Monday, December 3, 2012

What Do You Think Of This Method Of Promoting Books?

Recently our school had an assembly that was promoted by the PTA.  It turned out to be highly controversial among both students and teachers, so I'd like to know what you think.
Here's what happened:
A local author -- fairly well-known and prolific -- apparently decided that a good way to promote his new YA book was to hire a spokesman from a well-known, wealthy family and to pay this spokesman to give assemblies to Utah schools with target-audience aged kids.  The schools were not to be charged.  The assembly was to be advertised with the author's name and book name, not indicating that the author himself would not be present.  The assemblies were to include a small set-up (not at all expensive, just the sorts of plastic buzzers offered for school games) quiz-show game with questions from several books by different authors and using promotional materials from the featured author's books as prizes.  But the main part of the one-hour assembly, done both before and after the game, was the promotion of the author and the new book by the spokesman of the famous family name.

The staff members and students who were in favor of this assembly had the following positive points to mention:
1) It was FREE.
2) It promoted reading.
3) The author and book promoted were squeaky clean.
4) It was FREE.
5) The game involved about 10 kids from the audience, giving them a chance to shine.
6.) It was FREE!!!!
7) The author is fantastic, local, and has wonderful books.
8) The questions for the game show game from two other popular books besides the promoted author's book.
9) Large numbers of kids visited the school library that day, and the promoted author's books were very popular among the kids who checked books out.
10) IT WAS FREE!!!!

The staff members and students who were not pleased by this assembly had the following negative comments to mention:
1) There was much twisted use of advertising going on (such as the facts that kids were led to believe the author would be there and then he wasn't, and that statistics and stories used to promote the book and the author either were like comparing oranges to Oldsmobiles or else had crucial parts of the info omitted).
2) Many of the kids had trouble processing the difference between stories about the author and stories of the successes of the famously-named spokesman.
3) The spokesman repeatedly mentioned connections between himself, the author, and a highly controversial political figure.
4)  The books and the author aren't all that great.
5) The book being promoted and other promotional materials (posters, pens) were offered for SALE afterwards, and the entire assembly resembled a long commercial rather than a get-to-know-the-author affair.
6) No parts of the book were actually read to the kids during the promotion parts of the assembly; the questions during the game were for those who'd already read the books, not geared toward making kids want to read more.

So, let's remove the political issues and pretend that the spokesman didn't use twisted statistics.  Let's just say it's any author of YA fiction who chooses to use a famously-named local person to promote her/his books in assemblies in local schools.  So, instead of showing up herself/himself and talking to a group of school-selected kids who have already expressed interest in the author/book (which is how most school visits are done by authors), someone else does the talking, the writing process is not mentioned at all, and the whole school goes to the assembly, whether or not the kids have an interest in this particular book or author, but the author or publisher pays for the whole thing and the schools are not charged.
What do you think?

Teachers and librarians, is this a good thing for your schools?  Is this an easy way to promote reading, or does it become a commercial?  If more kids read afterwards, does it matter if it was a commercial?  Does it matter if it's good book or just an okay book?  What about making the whole school see it?  Using a spokesperson who is not an author or affiliated with writing or publishing?

Writers, would you want to promote your book this way?  Branding is the in thing.  Would it help or hurt you to hire a famous name not associated with writing to promote your YA books?  But if it's only local schools, would you want to be there in person?  What if it's schools out of your area?  Would that make a difference?  What message does this send out about you as a YA writer: that you're so into your work that you need to hire others to do the advertising or that you don't care about your readers other than that they buy your book?

Readers, what do you think about it?  Would you want to go to a free event that had a member of a locally famous family promoting a book?  Hey, it's free, after all.  Or do you think the whole thing is strange and that if the author is local anyway s/he should show up to her/his own events?


  1. I think this author has too much money and this rich spokesperson has too much time. I view author visits in the same vein as visits from a fire fighter or police officer. Not so much about selling their wares specifically, but about selling their MESSAGE - fire safety, staying out of trouble and reading and writing. Fire and Police Departments have a budget paid for by tax payers to promote their message. Publishing companies as a general rule do not. Ergo, school visits must sell books to be viable. If the school wants a non advertorial author visit, they will need to pay the author, as some schools do.

    That said, this whole affair sounds really cheesy and tasteless.

  2. I can understand the attraction of 'free' events for both schools and libraries when budgets are so tight. I don't like the idea of misleading anyone and the fact that the author wasn't there disturbs me. This type of promotion seems like it would eventually backfire. If a book is being promoted, the author should be there!

  3. Brigid Kemmerer tweeted this reply:
    Brigid Kemmerer
    @lisamshafer Personally, I wouldn't. I find it slightly horrifying.

  4. R. Mac Wheeler commented on goodreads:

    From your description, this sounds absolutely sleazy.

    Kids should not be inundated with this kind of shameless promotion. The author should be ashamed.

  5. Heidi commented on goodreads:

    I don't like the commercial part of it. An assembly like that should promote reading without encouraging them to buy anything, including that author's book.

    I remember a fireside I went to as a teenager where the speaker was an author. I was disgusted because in addition to loosely speaking about the topic he was supposed to speak about he kept talking about his book. Even though everyone raved about how good his books were I refused to read them until many years later.

  6. Anna Commented on goodreads:
    I suppose my key question was did it have educational value or was it just purely self promoting.
    Were the kids engaged? If so then the problem may be with the way the event was presented not the event itself - its difficult to say. Is the person interesting in their own right and able to hold an audience? Do they promote other values such as community involvement? Does it promote listening skills and literacy? or is it purely a commercial venture. If the author is hopeless at public speaking then perhaps it's good they weren't there!
    Sounds very strange. I'd want to preview it.