Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mark, the Adman

I know from my “real” job in Silicon Valley that print or TV advertising is something you should only do when you are prepared to launch an extended campaign. And in the case of the software industry, at least, the over-arching goal isn’t to drive immediate sales, but merely to establish “brand awareness:” the idea being that when the customer has a specific need later, he or she will remember that, for instance, Acme brand has a full line of products for doing battle with roadrunners (including retractable steel walls, Burmese tiger traps and jet-propelled roller skates). Of course, in the case of Acme, establishing brand awareness apparently does not require that your products actually perform as advertised.

Given these tenets of advertising—only do it if you are prepared to spend the money for an extensive campaign, and the main benefit is establishing brand awareness rather than driving a specific purchase—the rational author would have difficulty making the decision to spend any hard-earned advance money on print or TV ads for his or her book.

But as the members of Kate Derie’s Yahoo group Murder Must Advertise will tell attest, it’s very hard to resist the siren song of ads. Every author is eager to do something—anything—to help call attention to his or her book, and placing an ad gives you the positive feeling of taking action. It is also much easier than some of the alternative approaches to promotion, such as cold-calling bookstores to request that they stock your book.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my novel The Immortal Game is being brought out in trade paperback by Bleak House books this month. I, too, felt the siren call to place an ad for the book, and this time, at least, I didn’t resist.

However, I did try to maximize the return on my investment by being careful about timing and placement. I selected Mystery Scene Magazine because: 1) it’s a damn good magazine, 2) they have a very well qualified audience—publisher Kate Stine notes that 83% of their readers purchase more than 13 mystery books a year—and 3) they are publishing an article of mine on Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye in their spring edition.

What I’m banking on, of course, is that some of the reader interest generated by the article will rub off on me and the ad for The Immortal Game will get more attention than it otherwise might.

Designing It

I have some familiarity with Photoshop as a result of my web design experience—the sites for photographer Mark Citret and the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime are two I’ve done—so I figured I’d attempt to prepare the ad myself. But since I’m from the “monkey see, monkey do” school of design, I needed a model. I flipped through the New York Times Book Review section one weekend and settled on an ad for Camille Paglia’s Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems. I have to confess that I didn’t make the decision on the basis of Ms. Paglia’s work—I’ve only read the odd essay from her—but on the shape of the ad and on the relative simplicity of the design.

I wanted a narrow ad that would be placed as a 2-1/4" x 9-1/4" strip at the edge of the page. Her ad had was larger, but had the same narrow, vertical orientation. It was bordered in black and was divided into two halves: the top had a picture of the jacket with a picture of Ms. Paglia partially overlaying it, and the bottom had a set of review blurbs. The whole thing was sandwiched between black strips at the top and bottom that contained more praise for the book and gave information about the publisher.

Here’s what my interpretation of the design resulted in for The Immortal Game. (Warning: this is a relatively large (1M) pdf file, so may take a while to download.)

The hardest bit was cutting out the surrounding background from my photo so that I could layer a headshot over the cover. Although my publisher wasn’t picking up the tab (this time!), I ran the ad by Ben LeRoy at Bleak House Books since it was going to have their name on it. I also conferred with Kate at Mystery Scene to make sure it met their design guidelines and would reproduce well.

Both gave me the green light, so it’s a go and the ad will appear in issue #94. If it doesn’t produce the results I’m hoping for, I’ve already figured out the rationalization I’ll use to make myself feel better. Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on the finished design, I realize the layout would be perfect for Immortal Game bookmarks!

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