Careers about careers: Marketing an author
The selling of Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods'
By Porter Anderson
(CNN) -- So intent is Lisa Gallagher on pressing her author and his book that her offices decline to provide us with a photo of her. She's just the marketing director, she reminds you.
More than five times in 20 minutes of conversation, she stresses that the "real story," as she puts it, is Neil Gaiman and his new novel, "American Gods."
Indeed, we'll have a review of the book -- called by publisher William Morrow "a genre-transcending tour de force meditation on America's collective psyche" -- later this summer.
But while the book is in its first week of sales, we wanted to use our Reading Up feature this week at CNN.com/Career talk to the person behind the major publicity campaign that William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, has put behind Gaiman's new work. It's a two-track campaign, notably driven by a lengthy Internet presence for the author.
Gaiman, of course, comes with a following ready and eager for more of his writings. He's the author of the "Sandman" graphic novels -- which helped launch DC Comics' Vertigo line. A contemporary fantasist of more consistency than many others, Gaiman has gone on to publish "Neverwhere" (a dark novel, 1997); "Smoke and Mirrors" (short stories, 1998); "The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish" (a children's book, 1998); and the 1999 fairy tale novel "Stardust."
"Neil knew early on," says Gallagher, "that an online campaign was the way to go." He and editor Jennifer Hershey registered the URL AmericanGods.com three years ago. "And we" at William Morrow "recognized he's a perfect author to have an online campaign.
"We launched AmericanGods.com in mid-February very quietly, with a mid-June release of the book planned. We've built sites before," says Gallagher, "but this was the first time we launched a site with a real-time online journal."
Gaiman made daily entries in that journal, from wherever he was. Indeed, in Tuesday's journal entry, Gaiman is responding to a question about the marketing of his book and the site's use of the online daily journal:
"To be honest," Gaiman writes, "I haven`t really thought of any of this as marketing. I`m not saying it`s not, and I`m not trying to be wilfully naive or disingenuous here, but I wouldn`t have done the journal if it was a marketing thing. I did it because I was really interested in the process of taking people behind the scenes in making a book."
Gaiman signs off "written in the car on the way to a signing in Champaign."
The author is barnstorming bookstores from New York to Los Angeles until July 2 when a stop in Rosedale, Minnesota, marks the end of his 12-city United States tour. Five days later, on July 7, he's in London and starts bumping around the United Kingdom for a week, ending that tour in Canterbury, England. Just 11 days later, he starts a short Canadian tour, reading and signing at stores in Toronto, Ontario; and Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
"Online, of course, we can post photos of his trips along the way," Gallagher says. "And the fans can log on and see where he's going next. What this whole online-and-traditional campaign approach has given us" -- meaning the combination of Gaiman's Internet sell with the old-fashioned whistle-stop book-signing tours -- "is (a) access to the author and (b) new information for the fans.
"We call this building the fan base. We built up to publication with an online countdown and this ability for the fans to go back daily to hear from Neil."
A tour of her own
Gallagher -- who is William Morrow's director of marketing -- comes to the job of launching Neil Gaiman's new book with nine years' experience in the publishing business. She's English, from just outside London, and arrived in the United States in April 1998, to introduce Bloomsbury Publishing.
While she says William Morrow makes an all-out effort on behalf of each book it publishes, Gallagher does point to the scope of the advance preparations for "American Gods."
"For example, we had a big increase in distribution over anything Neil has published before. We shipped more than 1,000 floor displays, each of which contained two pre-signed copies by the author. We also offered a 10-copy pre-signed carton to booksellers" in a market that today -- for better or worse -- is all but driven by the huge bookstore chains more than by publishers.
Wooing the keepers of those stores' shelves has become the name of at least one game in getting a book to move. "We did do a lot of outreach to booksellers, direct by e-mail. We had two types of galleys on this. The first was a plain-paper one with a letter from the author saying, 'This is my down and dirty galley, and this is what I think about "American Gods."' Then we followed with a second galley, more traditionally done, a full-color cover for the press.
"The author in this case has a very clear idea of who his readers are. I joined William Morrow last August and much of his campaign was under way even then."
Does Gallagher feel that such well-orchestrated and sustained efforts in selling fiction are falling out of favor in the quicker-hit, big-chain book market today?
"I don't think so. I can't speak for any other marketing director, but certainly every book we have, we have the campaign from the time the book is announced all the way to when it's cataloged. If it's a first-time novel, obviously we have to build a new audience.
"From the moment the book is announced in-house to the in-house read, through the sales conference, right the way through to publication, we have a campaign for every single title."
If you look today at Gaiman's very first entry in his online journal at AmericanGods.com, you can see the understanding of the campaign that Gallagher is saying he, his editor Hershey and William Morrow had.
With his typical self-deprecating sense of humor, the author says in this entry that he and Hershey discussed starting the journal earlier, but "she preferred to wait until the book was on the conveyor belt to actual publication, thus sparing the reading world lots of entries like 'Feb. 13th: wrote some stuff. it was crap,' and 'Feb. 14th: wrote some brilliant stuff. This is going to be such a good novel. Honest it is.'"
And not every part of the typical marketing program appeals even to this sales-savvy author: "Sooner or later," he writes, "some reviewer will say something silly but quotable like 'If JRR Tolkien had written "The Bonfire of the Vanities" ...' and it'll go on the paperback cover and thus put off everyone who might have enjoyed it."
We can offer you a few lines about "American Gods" to get you started, with no reference to "The Bonfire of the Vanities." The book opens with the impending release from prison of a man named Shadow. His release is actually moved up a day or so because his wife is killed in a car accident that also involves a best buddy on whom Shadow is dependent for a job. But shortly after Shadow exits his incarceration, he meets a man called Wednesday -- and seems to travel directly into a context of magic, mystery, sometimes almost gothic foreboding and frequently spiritual wonder.
Gaiman laces the story with references to early American religious practices -- some of these appear as virtual short stories within the overall novel's narrative. Clearly his interest is in pulling the curtain away from some "American Gods." What he has to say about them lies way down the lightning-fried road of the book's cover artwork.
"I cannot say enough times," Gallagher is dutifully doing her job here, "that this is about Neil and his book."
Noted. But what sales success "American Gods" has will have been made possible, at least in significant part, to the two-tiered online-and-traditional marketing campaign Gallagher is directing.
"It's an America with strange mythic depths," Gaiman writes, describing the book during a stop in Iceland in 1998. "I see it as a distorting mirror; a book of danger and secrets, of romance and magic. It's about the soul of America, really. What people brought to America; what found them when they came; and the things that lie sleeping beneath it all."
"American Gods" may also just make Neil Gaiman's career.
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William Morrow at HarperCollins.com
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