August 22, 2017

Great Expectations

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

So where were you during the 2017 eclipse? If you're like an estimated tens of millions of Americans, you went outside (or at least looked out the window) to try to catch your local version of the highly-publicized event.

After it was over, reviews were mixed, with reactions covering the gamut from "Spectacular" to "Was that it?" This range of opinions often came from folks who had observed from the very same vantage point.

As fate would have it, I was traveling through Kentucky yesterday and managed to be in the path of totality as it crossed the Bluegrass State. I pulled into a Dollar General parking lot off the interstate at the right time and joined a small group of travelers who had the same idea. One couple had come equipped with pricey black plastic eclipse goggles and a picnic lunch, enjoying their own little tailgate party. Another couple of women who just happened to be at the store paused outside just long enough to watch it get almost dark and then went inside.

Being a people watcher anyway, I was as entertained by the divergent levels of interest shown by those around me as I was the solar show going on in the sky. Some people booked their hotel rooms months in advance to ensure their place in the path of totality, while others just stopped to get a Pepsi. Apparently not everyone is blinded by science. (And hopefully nobody was.)

What makes this total eclipse a little more notable to any of us in the publicity game, is that this was the first eclipse where social media is to thank for really getting the word out. In the past, only the astronomers and devoted stargazers "saved the date" so far in advance. This time around, the buzz started very early via the Internet, and millions timed their vacations to be somewhere in the eclipse path on August 21st.

Social media is free advertising that works, but we already knew that. The real takeaway from this is that 1) the Internet buzz reached many who otherwise might not have cared and caused them to go to considerable effort in order to experience the event, and 2) the buzz began early enough that marketers, hoteliers, t-shirt manufacturers and commercial opportunists of all kinds could plan ahead and capitalize on it.

Publicity experts tell authors to start promoting their books months before they're actually available. One author we work with has been promoting her new August release since Christmas, with excellent results. To her fans, the book is a familiar friend that is nearly selling itself.

Posting progress reports on Facebook ("Just finished chapter 20!") or posting small samples online are simple ways to attract early attention. Some authors do contests, offering to name a character after the winner. Others ask readers to vote for their favorite of several proposed titles or covers. Getting fans involved makes them feel personally invested.

Generating buzz well in advance of your book's release and positioning it as an "event" is an easy but powerful strategy for attracting new readers and building their anticipation. Like a good solar eclipse, a successful book launch doesn't just happen. You planet.

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