“This Too Shall Pass”: Resituating Book Marketing in a Shifting Media Environment (Manager Monday—Marketing)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it—Ooligan Press is a high-quality small press because of rather than in spite of the nature of the graduate student staff. Oolies are in general adaptable, excitable, and, because we are students too, abreast of the most exciting industry advances and innovations. That said, one of the most challenging parts of having forty to sixty graduate students on a small press staff is that, wonderfully and tragically, we graduate. Our entire staff turns over every two years. Managers are managers for only one year; our priorities and projects shift with greater frequency than our books are published. It keeps us fresh and occasionally keeps us inefficient.

As the marketing manager, I’ve inherited an enormous supply of resources. Every list of contacts that’s been made at Ooligan in the last four or five years lives in my Google Drive. Every marketing plan and every brilliant publicity idea are hidden somewhere in the deep cavern that is that blue-green-yellow triangle icon. Much of my work as the marketing manager this year has been to make those resources available and useful to project teams, which has meant updating the marketing plan template to no longer include MySpace as the only social network one might use to bolster publicity. (But actually, have you checked out MySpace recently? It’s at least a little bit dope.) For too long, I thought rebuilding and updating our media contact lists was the best legacy to leave. But, in line with the recent redesign of Ooligan’s social media system, I realized that my work as Ooligan’s marketing manager must take into consideration two things:

  • The rapidly evolving media environment
  • The resources Ooligan does and does not have access to

Now I’m working to leave a legacy of adaptability in the way Ooligan titles are marketed. There are four components:

  • A refocused marketing philosophy
  • An updated marketing plan template
  • A new way to collect and use media contact information
  • A practice of writing useful “best practices” documents to catalogue efforts, successful and not, of enacting our marketing strategies

The development of these resources, coupled with the social media strategy initiative, ought to help not just our current teams, but our future students as well. As the adage goes, “This too shall pass.” Whatever media environment we find ourselves in today, it will shift. Cultural production is more and more available to people who, before social media and the internet, were simply members of an audience—consumers. Now those audience members are, to use Grant McCracken’s term, “multipliers.”

As marketers, makers, and publishers, especially at a small press, we must be more dynamic in our strategies. Books are no longer just units—they are platforms. Simply, as Douglas Rushkoff writes, “Content is just a medium for interaction between people.” So much of marketing, especially book marketing, is about fostering that interaction. As I am constantly preaching these days, operating in digital spaces for that conversation is the new book marketing. Offering content for remixing, reshaping, and responding to that activity is the new book marketing. Perpetuating a more responsive, participatory, and inclusive media environment is the new publishing industry.

All of that said, we learned a few weeks ago from Sybil Nolan, a visiting academic from the University of Melbourne’s publishing program, that traditional book reviews (and thus, outbound marketing strategies in general) do still matter. A lot. Newspapers still sell books. Getting books into the hands of the right newspaper and magazine reviewers sells books. And if the landscape of American journalism is anything like that of Australia’s, fewer and fewer books are reviewed in fewer and fewer outlets. Especially because we don’t have resources like Cision, it’s really hard to make sure we get our precious, beautiful, expensive galleys to the right people in the places that matter. We can’t afford resources that would make this increasingly difficult process easier. Which leaves me with a decision to make about how I suggest we allocate Ooligan’s most plentiful resource: workforce.

Not to say that Oolies have glamorous, idle lives, but having forty to sixty students each work four to twelve-hour weeks gives us a different kind of edge. We can do the traditional contact research and build comprehensive social media strategies. We have energy to spend tackling both fronts, and the two should inform one another. We might take a leaf out of media researcher Johanna Blakley’s book (or rather, her TED talk about social media and gender) and start considering “taste communities” rather than just market demographics in our marketing plans and social media strategies. We might start pitching local companies to partner with us in promotion or event-creation, leading to more visual and dynamic content to post via our social media channels, which might then lead to a more national audience.

As future publishing professionals, we must operate in both the traditional and the new media spheres simultaneously. At Ooligan, spanning those spheres means we must find creative workarounds to expensive resources and expansive marketing techniques. (Funded book tours, anyone?) By the nature of the program, we are equipped to adapt with every project. Because we are students and because we necessarily move on and are replaced, we are required to try new things, to fail or succeed, learn, and to then let somebody new try something else. So long as we can capture the process, we can evolve.