to be book reviews in newspapers and literary magazines for as long as we can remember. But there are many more innovative strategies that have become a part and parcel of ‘selling’ the book, the so-called post production phase of book writing. Most of the time, they come from the publishers’ side but inevitably involve the writer who is asked to travel, talk and sign.
However, not all writers are keen to use these strategies. For those writing in English language, fiction or otherwise, and involving publishers who have an international connection, there is no escaping the post writing phase.
“There is no denying the significance of a little help from the publicists. Having a publicist has its own ‘perks’,” says Haroon Khalid, the young author of A White Trail — A journey Into The Heart of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities. “The book marketing strategies employed by writers and publicists help in creating a sensationalised scenario, radiating positive vibes.”
The techniques range from book readings to well-publicised book launches to book tours within the country or, occasionally, internationally. The international tours mostly involve writers going to India as many of them have Indian publishers. Others like Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid whose works have been acknowledged, reviewed and translated internationally are required to tour across continents.
A fact lamented by Khalid who says there are not many Pakistani publishing houses to cater to “our lot”. Of the many writers who have chosen publishers in India, Saba Imtiaz is one. Not only is her novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me! published there, the story which revolves around pained Karachiites has reportedly been picked by Bollywood to be transformed into a cinematic piece.
But can a good marketing plan affect the number of books sold? Syrinna Haque, a short story writer and the author of Sand in the Castle, says: “Having an intensive marketing strategy can help only in the short term. In the long run, it is the content which matters.”
Musharraf Ali Farooqi, the famed author of several works including Between Clay and Dust, believes the importance of a marketing strategy is reflected by the amount of material available on learning “how to market your book”.
Having a publicist has advantages, the major one being the facilitation in getting a review. Book reviews can be seen as the most eminent promotional factor for a book. A review, essentially, provides a mark of validation for both the author and their work. “Getting your work reviewed is pivotal. If the review celebrates your work then there is no way that it should not sell or so we assume,” says Khalid.
The possibility exists that in cases where the author is unable to reach out to the reader through interaction, it can dull the significance of critical appreciation. “It is a tiring process, marketing of the book,” says Haque. Nonetheless, reaching out to prospective readership through talks about the book can help build interest.
However, not everybody has the advantage of a publicist backing his or her work, a major reason being affordability of a publicist. “I cannot imagine paying all that I am earning to one person to help me gain monetary advantages,” says Khalid. Hence, self-help is what some authors employ in marketing their works. Haque on the other hand thinks that having a publicist can do wonders. “It lifts the planning burden off your shoulders.”
For too long, the idea persisted that writers are aloof beings who are not interested in public interaction of any kind. It no longer holds much weight. The inclusion of literary festivals on to the web of social events has largely altered the relationship dynamics between the writers and their readers. These festivals in big cities provide a platform for renowned authors as well as newly published names to deliver live talks and conduct discussion sessions.
The publicists’ work mainly revolves around understanding the readership demographics and plotting accordingly. An example is of a writer touring schools; hence implicitly setting a tone for the awaited content and its eventual readership. How It Happened by Shazaf Fatima Haider gathered the attention of the younger, zestful strata of readers because of its thematic youthfulness. Therefore, it made perfect sense when the author visited schools and conducted lively discussion session. The strategy, apparently, paid off.
Many bookstores have been involved with book publicity ventures, regularly organising book reading sessions and interest-enhancing discussions. According to Uzair Amir, the marketing director of Books and Beans in Lahore, “we only market what we publish”. The publishing house, Vanguard, conjoined with the bookstore has existed for almost 30 years.
Aysha Raja who is both a publicist and owner of a niche bookstore The Last Word has been closely involved with many authors. “Book publicity is not about simply convincing others about your work’s credibility,” says Raja. “It is no longer the ‘Golden Era’ for books. The writers are no more competing with other writers but with other mediums as well.”
The books have never been the only interest of readers. Writers too have always held colossal importance. It is the writer and who they are that captivates the readers’ mind and hence, indirectly, paves way for selling their work. Book publicity certainly helps in selling the books by working around the reader-writer relationship. “Authors have become increasingly aware that they have to market their books by involving publicists and bookstores who market the works through various means including, social media campaigns, interviews, etc.,” says Raja.
However, publicity campaigns cannot miraculously sell books if the content lacks interest, depth or whatever it is that makes it worthy of reading. The idea behind book marketing is to provide a sense of credibility to the work by introducing its producer who happens to be the writer. The battle to capture and draw more readers is on since the beginning of the printed word. The tactics keep changing.