Can you imagine a world without marketing? I mean, sure, we can all do without billboards littering the highways and commercials interrupting TV shows and flyers being shoved under the door that tell you to “act now!” But those ostentatious examples aren’t the end of marketing. Like good, functional design, marketing is already in everything you buy and use; after all, in a world of choice, you have to pick one option somehow—and it’s a marketer’s job to subtly convince you to choose theirs. So the next time you buy toilet paper, ask yourself why you’re buying that brand. Is it the price? The packaging? The size? Are those Charmin bears just too cute to resist?
Now that example may seem tedious and banal, but I’d like to apply that perspective to what we do at Ooligan Press—make and sell books. Emphasis on the “sell” part.
Many students, like myself, came into this program with romantic notions of editing manuscripts with a red pen and a latte on the banks of some river, listening to the water gently lap against the banks and meditating on profound meaning. It’s a lovely thought, really. Another swath came in for the art and design—the way a book cover sets the tone for the text inside; how the typography melts into the background of the words yet imbues them with an atmosphere that creates a real experience. These are the sexy parts of publishing. These are the parts that feel like significant achievements, that photograph well for Instagram, that you can say, “Look what I did.”
Marketing work is, sadly, less sexy. You send hundreds of pitch letters, make phone calls, write emails, and just hope that some of them respond at all, let alone positively. You write and rewrite, then rewrite again the same three-sentence description, trying to work it into something snappy yet sincere. But it’s this work—the spreadsheets of contact information, the drafts of 140-character tweets, the tedious search for comparable titles—that makes sure books are ordered by booksellers and get in the hands of customers. It’s this unsexy work that makes sales.
So here’s what I really want to say: You, authors, are presumably signing with a publisher because you want your book to sell. You, editors, are massaging a manuscript into its best possible form because you want it to sell. You, designers, are creating well-kerned interiors and beautiful covers to attract an audience because you want the book to sell. It’s not everyone’s dream department—marketing involves a lot of numbers and long documents and endless emails, plus you don’t have as many opportunities to directly leave your mark on a manuscript. But marketing needs to be a consideration from the start. In remembering that this artistic object that we all obviously care so much about is still a commercial product, we will always already be marketing it to an eager audience.