concept to publication

Category: marketing Page 1 of 2

Again. And again.

Again. And again. SFMOMA promo mailing.

Again. And again. SFMOMA promo mailing.

Museums, let’s face it, tend not to be good at marketing their product. This envelope contained a membership pitch. Is “Experience it all. Again. And again.” supposed to whip me into a frenzy of art lust? Or is it supposed to be ironic?

Who knows? But all it actually does is make me as weary as Madeline Kahn’s character in Blazing Saddles (she’s been with hundreds of men, again and again).

Third blurb in

Gary Snyder generously agreed to review my manuscript despite being in the middle of extensive traveling (to L.A. for a Lew Welch memorial and to Spain with Jim Harrison). I’m deeply grateful.

1616: The World in Motion is a brilliant creative examination and interpretation of the developed world’s recent history: east, middle, and west. In the seventeenth century, a sailing trip from London to Asia meant a year or more out of touch. Religion was about getting into a program that guaranteed you for eternity—one’s permanent status in the universe was at stake—and world population was one tenth of what it is now. Life was rich and intense. Christensen argues that there was already a global economy and a kind of Eastern Enlightenment in the works, as well as Occidental early science. He documents the affluence of the main civilizations of East Asia, South Asia, the Near East, and Western Europe and the significant colonial civilization in Central and South America. It is a treasure of plates of art and maps alone. The human future might hope to be a world like 1666 but with electricity. Back to that 90% lower population would leave room for solar panels, whales, Siberian tigers, cranes, dragons, and saints.

— Gary Snyder

This will probably be all the blurb work I’ll be doing until I get the ms. cleaned up and into galleys, when I’ll do another round.


Second blurb in

I just received this blurb from Emily Sano. Emily was kind enough to read the manuscript on short notice. She writes, “I read the whole book! Loved it.” That makes me happy!

In 1616: The World in Motion, Christensen conducts a horizontal survey of the world—the entire globe—at a single point in time. With a masterful command of facts and data, he ties together events in a brisk narrative, revealing a world “in motion,” vibrant with remarkable solutions, activities, and individuals. He shows how separate threads affected one another, transformed discourse, and contributed to the development of a truly global culture fully four centuries ago.

— Emily Sano, director emeritus, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

First blurb in

Peter Laufer was kind enough to provide a blurb on short notice, working from the not-quite-finished manuscript:

Tom Christensen’s vividly illustrated 1616: The World in Motion is filled with unforgettable characters and stories that illuminate many of today’s global aches and joys. Immersing ourselves in this watershed year reminds us that if we look carefully every year counts, a lesson that can keep us mindful through the passing of our own years.

— Peter Laufer, James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and author, The Dangerous World of Butterflies and Forbidden Creatures

You might have seen Peter on the Daily Show:



Blurb watch

I suppose I should have seen this coming, but I was surprised when my publisher told me catalogue copy (which looks similar to this) is due, and it has to be put to bed within two weeks.

I thought it would be good to have some blurbs for the sales catalogue, but I haven’t finished writing the book yet. Given that, how could I get blurbs within just two weeks? (Later on it should be a little easier to get some.)

I ended up asking three people who I thought might be generous enough to look at the almost-complete manuscript and offer a comment on an accelerated timeline. Stay tuned to see if blurbs come in over the next couple of weeks.

“I am an advocate of finding new and better ways to accomplish common tasks”

groucho marx book blurb

This ad, which to me sounds more like some kind of stunt than a typical scam, has been removed from Craigslist. Certainly it’s not a “new and better way” of getting blurbs. Blurbing is already largely corrupt, and it’s not at all difficult to get jacket blurbs without going to all this trouble.

Book Reviewer: $150 – $1500 (Telecommute)
Prepublication book reviews needed for literary novel.

I am an Author and Professor of English in Austin, Texas. I also own a small publishing company. I am currently seeking prepublication reviews for a novel set for publication at the end of next month (February 2011). If your review is favorable, I would like to include a blurb from it on the back cover of the novel.

I am an advocate of finding new and better ways to accomplish common tasks. The old way of seeking prepublication reviews is to send galley proofs (Advance Reading Copies – ARC) out into the abyss of the mainstream media to compete in the mailboxes of those organizations with the one thousand other books they received that day. To me, that sounds like the definition of insanity.

If you are a book critic, an author, a university professor, a member of the media, a blogger, a review writer, a representative of an independent bookstore, or anyone with high literary credentials, I will pay you between $150 and $1500 for your review. Those with higher credentials will receive a higher stipend.

