What Sarah Palin Doesn’t Get (About Book Publishing)

November 22, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

If you missed it: Last week Gawker Media shared unauthorized excerpts (cache version) from Sarah Palin’s upcoming book, “America By Heart”, posting 14 partial page images that showed the dedication page and some juicer quotes of Sarah taking shots at the President, Levi Johnston and American Idol contestants. As you can imagine, the Internet ate it up with a spoon. Sarah, however, wasn’t a fan that her work was being shared without her permission. And she did what so many people do these days when something pisses them off – she tweeted about it.

Gawker challenged Sarah to consult a lawyer and learn a thing about copyright law – which, it seems, she did. On Saturday, Harper Collins, Sarah’s publisher, announced they were suing Gawker Media. A judge ordered that Gawker Media remove all the images while they await a court date – one that will take place AFTER the book is already released.

While there was a lot of buzz over the weekend about whether the excerpts should be considered fair game or, almost unthinkably, if Sarah Palin may have a point, I’m inclined to think it doesn’t even matter. This is one of those cases where the right or wrong is moot.  The Palin camp has already shot themselves in the foot. Sarah’s fatal mistake here is her thinking that she has any control over how people take in her content. She doesn’t.

In today’s world, publishers and wannabe-authors need to understand that the Internet will always find a way to get an advanced copy if it wants one (and you better hope it does). And that’s something you need to anticipate, plan for, and leverage if you want to increase book sales.

While I haven’t published a book (yet), here’s what I would have done if I was Sarah Palin.

Controlled the leak

If there’s any type of interest in your book, your pages are going to get out. You either learn how to leak it yourself or you make yourself vulnerable to whoever does it for you. In this case, instead of sitting back and looking dumb and doe-eyed, Sarah should have been controlling the Internet leak of her book. Who are the most influential bloggers/tweeters/linkerati that Sarah and Harper Collins would want to have their hands on the new book? Where do they want coverage? Who do they want to give the scoop? Who may be critical of them, but will drive eyes? Someone needed to identify them and spoon feed the content in their direction. You don’t have to give exclusives to everyone, but pick who is most important.

For example, when Universal Orlando was getting ready to launch the Harry Potter Theme Park, they leaked the story to seven people. Within 24 hours, 350 million people had heard about the upcoming theme park. While they may have only picked seven people, they told the right seven people. That’s how you control a “leak”.

Treat web & offline differently

Controlling the leak is just a small part of what needs to be a larger social media plan. The Internet has changed the game for publishing because it’s allowed authors to create unified street teams and cast wider nets for promotion. It’s also makes it possible for authors to market their books based on the specific audience their going after – Web or traditional. Ideally, you should be feeding bloggers different excerpts than you’re feeding the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as they’re two completely different beasts and their audiences will be going after different angles. Of course, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring the Web/social/email marketing component completely.

And NOT ignoring it is important for a number of reasons. First, if you’re a small-time author (ie you’re not Sarah Palin), much of your book promotion falls on YOU. As the author, you have to use your network to peddle those books and get the word out. Your agency isn’t going to do that for you and I can’t think of a better (and more effective way) to hawk something than through social media, assuming you know what you’re doing. In fact, if you’re a wanna-be writer, one of the first questions your agency will ask you is how you plan to promote your book. Yes. YOU.

As an established author (or at least, a larger name) like Sarah Palin, your social media plan is important for different reasons. Because of the buzz Sarah commands, she could have sold her book excerpts pretty much to the highest bidder…until Gawker published them for free live on the Internetz. I imagine one of the reasons Sarah’s camp is so pissed is because they realize they just potentially lost out on a lot of money. Someone should have been figuring out how social media was going to fit into their larger promotional efforts so they weren’t costing themselves cash when they two accidentally overlapped.  But it seems they never did. The book is released this Tuesday. Content should have been “leaked” weeks ago and bloggers should have been fed different material to excerpt so Harper Collins could have sold other excerpts to mainstream media.

Encourage people to share the content

Instead of limiting the number of outlets with your content, do the opposite. If blogging as taught us anything, it’s that even if you give people 90 percent of your content free, if it’s good, they’ll still pay for the remaining 10 percent. It’s an attraction strategy and it’s timeless. The same way Brian Clark can give away his content all day long and then get people to pay to join Third Tribe Marketing, authors can release lengthy excerpts and still get people to buy the book. By giving some away for free, you actually help yourself attract more people to it. Anyone who was going to buy Sarah Palin’s book [Hi, Dad] is still going to buy it. How Gawker excerpts could have helped Sarah increase sales is by attracting people who maybe weren’t going to buy it before. Now they see it has some juicy attacks and plenty of Palin-isms and they’re either suddenly interested in what she has to say or they’ll pick it up for the sheer train wreck of it all. As an author, it doesn’t matter WHY people buy your book, just that they do.

As the fight continues about fair use, copyright and lawsuits, the Palin camp has already lost. Not only because they ended a conversation that could have increased sales, but also by showing the Web Generation that Sarah Palin will never understand us enough to be our President, our friend or anything else. At some point, both publishers and politicians will have to stop ignoring the Web.

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