Going Underground

April 7th, 2009

Some among you have already emailed me to let me know that you’ve seen a most surprising – could one even say fantastical – thing, namely vast posters advertising my books on the London tube. Naturally I took these for elaborate pranks/sinister deceptions on the part of rival authors/belated april fools. Imagine my shock, therefore, when I got off a northbound Piccadilly line train at Finsbury Park station, where I live and breathe, to see THIS:

Someone had mentioned at some point that they might be doing some advertising on the tube, but I’d assumed they meant some of those dog-eared stickers promoting rubbish club nights opportunistically slapped over some poor model’s face on the cards up the escalators, along with used-up blobs of chewing gum. Not, you know, proper big-ass three-sheet posters like you get for Hollywood movies and that:

I think I must be the only author in history to get MORE marketing than they were hoping for.

The interesting thing for me, once I’d got over the bowel-loosening shock of it happening at all, is that the approach is very much pitching to a mainstream audience rather than a fantasy-specific one. I’m described as being “David Gemmell x CJ Sansom”. Gemmell is heroic fantasy to the core, of course, but Sansom is much more of your general historical mystery fiction. That’s no surprise, in a sense, because my stuff, as you all know, is just as much about plumbing the depths of the universal human spirit as it is about smashing faces in with a magic sword. Honest. Of course, every writer thinks their own stuff is deep and ace and should appeal to anyone with half a brain. I’m actually right though. Obviously.

In truth, I’m always suspicious of any talk that splits readers into fantasy or mainstream. I think all readers are individuals with a whole range of different tastes, and such distinctions are often accompanied by a load of bullsh*t paranoid tribalism that doesn’t really have anything helpful to say about the real world, where nothing is black and white and all is shades of grey. Few indeed are those who read nothing but fantasy, just as few folks who read much at all won’t ever have delved into a Tolkien or CS Lewis at some point. Still, the distinction is important as far as marketing goes. After all, imprints tend to be either genre or not, and books have to be shelved somewhere within the bookstore, however arbitrarily the distinctions sometimes are. With every genre book there’s always a decision to be made, therefore – keep it safe, stick a dragon on the front and aim for a reliable core audience, or try to appeal to a wider readership and take the risk that no one will like it? Do you plump for the sf section where you know there should be steady trade, or do you aim to get your fantasy shelved at the front of the store, and risk fantasy buyers walking straight past to the fantasy section to buy, say David Gemmell, while the more general buyers ignore your tawdry magic-sword based nonsense in favour of, say, CJ Sansom?

Anyway, I digress. Will this bring in new readers? Very hard to say, really. I’d certainly like it to, whether they be mainstream or fantastical. Will it do more good than a lower impact campaign, more focused on stuff like genre magazines and websites, where you’re hoping to hit a more targeted audience, perhaps a more explicitly fantasy-reading audience? Again, very hard to judge. I’d say I’ve spent a dozen years riding the tube pretty regularly and never bought anything as a result of the constant bombardment of advertisements I’m exposed to down there. But then everyone would say that, and they’re quite obviously wrong, aren’t they, cause if they weren’t, no one would advertise in the first place. And it can achieve things without directly converting a commuter from “never heard of him” to “I will buy that immediately” – a more subtle increase in recognisability of the author’s name or the book’s cover. But in all honesty, this isn’t necessarily about selling books to readers. Not directly, anyway. Just as important as the selling out is the selling in, that is the selling of books to booksellers. A publisher can point to a big-splash style campaign of this kind and say, “we’re taking this seriously, so should you,” and hopefully get booksellers to stock more, shelve better, and so on. So I guess we will see how it goes, and regardless of the figures, find a way to declare it a ringing success.

I certainly can’t complain that the publisher isn’t taking me seriously. I asked my editor if I would be getting advances in the region of CJ Sansom x David Gemmell now. She said it would be more like divided by.

You laugh because it’s funny, you laugh because it’s true…

Posted in news, process by Joe Abercrombie on April 7th, 2009. Tags: ,

27 comments so far

  • marky says:

    Yeah, I don’t think the consumers immediate reaction is to go out and buy said epic literature, when setting eyes on a big ass poster. But, it does kind of stick in your head when you see it in such monster proportions, thus bringing about the “I wonder what all the fuss is about” purchase.

    Here’s hoping that it propels the books to even greater success, and a movie ensues!

  • eudamus says:

    Finsbury Park being my manor also, I was very happy to see this replace the ‘Want Longer Lasting Sex?’ poster that was there previously.

    However, I did get the sort of pang not had since your favourite indie band went on TOTP (i.e. these are mine … MINE … now everyone knows about them … pah)

  • Longasc says:

    Why did you not take a topview photo? 🙂

  • marky,
    here’s hoping.

    The First Law will, of course, lead to longer lasting sex as well.

    I took eighty-five photos, including a top down one, but these were the two best.

  • Emma says:

    After seeing that huge poster I wouldn’t buy one of your books- good thing I saw them in a bookstore.
    Just thinkig, which amazing product needs that big advertise?
    Only the bad ones~
    Well, did your books drop quality?

  • Leiali says:

    My sister mentioned the poster though I don’t think she was in finsbury park when she saw it. It did make me wonder how your ego would take it 🙂

  • Steve Aryan says:

    Well, if it does nothing more than make people think they know your name when they walk into a bookshop, only to forgot seconds later, then it was the idea that counted. Or the thought. I forget.

    So how long is it before you go around pressing the flesh and pressing copies of Best Served Cold into peoples faces so they can’t help but remember your name when they look in the mirror after it’s been stamped in their skin? Are you sticking to old London town or venturing outside the M25?

  • Iain says:

    David Gemmell X CJ Sansom = Joe Abercrombie. Christ, I never could get my head around maths.

