Feet on the Ground, Heads Spinning towards New Opportunity

  01 Dec '20   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Have you stumbled across Schitt’s Creek on Netflix? It took me a while to catch up with the rest of the world as one influencer after another raved about the show and I… ignored it. (Yes, I know, this is the one with the multiple awards that everyone has been talking about – and yet it still wasn’t quite sticking on my radar.) This simple tale of a rich family falling on hard times and moving to a small town sounds predictable – in many ways it is – but it has both a joyously warm sense of humour and some superb, laugh-out-loud one-liners. It truly is a well-observed big-hearted show that grows with each season.  Once your ear tunes into the humour this quickly becomes addictive viewing. In the final series (teeny spoiler) Moira has a town premiere for a new film – her daughter is a fledgling publicist and employs a murder of crows as a stunt. Of course it goes wrong. No crows were hurt in the making and there was only one severed earlobe amongst the crowd – but the two take the opportunity and turn it into a huge PR success story that goes viral.

No crows were hurt in the making and there was only one severed earlobe amongst the crowd

It is extraordinarily hard this year to achieve far-reaching publicity for books. With the first lockdown, the tools on which we rely disappeared overnight – the bookshop display, the in-person event at a book festival, the station platform and track-side advertising, the signings. All of these tools disappeared. Media interviews were impacted by the focus on the pandemic, getting books to reviewers working from home became ever more difficult for small presses. We had to press reset on all of our plans.

So what are we doing to reach our market? Over the course of this year we have been working to increase our presence on online sites and social platforms, utilise traditional media, push books on to news and features pages of the press, work with bloggers and podcasters, increase our delivery of newsletters and offers direct to the reader and support those in need. The results have been hugely rewarding. Just as it did for Moira in the fictional world of Schitt’s Creek, so the unexpected has worked – who would have thought that one poem would reach over 130,000 folk on social media and millions more through BBC Radio 4 broadcast. Who could have imagined that the local newspaper would have returned to such influence for readers seeking news of the new. Comfort reading has found its audience online with great interaction with reader comments. And authors have come up trumps with their digital skills and online participation.

It’s true that folk aren’t travelling much by train. Nor by bus. Nor by ferry. In fact, just as our Christmas ad campaign was about to kick-in, train travel crashed by 91% as a second (or third) period of travel restriction kicked-in. But we are walking more and definitely reading more and so we have moved the limited advertising space that we take to roadside points, traditional press and online. You can’t escape the good news of a Birlinn book!

just as our Christmas ad campaign was about to kick-in, train travel crashed by 91% as a second (or third) period of travel restriction kicked-in

Advertising and promotion, peer review and publicity all have slightly different roles and for every book there is a route to market, a way to inform the reader that a book is published, that a story has been told or facts revealed. For some, news sites and press pages are the best vehicle – in the form of review, interview, article. For others, advertising on track-side billboards or station platform, bus-ends or online will do the trick. Some will promote well through online retail offers with carefully designed assets to draw the eye. Some require traditional leaflet mailing or emailing. All benefit from a presence on websites – the site of the author, the publisher, the retailer, the library, the specialist. All benefit too from the power of the chance mention, an author speaking at an event, a friend chatting on Zoom with recommendations, a bookclub choice, a shout-out on social media. And of course there is no better profile-raiser than the well-informed bookseller or librarian pointing out a book or popping it into their window. In other areas, they might be called influencers.

When all of the above comes together the world knows that a book is out and then… well, then it’s up to you. Readers must then decide if the book is to have shelf space in their home, a line on their wish-list and a place in their gifting plans.

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