HogeTown is deflecting criticism for saying that it’s not a smart idea to have a book launch and not tell punters where and when it is. He mentions my post on author platform:

Also, I’m surprised to see one launch being promoted as a mystery, where we have to keep an eye out for clues as to when/where it will be.  Sometimes there are reasons these things aren’t known a week out from the con. Often they’re out of the control of the publisher. It happens. But if that’s the case tell us and let us know when we can find out. Otherwise it’s just as likely we won’t come because we won’t know when the bloody launch is on! As Kate would say on Electric Alphabet, it’s not good ‘platform.’

I thought I would make a few points here. Firstly, this is not quite what I meant when I talked about author platform. The book launch in question is for 2012, a small press anthology edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Ben Payne from Twelfth Planet Press.

Arguably, Alisa has excellent ‘platform’. She is deeply embedded in the Australian speculative fiction blogosphere. Her online review site, ASif!, attracts healthy patronage. She is a prolific publisher, critic and blog journalist. All these things add to her platform, that nebulous term which describes a combination of profile, reach or influence to particular audiences. Attempting to exploit that platform in order to promote her new publication is smart, and exactly what I hope more Australian authors will do, firstly by paying attention to how they can improve their platform, and then thinking about ways to use it to connect with readers and book buyers.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s a smart promotional strategy keeping the basic details of the launch (time, place etc) a secret, not for a small press book launch at a science fiction convention. This is a function of the kind of event a fan convention is. At any one time there are several program items competing for punters’ attention, not to mention the social pull of the bar, the traders room etc. It’s a content free-for-all. Being subtle and clever in this context doesn’t make sense. If you want people at your launch, you need to tell them where and when and give them compelling reasons to be there otherwise they’ll plan to be somewhere else. I understand that Alisa is trying something different and new, trying to get away from the boring old formula for book launches by using vague clues to create curiosity, buzz and anticipation. That’s to be applauded, and without that experimentation, we won’t know if a different approach could be more successful. But it needs to be coupled with clear information about how the mystery will be solved, what the pay off is, how tension will be resolved for the punter. This is not, after all, an episode of Lost. There’s a clear end game: to sell books.

I’m reminded of the time we were in Edinburgh during the Fringe and the basic method of promoting the dozens of shows going on across the city every night was for people from those shows to walk the Royal Mile with flyers and signs and comic performances to attract attention. This isn’t as chaotic and random as it may seem. The performances were designed to engage tourists and create desire to attend the show, much like Alisa’s mystery clues. But there was still a tangible item – the flyer, the sign – which said where to go, what time, how much.

At a convention, like a festival, there many things competing for attendees’ attention day and night. Why risk those people being distracted or captivated by something else before you can deliver the most important information – how to attend the launch, how to buy the book. And at the end of the day, number of people who showed up and number of books sold are going to be the measures of success.

Speaking of viral platforms for promoting and selling books, at the expensive end of the scale HarperCollins is going all out on a promotional campagin for Prince Caspian in a “Read the book before you see the movie” push. Tools of Change for Publishing blog notes:

The Facebook and widget components are notable because they represent a clear effort to engage the target audience (kids) on familiar ground (social networks, blogs, etc.). Back in the day, a program like this would have been relegated to a microsite and maybe a few text ads. Now, the openness of Web 2.0 creates all sorts of new engagement opportunities — both for companies and the audiences they seek.

Given the extent of Alisa’s ‘platform’ which I mentioned above, and which is largely based in online social media, I wonder if a well-constructed social network campaign wouldn’t give a better payoff for her time and energy in promoting 2012. I’m not talking having someone program her own widgets of course, but as this Guy Kawasaki article notes, you don’t necessarily need the bells and whistles to make word-of-mouth networks work harder for you.