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:
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…