I read a blog post by David Wooley the other day about his publisher’s insistance that he help promote his new book. I must admit that I identify with his reluctance to promote himself. My own tendency is a bit introverted, so promotion of any sort requires me to overcome a little embarassment.
But in thinking about David’s post, I can’t help but remember that promotion can also be used in the wrong way. In the Mormon context, publishers and authors face significant cultural and ethical dilemmas in promoting their work.
Frequently Church members assume that if cultural works have been produced to further the gospel, they should be given away for free, or at low cost. While there is certainly a role for giving works away for free, there are also significant disadvantages to giving works away for free. Probably the major disadvantage is the lack of promotion — unless someone is promoting a work, the number of copies distributed is very limited; and when a work is given away for free, there are rarely any funds available for or effort put into promotion.
Given the need for some kind of promotion, it is no surprising the efforts that publishers and some authors go to in promoting their work. Any promotion at all sometimes feels like its ethically wrong. And since the Church prohibits using its facilities and member lists for commercial purposes, most promotion aimed at LDS Church members seems somehow wrong. While not quite priestcraft, is it wrong to use the fact of Church membership to earn money?
While that dilemma is in the back of the minds of publishers and authors, they also struggle with the dilemmas associated with the text itself, especially, should the text be crafted for a particular target audience? If an author does so, has he remained true to his muse? What if instead the elements targeted to an audience aren’t crucial to the message or ideas in the work? If I want to target college-age LDS women at BYU, should I work in a BYU angle, even if the book is set in Europe?
Many dilemmas that we face in life come down to simple conventions in our community — that is, what our friends and neighbors, helpers and customers, expect. But successful promotion often relies on the unexpected. One graphic design book I read years ago said that the key to great design is knowing all the rules of good design, and breaking at least one. Promotion is also like that — these days if you don’t break one of the rules, no one pays attention. But there is an art to knowing which rule to break, since many of these rules will either yield ethical dilemmas or turn off the audience.
Over the years, I’ve seen a number of promotional efforts used by LDS publishers and authors, some of them seemed questionable. Here are some examples:
* Prospecting at church — talking to anyone who will listen about your work, so that you can judge their interest and call those interested later to make a sale.
* Simply letting others know about your latest work — in the hope that they will look for it later.
* Handing out business cards or flyers, or posting them on bulletin boards.
* Reading passages from your work in classes, at firesides or homemaking meetings.
* Giving presentations on the same subject (but not necessarily mentioning the book) in classes, at firesides or homemaking meetings.
* Collecting email or physical addresses from Church directories because “I know them personally, I’m just looking up the address of a friend.”
* Years ago, I saw one Internet-based promotion in which Church members were asked to give the advertiser the name and address of their Bishop.
I’m sure you that read this post will know of other promoting techniques, both ethical and not. I’d be very interested to hear them. What techniques have you used or heard of?