Saturday, July 07, 2007

Repeated Mistake: No book promotion done for “The face of the spirit”

I’ve vowed, even on this blog, that the next time I publish something, I will promote it well. Yet I did nothing to promote The face of the spirit: illuminating a century of essays by South African women, ( March 2007, Department of Arts and Culture) ,an anthology I contributed to recently.

My biggest mistake is that I failed to establish from the publisher right from the beginning how the book would be promoted. Now when I do Google searches on the title, all I find the only articles about the launch. Obviously, it’s not being talked about in the media, which means interest in it is probably very low. The issues raised by the various writers are also not being discussed extensively, with a direct link to the book. Thank God I didn’t expect royalties against sales!

I attended the book launch in March. It was a well-planned event, with Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan present. But I felt a little lost - I didn’t know any of the contributors or the project coordinator, and I didn’t integrate into the event very well. The problem was that I’m not used standing idle at an event – usually I report on the event and that is an ice breaker with people. And I don’t do small talk very well.

Anyway, I think one of the reasons I was not proactive in promoting the book is that I’m simply a tiny cog in the great machine that produced the book. Also, I assumed the government department responsible for the project and the influential contributors would have the promotion of the book well in hand.

In terms of content and the quality, the book is much more than I expected when I responded to a call for submissions.

Published in hard cover coffee-table type format, it’s an the anthology of essays catalogue the lives of SA women for the past 100 years, and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the women’s march against the extension of passes [apartheid type ID document] by the apartheid government.

Contributors include women who made their mark in the SA consciousness as anti-apartheid activists, writers, politicians and businesswomen such as Helen Joseph, Olive Schreiner, Lauretta Ncqobo, Ruth First, Zanele Mbeki [ wife of President Thabo Mbeki], Frene Ginwala, Ellen Kuzwayo, Ferryal Haffajee, Antjie Krog, Wendy Luhabe and Helen Suzman.

Then there are the few unknowns who have yet to prove themselves as writers, artists, political or social commentators. That group includes me.
It feels weird to see my name among such greats. I also feel honoured that my essay was chosen for a watershed publication such as this one. It's the kind of book that is kept/collected for historical purpose. But I also feel sad that the collection was not widely reviewed, and will likely not be widely read.

I'm still not sure what the distribution points for the anthology are. My understanding is that the book would be available through government departments nationally, provincially and locally, and South African embassies internationally. But I haven’t met anyone who saw the book somewhere.

This post notwithstanding, I am going to let the issue go. I don’t have the time or resources to promote the anthology to get it widely read, and even if I did, direct benefits for me would be very limited.

4 Lessons on anthology promotion learnt from this experience:

1. Establish up front, at the signing of the contract, if there will be promotion activities, what these activities will be and what your role will be
2. Establish what the distribution points are so you can direct friends, relatives and own audience to a specific shop (online and offline) to buy copies.
3. Find out if it is OK for you to do solo promotions.
4. If it is, weigh the benefits of doing solo promotion against the cost and time you would put in for the activities.

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