Of course, your review should be honest. Just because this is a paid review does not mean that you have to review the novel favorably; however, I certainly hope that you like the book. If your review is negative, I will not be using any portion of it on the back cover of my novel, on my website, or anywhere else.

Although I will not reveal the name of the novel or the synopsis in this ad, I will tell you that it is literary fiction in the vein of Lolita, Blood Meridian, and Steppenwolf. The novel challenges organized religion and is left-leaning, but the overall message of the novel is one of peace, tolerance, and unity. The novel has been described as Less Than Zero meets Dead Poet’s Society.

I would expect you to read the novel and write a thoughtful evaluative review that is somewhere between 500 and 1500 words long. The review should not be merely summative. It should evaluate the novel, pointing out its strengths in the areas of style, theme, narrative, characterization, etc. It should also compare the novel and writing to other major writers and novels. Remember, this is a pre-publication review, so I am looking for blurbs to include on the back cover of the novel accompanied by your name and organization. Keep in mind that you must be authorized to use your organization’s name. I will also use your review and organization name on my website, in promotional materials, and I will ask you to post your review on

If you feel you are a qualified reviewer and you are favorable to the type of novel outlined above, please respond to this ad with a list of your credentials. If I feel your credentials are adequate, I will contact you with the full details of the novel, and we can negotiate a stipend amount and a timetable for completion.

Although I will have to verify your credentials, the entire process will be confidential. No one will know that you were paid for your freelance review.


“You must be here for the rebranding project.”


(Submit your own here.)


(He)art and commerce

Take my word for it that the image at right — sorry I don’t have a better version — represents the painting The Dead Christ supported by the Virgin and Mary Magdalen by Marcantonio Bassetti (1588-1630). It’s a work that the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge wanted to purchase for £175,000.

Now consider the second image, the logo of the Art Fund, which offered £80,000 toward the purchase of the Bassetti. Maybe not quite as gallery worthy. Unless you ask the Art Fund, as they insisted that in order for the museum to receive the funding their logo had to appear alongside the artwork. To his credit,Timothy Potts, the museum’s director, declined the gift, saying:

Logos are the currency of marketing and commerce and this introduces a promotional element into the galleries that we regard as an unnecessary and unacceptable distraction – no matter how worthy the object of promotion.

Here we see an unintended consequence of branding run amok — logos are proliferating like tribbles. These days there will be several of them on every copyright page I work on. Praise be to Mr. Potts for drawing the line at letting them into gallery labels!


via David the Designer


The Emperor’s New Brand

walter crane, the prince from sleeping beauty

In a distant kingdom long ago a prince was born. He grew up quickly, as children do, and soon the king and queen assembled the most talented people from throughout the realm to tutor the boy in all the arts and sciences. In time he became a man who was not just tall and handsome but also learned and cultured.

Nation brands

Can we agree the whole branding thing has got out of hand? I wish that branding had never left the cattle corral. These days, instead of selling an actual product you sell the idea of the product. So you spend all your time working not on the product but on the idea of it.

Today even whole countries get brands. Consider these national tourism logos.

A ruined life?

I received this unusual e-mail recently (subject line: “you ruined my life, sorta / an offer for karmic balancing”). I have edited it somewhat to conceal the identity of the author. I have no memory of the incident the writer describes. I will say that I think I have generally been courteous in rejecting manuscripts. I’m sure there were exceptions.

Hello, I think you are someone I met years ago, and you had a big (negative) impact on my life. I’m writing today to say hi, and to offer you a chance at karmic balancing.

Should publishing be open?

Tim O’Reilly makes some points in its favor.


Driving traffic

heavy traffic

Today’s guest post at ForeWord Magazine is about how book publishers can increase traffic to their websites.


Internet book marketing

The next installment of my series of columns that is running at Foreword Magazine this month is up. This one looks at why publishers should try to optimize direct online sales. The next column will look at some ways to improve numbers from this segment.


Friday Roundup

“If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which …” — William Butler Yeats


Publishing payola

trojan horse

Want to bribe the New York Times Book Review into reviewing your book? If so, you’ll have to come up with something better than these examples of book review swag.


Market testing book covers

super crunchers book titles

Book publishing has always been a little backward in some aspects of marketing. For example, while a graphic designer might produce several covers for a book, these are usually reviewed only by a select group of decision makers involved with its production and marketing. I’m not aware of many focus group tests, even for titles that will be receiving massive resources.

