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


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.

Your Comments

  • James

    I’m not sure I agree.

    I think Sarah Palin, or rather her team of puppet masters, understand all too well, the narrative that they have been working to build since 2008 – namely, that Sarah Palin is being unfairly treated by the ‘lamestream media’. That’s their only playing card. If they’d ignored the leak, they gain nothing; Gawker weren’t, after all, leaking paragraphs that make Sarah Palin sound like a political mastermind (no Ghostwriter is that good), so it is unlikely that many people would read the excerpts and decide to buy the book if they weren’t already planning on doing so, but by throwing a trademark Palin tantrum, they gain another knotch on the ‘Poor Sarah is a victim of the liberal media’ bed post, which will rile up her base, boost book sales and further increase her visibility, both online and off.

    Honestly, I think her team are amazing at what they do. They’ve managed to keep her in the public eye and cultivate a large community of fanatical supporters, despite all of the controversy surrounding her and her family. Palin has very little going for her politically, yet she’s hanging in there and it would be a brave pundit to wager on her not doing very well in the Republican primaries, should she choose to run.

    To sum up. God help us all.

    • Lisa Barone

      Heh. She’s certainly playing the “media hates me” card very well. However, I do think by leaving the Gawker coverage up she attracts the people who were maybe on the fence and people who my sympathize with her. I also think you underestimate how many people will get in line just to see a trainwreck. ;)

      I think Sarah needs to thank Levi Johnston for keeping her name in the media way longer than it needed to be — allowing her to get her own reality show.

      • James

        I get the trainwreck appeal, I just don’t think that her actions here will have done a huge amount of damage to that category of sales. I agree that some of the people who were on the fence may have been put off, but I don’t think she’s the kind of character who picks up many fence sitters; she’s political marmite.

        I also don’t think this book is necessarily all about the money, although I’m sure she’ll be swimming in royalty cheques, soon enough. It’s about the next step; does Sarah go hunting in Washington? or does she settle for becoming a gazillionaire conservative commentator?

  • bluephoenixnyc

    I want to relate this back to a piece you wrote a few days ago on here about brand management and negative reviews.

    Another missed opportunity here is that Sarah Palin has become a brand. Her customers are ardent supporters of this brand and if she had allowed that Gawker coverage to exist–it would’ve been a lot like a very public negative review–and if Palin would’ve acknowledged it, but allowed it to remain up, it could’ve even served to buy her a shred of credibility with detractors. As if she’s allowing not everyone wants to buy what she’s selling–and she’s okay

    But I do find it fascinating that her camp is more irked about the leak being a missed opportunity to capitalize on Palin than the incident actually being something that could possibly bite into her book sales.

    Great piece as always. Thanks.

  • bluephoenixnyc

    “As if she’s allowing not everyone wants to buy what she’s selling–and she’s okay” should’ve read as follows:

    “As if she’s okay with not everyone wanting to buy what she’s selling.”

  • Mark

    Giving away a portion of something is and has always been a great hook…the best, I think. Actually, this post has changed the way I think I will build my list…by offering a free no-opt-in download for the first half of my giveaway and if they like what they read, they have to opt-in for the second half…hmmm…You offer great insight, Lisa. Thanks for the nice write-up…:)

  • David Siteman Garland


    As an upcoming author, content creator and lover-of-content-creating, it is this kind of backwards thinking by her that is plaguing all kinds of industries including publishing, marketing and many more.

    There are many that are still obsessed with the “ways things were” with tightly controlled media. Now, of course the game has changed.

    I know if it was me, I’d be ecstatic that the idea was spreading…as opposed to worrying about copyrights and other anti-spreadable nonsense :)

    Just my opinionated .02, haha.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    I think this whole thing failed on 2 levels.
    First, as you say, the “controlled leak” should’ve happened weeks ago, second, even in case of an incident like this, things should’ve been managed a lot better.
    Surely not through lawyers. This is just going to put Sarah Palin on a worse light – if that’s even possible nowadays. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure people who wanted to buy the book will buy it anyway, and those who weren’t going to, won’t.
    You most likely read it already, but I found this article very interesting as well.

  • Leland Pugsley

    Lisa, You live in a crystal ball and some day someone will teach you about rocks. Your generation believes in total openness, putting all your irrevelant minutia out there for the world to see. That includes invading, or ignoring, the rights of others and that will eventually be your downfall. You’ll publish/tweet/or facebook some aspect of yourself that will come back and bite you – then you’ll understand, but too late. SP/Harpers has the sole right to decide who and how their copyrighted material is published (officially or unofficially). Anyone else is stealing their work and needs to bear up to the legal ramifications for doing so.

    That is not to say what they do may be bad marketing or not – that may be your opinion, but they have the right to make the decision – good, bad, or indifferent.

  • Curtis Ophoven

    I agree, Sarah’s publisher should have organized a controlled leak weeks ago.

    But I don’t think this story is going to have much effect on her sales. I think her publisher will learn a lot from this experience and next time we will see a controlled leak.

  • Mike

    Just bought Sarah Palin’s America By Heart. The bookstore I was at sold 250 copies today(I was told by cashier). They kept replenishing the book throughout the day. At my local bookstore, it was flying off the shelf. I think it will do terrific business……..

  • Julia

    Lisa, you made a good point. Whether or not the finer points of publishing law make Gawker liable, I think the tide is changing. We online readers are totally gagging for leaks like this. We love them, and we consider them fair play. (Totally pirated works are a different story.) And so long as there’s a billion-plus readers out there, sites will still find a way to find that information.

    In short, it’s going to happen. And because it’s gonna happen, our laws need to reflect that.

  • Chopkoski

    Lisa’s off the hook again, so to speak, the usual downgrading of the world around her to meet her standards, along with far fetched stories of…yawn..boring intrigue in the book world. When will she ever come out with something that is her own and not seeming like it came out of a high school cat fight….

  • Judith Briles

    Today, an author needs to rethink the whole issue of piracy in literature. #1 It happens. #2 It will continue to happen. #3 It could just be a good thing. Think about it–the author’s work/words are spread into areas that she or he probably would never reach. The brand starts to build. Use social media with a bit of moxie can not only expand that brand, it can sell lots of books. Just talk with the authors who have built huge fan bases with eBooks–they love the piracy factor–spreads the word, builds their name, they sell more books.

    Anyone with a name should expect that someone(s) will get preview copies–once they are out, they are out. Get over it. Learn how anticipate and control the leak factor. Suing someone requires some deep pockets, especially in the publishing arena. It’s not worth the time nor energy.