Marketing books is a challenge about as tough as it gets. How to capture the attention of people who are constantly distracted by many other attractions even apart from an increasing number of books being published?
If I knew the answer I would be a rich person. Actually I don’t particularly want to be rich, really (I have no children and you can’t take it with you when you die), but I aim to make a living for my authors and, why not, for myself.
Books used to be looked upon as the source for getting on in life. If you were a person of any influence or stature you would have read many books. Actually, one of the most endearing persons in my life, even though I never knew him, he died in 1946, is my maternal grandfather, a headmaster in a village primary school, and, of course, a great lover of books.
He could recite passages of Nicholas Nickleby by heart and of course he ran extra classes for disadvantaged village boys. Yet, he had the easier life, people still respected books and looked at them for enlightenment.
Actually that could still be the case today, if only more people realised it. You can travel to any country, learn more about any religion, any aspect of human experience, love, war, despair, joy, etc. from books Novels, and especially literary ones, tell the truth by lying about it. Actually that’s quite a good definition (not mine, but of one of my authors) of a literary novel.
Now back to marketing literature. How do you do it? Well, you simply keep going, no matter what, and try as many different avenues and be not afraid of an occasional disappointment. It’s not a science, and I am a scientist, but the Holy Grail is to capture enough word of mouth. Well, some things never change even though the means of getting there have been completely transformed.
I want to be surprised and I’m even more surprised if I’m truly caught by surprise. Take this: one day Finding Soutbek, then called The History, arrived in my inbox. I immediately liked it: this novel which exposed the plight of present-day poor black South Africans whose life hasn’t really been changed for the better, nails the corruption but also highlights human resilience and hints at how history can be manipulated to suit the present-day situation.
The new title, which we arrived at together with the author, is an exceptionally good one. Soutbek is an invented name, it means salty mouth in Afrikaans, so comes up on top in any Google search, yes it takes us back to marketing.
After a standing room only, actually they sat on the stairs and the floor, launch in Cape Town, “We never sold this many books at a launch” they told me in Book Lounge, the iconic bookshop in Cape Town. More than a year later, Finding Soutbek was unexpected longlisted and then shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature.
Finding Soutbek, a debut novel, lost out to (Booker shortlisted) We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawao, so we can’t really be disappointed, even though I thought and think Karen’s book has the edge.
Then something else happened to Finding Soutbek, Les editions de L’Aube wanted to translate it into French. We’ve signed a contract, marvellous! Finding Soutbek is going from strength to strength. I hope my marketing has contributed to its success but I, personally, think it’s just down to the power of this remarkable author Karen Jennings.
A friend took this picture (I’m taken with it, sorry) at the end of a very long wet day promoting our books from our Saturday stall on Portobello market.
“I don’t know how you do it,” he said. Neither do I, and I couldn’t do it without my brother. He recently travelled to the Netherlands to promote our books over there and is pictured here with a copy of Place Lamartine by Jeroen Blokhuis in front of the picture that inspired its cover.
If you want to help us, buy our books. You can do this in bookshops, especially the independents such as Foyles and the London Review Bookshop, from Amazon and our website, and last but not least from our bookstall every Saturday on Portobello market. The books are cheaper from the Portobello stall, so if you’re in the neighbourhood please come along and say hello.