    Just finished the second book in The First Law Trilogy. Sorry to brown nose like a fawning twunt but both books are quite fantastic. Onto the finale…

  • David Wagner says:

    Hmm… I had you pegged as “Ayn Rand x Dr. Suess”… ;P

    Not sure a poster-sized ad would have worked on me, who knows… it was multiple forum recommendations that led me to your series, for which I am quite grateful. Some of the most enjoyable reading I’ve experienced in years.

  • Oi! And what exactly is wrong with slapping a dragon on the front?

    Saw your poster with my own eyes at South Kensington on Saturday. Well impressed. Let’s have more fantasy advertised on the tube I say.

  • Emma,
    Yes, with each release. Soon they will be advertising them on the side of jumbo jets.

    They are all over London…

    Not really up to me where they put them, I wasn’t even aware they were doing it in London until my sister-in-law texted me a photo of one.

    Fawning Twunts are always welcome here.

    David Wagner,
    There’s no substitute for word of mouth, of course, of which the internet is, I guess, an accelerated form. But a little extra help can’t hurt.

    Night Watchmen,
    There’s nothing wrong with a dragon on the front, but it would be inappropriate to my books, which are obviously not fantasy but ultra-high-brow literary works exploring important human themes.

  • harvb says:

    Okay, you know what you have to do now, right?

    Hold a signing on the underground by those posters. Imagine the photos of that, eh? That’d be a first.

    Go on Abercrombie, you know you want to.

  • Tom Lloyd says:

    Congrats mate, much deserved. Think I’ve seen them at Leicester Sq and Holburn, so clearly Gollancz are taunting me with your success as I travel home from the office… ;0) Also, I think Dave said he saw one at Notting Hill Gate, so they certainly ain’t just dumping you in the cheap advertising locations!

  • Elena says:

    I think you win this month’s “that is pimp” contest. wish I could see them. Alas there are no Abercrombie adverts on buses or trolleys in New Orleans. Hhhhhhhh. Good thing I’ve already heard of you, huh? 🙂

  • zap says:

    personally i think it’s damn cool! obviously i’m prone to feeling that way since i read your books but .. still, if i happened to look up one day and see that poster i’d think “ya! i read those! they’re great!” and tell some folks i know about it. maybe that’s what it’s all about: buzz.

  • Harvey Quinn says:

    I got off at St Pauls a few days ago and saw that. I know authors advertise, but I dont think i’ve ever seen a poster that big for any fantasy book/triolgy.

    The thing that made it weirder is the fact I love The First Law, and i’ve met you.

    The thing that made it weirder still is when I got on the escalator I saw three mini posters that followed each other in succession along the wall, one for each book.

    Hopefully it will bring in the bacon eh Joe?

  • enjai says:

    Although I dissed the Richard and Judy “pick of the week” adverts when I first mentioned seeing the First law posters, I am now thinking it would be great if you could somehow get a copy of “Best served cold” into Richard and Judy’s hands (or their minions who actually read it).

    People will buy anything with a Richard and Judy sticker on it and I’d enjoy reading their review. to hell with what other critics think, they have the real power to sell your books!

  • Harv,
    I do want to. Transport for London may have other ideas.

    It’s Orion who are taunting you. Gollancz barely knew about it.

    You have a “that is pimp” contest? I wish I’d known earlier, I’d have entered my diamond-encrusted toilet seat.

    Oh yeah, definitely buzz. All marketing is cumulative, and nothing beats word of mouth.

    I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it either, but then I’m not sure I’ve been looking. Books in general certainly get advertised like this. They’ve got much bigger campaigns on the tube at the moment for Paulo Coehlo, I note.

    I’ve been thinking of kidnapping either Richard or Judy or both by way of promotion, a bit like Rupert Pupkin does with Jerry Lewis in King of Comedy.

  • Anonymous says:

    Advertising is about hitting the right person at the right time. So, if they’ve just finished a book and are thinking what should I try next? Hey presto!

  • enjai says:

    You could have some kind of online appeal where, unless booksales reach a certain number, we may never see Richard/Judy again?
    “Best Served Cold” could then act as the name of the book and a threat to whichever one is held captive.

    Was I this disturbed before I read your books?

  • Liz says:

    Hi Joe

    Just a massive congratulations to you! Am so glad to see your name on the David Gemmell shortlist – well done!

  • Sara says:

    No posters of your books here in Perth, Western Australia – no underground, either. But plenty of copies flying off the bookshop shelves. I was just on a ‘What’s Hot in Fantasy’ panel with Richard Morgan at Swancon (our local spec fic convention) and I plugged your books to a ridiculous extent.

    My identity picture may show up as a dog but I’m actually a fellow fantasy writer.

    Congrats on the David Gemmell shortlisting. Not … jealous …

  • Sara says:

    Holy cr*p! I just looked at the Gemmell short list, having relied on someone else’s post for info, and discovered that my book is also on it! Now I’m really not jealous.

  • harvb says:


    Just do it. I mean seriously, the rebel autograph signing. Give a few hours notice, or a couple of days, then just say “I’ll be at XXX on XXX” I’m sure you’d get a few fans turn up.

  • Kysun says:

    Did you sort of go…
    Walk past. Stop. Do a double take. Gasp. Take many, many photos?

    And how were people’s reactions during the process? XD

  • AndrewB says:

    Know I'm jumping in on this a bit late, but I was in London back in May and saw an ad at Lancaster Gate. The wife and I were visiting for a week (England is wonderful!), and she almost walked off without me. That's Joe Abercrombie! I was the dumb yokel American tourist, but I'm sure they were a little baffled when I stopped and stared at, not Big Ben or Houses of Parliament, but an ad for your book. Congratulations!

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