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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review of "Publicize Your Book!" by Jacqueline Deval

Oops ... wrong photo ... 
Rule of thumb: if you can end your book's title with an exclamation point, it will be easier to market. 

If you are a professional PR agent publicizing a very popular, how-to book, or if you are a writer and are independently wealthy and have nothing else to fill your day, "Publicize Your Book!" is an excellent resource.

According to Scott Turow, president of the writer's guild, the average writer earns $9,000 annually from writing. That writer would find following many suggestions in this book financially impossible.

Make and market a trailer for your book, this book recommends. These are not expensive, Deval says, only about a thousand dollars. Maybe that's not expensive to Jacqueline Deval, but if you are making $9,000 a year, it suddenly becomes so. Hire publicists in several cities. Hire a media trainer so you don't blow it once you do get on TV. Send out free copies of your book to a purchased, eight-thousand name mailing list.

The methods she recommends are also quite time-consuming. One example: devote a year to pursuing a celebrity who might boost your book. Spend eleven hours a day, for several months, and tens of thousands of dollars, publicizing your book. Watch the Oprah Winfrey show religiously – every day for a couple of years – to learn how to get on. Learn how to make films, create webpages, and design quizzes and games, and use those to publicize your book. Set up active telephone numbers for your book's characters. Dialing Raskolnikov!

It helps to be very lucky. Meet a movie star at a barbecue, and recruit that movie star into promoting your book. I'll remember that next time I meet a movie star at a barbecue.

The recommended methods are best suited to popular books that can be sold in sound bites, like how-to books and cookbooks. If writing literature, include characters who are graduates of a given school, and that school will help publicize your book. I kept trying to apply Deval's methods to books I value, like "Jane Eyre" or "Crime and Punishment" or the poetry books of John Guzlowski, who writes about his parents' suffering under the Nazis. I just can't see using Deval's methods to build a publicity campaign around these works.

Deval comes across as a sincere woman who really wants to help. But her book is often utterly tone deaf. I know serious writers, and I know marketers, and the two groups of people do not overlap in their personalities. The serious writers I know would find it very hard to follow a good ninety percent of the suggestions in this book. 

Yes, it is a Brave New World and we all have to sell ourselves – but if you are shouting at a group of people that notoriously includes many introverts, who is the crazy one? Remember Emily Dickinson who lived in seclusion and kept her poems in a locked box, Henry David Thoreau, who retreated from society and lived alone in a cabin in the woods, and Marcel Proust who was so overwhelmed by stimuli that he had to live in a cork-lined room, and who had to air out a chair for three days after a guest had sat in it because the guest's odor on the chair was too much for Proust. The world would be a lesser place without Dickinson's "I could not stop for death," Thoreau's "Walden" or Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past."

Writers who are more mercantile and narcissistic will rush to follow Deval's suggestions, and more power to them. But the world needs more than yet another book on how to lose weight while increasing your tan and growing younger.

I want to read books that aren't the paper version of "The Jersey Shore." Heck, I want to read books that are, at first, unappealing to me: a book that opens with dying rats? And yet Camus' "The Plague" is one of my all-time favorites. How would Camus, if he were alive today, market "The Plague"? Create a webpage with fun games? "Choose who among your friends will next develop buboes and die a horrible death!" That actually sounds a lot more exciting than "The Plague" is to read – it isn't about gore, a highly commercial substance; "The Plague" is a long, philosophical discussion on whether or not life is worth living, and it uses bubonic plague as a metaphor.

See? That sound bite renders "The Plague" pompous and unappealing. But it's a great book. I read it in one, long overnight session when I was a teenager, and I've been thinking about it ever since. How do you market *that*, Jacqueline Deval? How do you market the poems of John Guzlowski? John is an older, balding guy. His poems depict Nazis punching his imprisoned father in the eye and enslaving his mother after raping her aunt and stomping his cousin to death. How do you sell that in a sound bite?

Right now, there is a reader out there who has never heard of Proust or Camus or Guzlowski or a number of other superficially not-commercial writers. That reader, though, is hungering exactly for that kind of a book – a book that *can't* be reduced to a sound bite. A book that is superficially unappealing. A book that creeps up on you over a lifetime.

Right now, there is, out there, somewhere, a geeky, too serious, introvert struggling to get a story on the page. This story has nothing to do with red hot headlines or chic literary trends. He isn't even sure where this story is going. But he knows it will hurt his heart if he can't get it down just right – a story of an old fisherman who finds a pearl, or a spinster who brings a hot meal to a sick neighbor. This writer's goal is to put the best words in the best order down on the page, in a way that honors small, human moments. He'll finish his story, and, when he is done, he'll send it out to agents, and they will look for red hot trends, or a "national platform," or a celebrity endorsement, and, finding none of those, they will all pass.

The question is this: How to get the reader who wants to read that story together with the writer who is writing it? That answer isn't in "Publicize Your Book Exclamation Point." Whoever finds that answer will write a how-to manual worth its weight in gold.


I'm posting this here because I have failed utterly at marketing "Save Send Delete." No one is buying it. But ... when this or that person, through some miracle, finds it and reads it ... they love it. I compare sales -- dismal -- to Amazon reader reviews and blurbs by big name authors who supported the book -- glowing. 

I read Deval's marketing book and others, which, in their way, are very good books for well-funded campaigns for highly commercial books, and I am as clueless as ever as to how to market "Save Send Delete." 


  1. How would you market Crime and Punishment? Sound and the Fury? The Bluest Eye? Isaac Singer's The Slave? Those sorts of books seem beneath the interests of your average reader. Sigh.

  2. How would you market Crime and Punishment? With sex and violence. Sound and the Fury? With sex and violence. The Bluest Eye? ... you get the idea.

    When those fade, we bring on the baldness and obesity cures, and the space aliens.