Monthly Archives: May 2013

Does the New York Times boost book sales?

In an earlier post, I discussed a
recent article I had written that 
appeared in on-line forum Room
for Debate published by the New York Times
. My article
focused on the role bystanders have in intervening when they witness violent
crimes, and how that intervention is important in maintaining a free and civil
society. These are central themes in 
my
bullying novels
 for
middle graders, 
A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade.

Like most
authors, I am experimenting with different strategies for raising my visibility
among key audiences. I am appearing at the Downtown Marketplace in Tallahassee and I’m
active in the 200+ member Tallahassee Writers Association. Renegade
also won 2nd place in the Children’s Chapter Book Division of 2012 Seven Hills
Literary Competition, a national contest sponsored by TWA with blind judging. I
am also building my web presence and digital footprint to emphasize my
expertise in bullying and self-defense, and, most recently, I launched a blog
on “practical self defense” at www.defensivewarrior.com. All this
was set up before the New York
Times
 article was published.

On some metrics,
this was a very successful marketing event. Visits to my website (
www.srstaley.com) tripled, helped in large
part to the inclusion of a direct link in my tagline. Traffic stayed well above
typical levels for several days. Higher traffic to my web site also likely
drove a new tripling of traffic to my self defense blog since I linked used my
home page to link to articles for background.

So, did I
experience a bump in book sales when the Times article appeared? Or, more
directly, was I able to monetize this raised international awareness and
exposure? 

The short answer
is no. 

It’s a little
tricky tracking my impact but amazon.com provides a useful barometer. From the
basic metrics tracked by amazon, print sales have done virtually nothing since
the article appeared on April 22nd. Digital sales seemed to have increased
slightly as my author ranking began to spike somewhat more frequently around
the third and fourth weeks of April. But my rankings have spiked more
frequently since the beginning of the year, and these spikes seem to center
more around personal appearances than general publicity. Thus, the more
frequent spikes are just as likely a product of ongoing marketing efforts that
build on and link individual events rather than one specific event.

I also have not
added many twitter followers since the article appeared even though my twitter
handle (@SamRStaley) was included in my tag line. Visits to my self-defense
blog tripled on the day the article appeared, but quickly fell to their normal
levels. More interestingly, visits to my blog increased by nearly 10 times in
the day or two following a posting on Facebook by a follower with a high
profile in the martial arts community weeks in advance of the New York Times
article. In fact, his cross post generated nearly three times the traffic to my
blog than the Times article (and most of this traffic was the result of my own
marketing of the link though facebook). 

Of course, the
article I wrote was not directly tied to my books. They were listed in the tag
line (with links), not embedded in the narrative. And the article was not in
the book review section of the Times. All those factors would mitigate against
its effectiveness in monetizing this exposure.  

Lesson learned: A one time event is unlikely to boost
your sales unless it is directly tied to selling books. The value of the New York Times article was in raising general
awareness of my work and in validating my expertise, not selling books in the
short term. 

The key to
monetizing this marketing benefit is the consistent, steady application of a
marketing plan that focuses on building my marketing platform over the long
haul. 

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“Land Without Mirrors” engages, challenges readers

My review of Land Without Mirrors by Marina Brown has appeared on the Tallahassee Democrat’s blog and in its print edition (May 5, 2013). Brown’s book is a captivating and engaging read written in a classic literary style. She has drawn rich, complex characters woven within an intricate plot of love, romance, intrigue, betrayal and revenge. Set in the 1930s Caribbean, Brown’s tale follows the fall from innocence among three teens on a leper colony off the coast of Trinidad in the 1930s. I write: 

About fifty pages into reading Land Without Mirrors this book began screaming “Book Club!” Complex characters, layered story lines, timeliness, ethical dilemmas, romance, intrigue, betrayal permeate this story told in a classic literary style. Marina Brown has woven a historical tale with a controversial contemporary twist that will keep readers engaged and intrigued.
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Anatomy of a successful New York Times pitch

The New York Times has a great on-line forum called Room for Debate. The concept centers on posing a timely question and then asking experts or others with unique insight to comment. I’ve participated in a number of these in the past, primarily as an expert on transportation policy, but my most recent experience has a few marketing lessons for those attempting to raise public awareness about their books and the pitfalls of working with news media. 

