July 9, 2010

Anatomy of a marketing campaign, #2: Subway Hans


How do you market a book written in a foreign language by an author who’s now dead, that was originally published 60 years ago, and has been overlooked by mainstream publishing ever since? This series takes an ongoing, insider’s look at the campaign to get Hans Fallada‘s Every Man Dies Alone on the bestseller lists, by Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson.



As mentioned yesterday, marketing an old, translated book by a dead author faces certain problems, and so we’ve had to be creative about how to get the word out about Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. While we wait to see if the TV campaign works, we’re going to report on some of the other weird ideas we’ve concocted to promote a book we love. One of our very favorites was something that — once again — we’d never heard of a little indie doing: Advertising in the Toronto subway system.

You heard that right. Thanks to a tip from our intrepid Canadian sales rep, Janet Joy Wilson, we learned that the Toronto subway system has this one interesting line that follows a route featuring stops near several good bookstores, including several large outlets for the Chapters-Indigo chain.

“Hmm,” says we.

“Posters,” says J.J. “On just that line. By the doors.”

It wasn’t hard to design the poster — Every Man has collected the most sincere, heartfelt reviews of any book we’ve ever published. I mean, we don’t need to say anything, really, when we’ve got Primo Levi calling it “the best book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis.” Give a couple of moving testimonials like that and our striking cover image to an amazing designer (Bruce Peters) and viola! — or whatever the German equivalent is — we’ve got a hell of a poster, as you can see above.

The real work was the footwork and phone work of J.J. — we’re talking about an ideal situation, where a sales rep loves the book as much as the publisher does — alerting the stores and seeing if we couldn’t coordinate displays of the book, so when riders came above ground they would see the book waiting for them.

As it turns out, those booksellers already knew the ruse, already loved the book, and were happy to sign on. We splurged for a month, and we’ve been getting thank-you’s from booksellers ever since. It worked!

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.