Books in the land of tea and crumpets
I’ve come to the conclusion that the Brits make us look bad. I’m talking about book publicity / promotion in the UK versus the US of A.
Many a time have I heard extolled the virtues of British book publicity campaigns — the ads plastering the Underground, the front-page features and reviews — the implication being that American promotional efforts are somehow remiss. (On behalf of all of us book publicists who work extremely hard to build relationships with journalists and to generate coverage for the books on which we work — and on behalf of the companies that pay us — I’d like to say this is extremely offensive.)
It’s also simplistic.
First, we’re talking about two different countries and two different markets with different tastes and sensibilities. Marmite is really popular in the UK; here, anyone who’s ever seen it generally thinks it looks like something you should be picking up after your dog. Or take peanut butter, the staple of all American children and athletes; in the UK, it’s never achieved much beyond, well, existence. Bringing it back to books, let’s not forget these are the people who sent a CEO zipping down the Thames. In a speed boat. To deliver a copy of the new James Bond book to Waterstones. Which is akin to someone from Scholastic hopping on a broomstick and flying a copy of Harry Potter to Barnes & Noble. You see the problem here.
Second, the dozen or so major British print and broadcast media outlets are all national and centered in one city (London). Imagine only ever pitching New York City media. I found this site that apparently lists all British media published online. Check the list — and then note that it includes all print (daily, weekly, monthly) as well as broadcast media. Now, as any Economics 101 student knows — including those called into their deans’ offices in danger of flunking out like your truly — with an oligopoly, everyone does what everyone else does for fear of losing sales. This means that an author featured in the Times has a pretty good chance of being featured in the Guardian and the Telegraph and the Mail and the Independent and … you get my point. Here, meanwhile, The Los Angeles Times couldn’t care less what The New York Times reviewed.
I don’t begrudge my British compatriots their successes — and I find it inspiring that books should play so prominent role in their society — but let’s not forget that (to paraphrase the popular quote), we’re a common language divided by two cultures.