When Marketing Goes Wrong

Some say marketing is how you sell books. Some swear by social media, others believe book signings are the way forward. Others take a more . . . unorthodox approach and get themselves arrested.

Fleetwith Pike, the summit of my writing career to date.

What all these people have in common is that they never back up their bright ideas with real results. We’re never told Minnie Wrotchett’s heavily social media-ed 18th Century erotic police procedural followed all the guidelines and still only sold three copies. In this post I’m going to tell you what happened in the summer of 2014 when I tried to market Toten Herzen Malandanti in the real world!

First port of call was the local press. I had a contact, a name, the chief press officer no less, who rang me at home late one night. We spoke for a good forty-five minutes and he told me there would be an article and he’d let me know when it was going to print.

I got my hair cut and waited, checked the local papers every day and every week, ready to announce to the world my moment in the sun. One morning a letter arrived. Inside was a cutting from the local paper; my article had been published two nights previously. I had missed it and what’s more, it had appeared in the evening paper and therefore only available for twenty-four hours.

In retrospect the fickle hand of the press had at least touched my shoulder, unlike another arm of the marketing strategy which didn’t materialise at all. The novel is set in the English Lake District, a place popular with tourists, mountain climbers, fellwalkers and geocachers.

My novel idea to promote my novel was to have a geocache trail which took treasure hunters to various locations in the book. I knew what the treasure would be and where it would go, researched the dos and don’ts of geocaching and bought a Dremel.

(The Dremel was for engraving slate with the Toten Herzen logo, the Crest. These engraved slates would form part of the treasure, and I hauled myself up Fleetwith Pike – over two thousand feet – to find these little shards of rock.)

Problem is, to leave hidden treasure you need to record its location on a geocaching website and they have ‘gatekeepers’ who decide what can and can’t be geocached. Anything they deem commercial is banned. Promoting a book with a geocache hunt was in their eyes a commercial enterprise and their rules didn’t allow it. However, for a hefty fee they would allow a commercial geocache. In other words they permitted themselves to make money out of it, but no one else could.

But I still had another idea to use the Lake District locations as a promotional tool. A Lake District literature leaflet. There’s no shortage of literature up there, from Beatrix Potter to William Wordsworth. Toten Herzen were one more addition: Swallows and Amazons, vampires and witches.

What I didn’t know is that all those leaflet holders you see in shops, hotels, visitor centres are provided and managed by leaflet distribution companies and you can’t just put your own leaflets inside them. They also demand a fee!

Okay, I’ll walk down the street handing out the leaflets. Littering by-laws stop you from doing that. Fine, I’ll print flyers and leave them on windscreens in Lake District car parks. Littering by-laws and trespass stop you from doing that. Fine, I’ll get a shop mannequin dressed up like a vampire and hang it from a road bridge over the M6 motorway (I was getting desperate now. . . .) Traffic laws and a potential manslaughter charge following an inevitable two hundred vehicle pile up persuaded me not to go ahead with that one.

I had been thwarted. Not famous enough to get a slot on daytime telly, no bookshops to approach, not prepared to go to jail, I decided to move on and start another novel. When it’s ready to publish I shall stand by the shore of a large ocean and cast it adrift in the hope that one day an unshaven man trapped on a desert island will catch it in his home made fishing net. But he’ll probably look at the soggy blurb and say to himself quietly: ‘Vampires. Don’t read vampires.’

So what about you? Have you had any daft ideas for marketing that failed?

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