Amplification station | The Bookseller’s Marketing and Publicity conference is taken through a year of magical planning, and the success of debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Ann Bissell and Sarah Benton, Fiction Publicity and Marketing Directors respectively at HarperCollins.
The Goat Approach. It’s what they took, and what they’re here to talk about. You can often dread the first PR meetings where you might inadvertently crush the dreams of your author, but in the case of this book, their author told her life story, from a car crash, to snatching moments to write in her car while on breaks, working as a nurse. And then she said they could use it all. This began their road to getting the author out there through various outlets and features.
But there must be focus to make a big splash. They had a task force that met every two weeks for around 10 months, meaning that in a small team decisions could be made quickly. They would hand deliver proofs to important people, for one, to get the word out there.
“Publishers can unearth gems on their list,” says Sarah. It doesn’t always have to be the big acquisitions that make the biggest splash, it’s about the story, focus and the courage of your acquisition. Embrace oddities – their proof was a bold blue book with a goat on the cover. It was the simplicity of design that helped catch people’s eyes, and helped stand out with trade. No design meetings could create something to compete with the original look, and so it stuck.
Marketing-wise, they wanted people to discover it and not have it pushed on people. They would only put money towards it once they reached certain goals: top 10 in the bestseller list? Then they would get more funding. It was about boosting engagement and using social media to go far, including their #GiveAGoat tag. It has proven worth it, but they note there are some downsides: it’s heavily time consuming, and naturally when prioritising one book so heavily, others may not get as much of a push, but these are decisions every publisher has to make.
To summarise? Be more goat. Be special and stand out. Be brave.