Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Young Rascal's Guide to Publishing: Pushing Buttons

Go here for other installments of The Guide

One of the fun things the fledglings at Cormorant Books like to do to promote our books is come up with freebies (or swag, or loot, or what have you).

Freebies are great. Everybody loves freebies. Making stuff is fun too. But in order to justify the expense, you better darn well make sure that there's a speci
fic purpose behind them. And you better make sure people want them in the first place.

Here we'll talk a bit about one of the things we've become known for at events: buttons.

Buttons are awesome. They're small, easy to carry, relatively inexpensive to produce, and infinitely customizable. So it's very easy to fall into the trap of "Oh, hey, everyone loves buttons, we can put any old junk on them and people will wear them and everyone will talk about how great we are."

Nope. Sorry. Doesn't work that way.

Thanks to a stroke of genius by our fabulous Duchess of Production, we've been making buttons for a couple of years now, and have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't. Here's a crazy-short list of observations I've compiled in that time:

1. Nobody cares about your colophon

Unless your colophon is an exquisite work of art, instantly identifiable and perennially fashionable, nobody is going to pick up that button. Even then, it's a longshot. Ever see anyone wearing a Nike swoosh button? Me neither.

Buttons, like everything promotional, only work if they're either ubiquitous, or have a hook. We can't afford to make a million buttons, and if we walked around trying to pin them on random strangers we'd end up in jail, so the hook is the way to go.

Our hook is The Sassy Slogan. Observe:

As mentioned above, free isn't enough - especially when you're working an event where free catalogues, free bookmarks, free books, free candy, and all manner of swag is being hurled about like confetti. People can only carry so much. You have to provide value if you want them to take your stuff. With an item like a button, the value is in design. So design is the most important thing to consider.

2. Buttons aren't magical

I can't repeat enough the point that buttons will not grant you instant fame and bestselling books. We've found that they're most useful at events like festivals or book fairs, in driving foot traffic your way. Word spreads pretty quickly at places like these, so as long as you're offering something that people can be excited about (like scandalous buttons), you're guaranteed a bit of attention.

Here's the catch: the people who are drawn to your booth by the buttons ... will for the most part only be looking for buttons. And that's it. Swag, as useful as it is in bringing people to you, only accomplishes half the job. And while fun freebies help to engage people, it's still up to you figure out what they want and what you can offer them - to form a rapport, in other words. Which is something you should be doing anyways.

I hope everyone found this helpful. Next time, we'll be talking about something we're still trying to figure out: online trailers!

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