Here’s a step-by-step description and analysis of how the forum published on 22 April 2013 came about from the perspective of the person that originally pitched the idea and participated as a contributor.
  1. I was discussing the problem of violence with Ruth Krug, founder of Reclaiming Lost Voices, an organization (that I support professionally) created to give voice to survivors of violence. We were discussing the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial and the subsequent convictions of the rapists. One of the issues we discussed was the number of people that were bystanders and chose to do nothing while the dignity of the victim was thrashed and assaulted and thrashed over and over again through digital media, public humiliation, and the trial.  
  2. This conversation prompted me to write a blog post on my self-defense blog (www.defensivewarrior.com) discussing the importance of martial arts as social defense because self-defense skills empower individuals and hold the potential to turn bystanders into proactive disruptors of violent crimes and defenders of those under assault. Neither one of us had seen any on-line or print discussion of this issue.
  3. Several friends and colleagues responded to the post, sharing my post on their facebook pages, and commenting on this statement from the blog: “But another, perhaps even more important goal [of self-defense training], is to create a social environment in which attacks on other human beings won’t happen at all.” This response confirmed my hunch in #1 that this was a newsworthy issue that many people wanted to discuss.
  4. I sent a personal email pitch to an editor at The New York Times (who I had worked with previously) suggesting a debate question on the responsibility bystanders have to step in when they are witnessing a crime. Even though we had worked together on public policy, I knew she had a much wider responsibility at the Times. I noted specifically it the email the lack of public attention to this issue and the number of people that responded to my blog post. In short, I made sure my pitch would address her interests and needs as an editorial page editor. I also included a possible question and 2-3 potential contributors. (This makes their work a lot easier, even if the editors don’t use your suggestions.)
  5. The editor to whom I pitched the question like the idea, and brought it up at an editorial board meeting. The editors decided to run with it. 
  6. Three days after the pitch, a second editor (but one I had worked with in the past) contacted me, formally solicited my participation, and asked for suggestions for other contributors. (For the record, I suggested three other contributors, including Ruth Krug, the only other suggestion they picked up.) I was excited; it looked like we were good to go. 
  7. I finalized and submitted my contribution on Friday, April 12th. (Note: My deadline was Monday, but since I was traveling that weekend and the next week, I submitted my contribution early.)
  8. Based on previous experience, I expected the forum to go live on Tuesday, April 14th or Wednesday, April 15th. Indeed, I even alerted a few key people to it’s potential publication later that week.
  9. On Sunday, April 21st, the Boston Marathon bombings happened, fundamentally changing the news environment, and throwing the entire debate question/forum into jeopardy. The New York Times was re-prioritizing their editorial content in the wake of the bombings, and my original pitch of bystanders jumping in to intervene in a violent crime was not quite on point. 
  10. Nevertheless, the question and content already submitted gave the Times some material, so the editors reshaped the forum question to focus on the everyday heroes that rose up to save countless lives and take care of the injured; real hope in the midst of tragedy rather than cajoling those who stand by and let tragedy happen. 
  11. The actual forum question evolved to become “The Bystanders Who Could be Heroes“.
  12. This resulted in a significant expansion of contributors since the Times now needed other writers to focus on the everyday hero part of the forum, and less on the responsibilities of those who witness crimes to step up and intervene. 
  13. Fortunately, Ruth’s contribution was compelling, timely and relevant, even with the shift in focus. Her article was placed prominently as the second article in what became a field of seven articles and eight authors.
  14. My contribution ended up shuffling down to the sixth in the line up. (In fact, I think my contribution remained as a courtesy by the editorial staff since I was the one who pitched the question and helped tee up a few contributions.)
  15. One way to measure impact is by looking at the comments left by readers. As of May 4, 2013, the first article in the forum had 46 comments. The second article (Ruth’s) had 9 comments. The third article had 33 comments; the fourth article had 4 comments; the fifth article had 6 comments; the sixth article (mine) had 4 comments, and the seventh article had 6 comments.  
Having been around the media block for a while, I am sure my article would have had more visibility and more impact if it had appeared as one of four rather than one of seven. The truth is, however, given how dramatically the media environment changed in such a short period of time, I’m lucky my article appeared at all. In fact, the other contributions were more more on point than mine given the way the question changed to fit the news of the day.
Of course, a little perspective is in order: Appearing on the New York Times is an earned media coup. Rather than lament what could have been, I know need to leverage what I have (which is substantial) in other marketing venues. Having an article on this issue in the Times further establishes my credibility as an author and expert, and this will have long run payoffs. 
More on this in a future blog post. 
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