Now Bantam Dell is running an online poll to help choose among three different covers for the paperback edition of Ian Ayres’ Super Crunchers (which “explores how detail-rich data and our increasing ability to ‘crunch’ information is changing the way we live”). I suppose it’s a positive step, although I’m not sure that online votes correspond directly to potential sales.

In an extravagant gesture, Bantam Dell will give a free trade paperback copy of the book to twenty lucky winners (a value to the publisher of perhaps a dollar per book in direct production costs, so they are committing some $20 to prizes an an inducement for people to vote) — this is announced by a huge red checkmark together with the words (all caps) ENTER TO WIN, followed by a screamer. I can’t imagine this kind of overselling is effective.

Is one of these covers better than the others?


via Buzz, Balls, and Hype


Op ads

No, not op eds — op ads. I had forgotten how pervasive op art was in advertising of the 1960s and 1970s. It was also a period of increasingly globalism, as design fads trends quickly spread from one culture to another.

Italy produced some of the boldest op art ads, such as these ads for a film festival, left, and a design company, Alfieri & Lacroix, right.

Examples from the U.S. include ads for Fresh Start (whatever that is), left, and Ford Fairlane, right.

Some of the quirkiest examples come from Japan, such as this (completely inappropriate) Yukio Mishima ad, left, and a book or movie called A La Maison de Civecawa, right.

These examples are drawn from Pink Ponk’s 1950s-1970s advertising set on Flickr.


Against branding

cattle brand
Among the words I’d like to retire, toward the top of the list would be branding. It’s not, of course, that I’m opposed to marketing, or creating a coherent and persuasive product or company identity. Helping products find appropriate audiences is good for everyone; in the book world, you don’t want books going out to all kinds of wrong places and then having them all come back a couple of months later as returns.

But focusing on branding can deflect attention from the products the brands are supposed to support. Branding has become so much a part of the contemporary ethos that its metaphorical origin as a stamp to identify cattle headed to the slaughterhouse has been forgotten. As brands become more important than products, we are more and more selling the idea of things rather than things themselves. (Naomi Klein has written about this in No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.)

What I most hate about “branding” is the magical thinking it represents. Marketers and their clients believe that if they can get the brand just right, all their problems will miraculously disappear. NeurocyberSeo puts it well: “Branding is the corporate equivalent of sex, drugs and rock-‘n’-roll — a shortcut to all that seems good. Companies look at the rewards from branding sneakers, fizzy sugar water and coffee and say, “me too!” Advertising and PR agencies no longer promote or increase visibility — they ‘brand.'”

Recently I heard the head of marketing at a cultural institution complain about surveys that showed a lack of general awareness of his institution in its local community — it just wasn’t on enough folks’ radar. His proposed solution? A $500,000 “brand study.” In other words, he was proposed spending half a million dollars before actually doing anything to actually address his problem. I say that for $500,000 he could give $10 to 50,000 people in his community on the condition that they visit his institution and mention it to two or three friends. Not only would the word-of-mouth do its thing, but the giveaway itself would raise attention. I’ll bet his institution would be on a lot of tongues in no time.

But no. The magic power of “branding” will cause that money to be spent on a study, which will then be analyzed for action points, and then more money will be spent to implement them, with the result that awareness of the institution will increase by 10 percent or whatever a reasonable return on that kind of initiative is. The whole project will be a net loss. But the institution will point with pride to its refined brand.

And then it a few years it can begin the next phase: “rebranding.”

Stephen Page on book publishing today

Stephen Page, publisher and chief executive of Faber and Faber, writes in an article in the Guardian that “the industry is closer now to a tipping point that would see a dramatic reduction in range, a shortening of writers’ careers, and a reading culture that errs towards mass forms of entertainment alone.” He is talking about what I have called the Hollywoodization of book publishing — the tendency to devote more and more resources to a small number of top-tier (from a sales perspective) books.

And he is beginning to see opportunities in new media to address this problem — “hope,” he says “lies in the new technology-spawned networks and print technologies that give oxygen to diversity, resulting in demand that allows online and range-holding booksellers to thrive.”

It’s nice to see the battleship of big book publishing sloooowly turning to align with the direction everyone else has been headed for some time. If only it were clearly exactly what Mr. Page is calling for. It sounds a bit like setting the publicity department loose on the internet rather than embracing new media in their essence. (Looming large on Mr. Page’s map of the future is the e-book. I will continue to regard this as a minor technological curiosity until someone shows that it’s really worth paying attention to.)

While Mr. Page’s comments are rather vague, they have nonetheless provoked a lively discussion in the comments section, which is worth checking out.

Page 1 of 2

Some rights reserved 2022 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via