Last night’s meeting was actually more like the 15th meeting, but I don’t often get the chance to attend anymore, so this is only my third post about the group.
The speaker was Jeffrey Sussman, president of Jeffrey Sussman, Inc., a marketing public relations firm in New York City. The email I received about the event said that “Jeffrey has represented virtually every kind of public and private company, but he also represents and promotes books and authors. His most recent books are Power Promoting: How To Market Your Business to the Top! And No Mere Bagatelles, a biography of Holocaust survivor and fashion designer Judith Leiber.”
Sussman had a lot of interesting stories and projects to share. Although all the books he spoke about covered very different topics, they all had one thing in common. They were all successful because of their niche market.
“I needed to find the niche market,” Sussman said. And of course, there are different ways to tap into the desired markets.
In 1984 Sussman worked with Jane Dystel to promote The World Almanac, which despite being published for 125 years had never been a best seller. Sussman said that the Almanac had been running a Heroes of America contest, where students voted. Winners were often celebrities, such as Michael Jackson and Sylvester Stallone, but some of the runner-ups were surprising: the Pope, Ronald Reagan, and more. Sussman saw these picks as opportunities to encourage sales of the book.
So, as one example, he and Dystel sent out a press release with President Reagan, who posed for pictures with them because it also helped him win his re-election by showing that young people liked him. The photo was picked up by the Associated Press and went to 1200 news outlets. For the first time, The World Almanac landed on the New York Times best seller list, as #1.
A reporter wrote a story on how Sussman’s marketing led to the book’s selling success, which created a snowball effect and led to even more success. Sussman said he also worked with the Catholic church to promote the Pope and the Almanac.
On another project, Sussman helped boost the success of Three Black Skirts by Anna Johnson. He convinced a retailer to use the fashion book as a premium incentive. The retailer bought 25,000 copies, and they gave away a free copy of the book for every customer who bought $100 or more worth of merchandise.
Sussman also once worked on a book about Iwo Jima. He had been told by someone in the news hat any item about vets, pets, kids, and/or tits can be a news story, so he cold called the journalist John Miller and ended up getting a two-part special on The Today Show.
As an interesting side note, apparently JFK’s father paid people to buy copies of his son’s Profiles in Courage from bookstores that he knew reported to the New York Times best seller list so as to propel the book to the list.
Another successful book was Sussman’s own Power of Promoting. He had taught a course for 12 years at the New School on marketing and promoting new businesses, and then he decided to write a book about it. So he cold called the publisher Wiley and had lunch with an editor who agreed to publish the book.
He said it took 8 months to write and 6 months to publish. “[Wiley is] such a big company with a lot of business books, so I knew I’d have to market it myself.”
His success came from sending out his own press releases, as well as interviews on CNBC and the Financial News Network. One of the outlets liked his press release so much that he was hired to write a monthly column.
Sussman also worked with Darrel W. Ray, Ed.D, author of The God Virus. The book was self-published, and the author managed to sell 7,500 print copies in one year. Sussman helped make the book a success by setting up RR (recovering religion) groups, similar to AA, around the country. The groups formed via a website, and then the author spoke at the events for free, selling 10-50 copies of his book at each meeting. He also gave speeches at Atheist conventions.
Sussman was also hired to help Workman Publishing promote and market a book called Brooklyn: A State of Mind. Sussman had published three books with Workman and said he knew Peter Workman personally. So he helped the company run a contest, where the predetermined winner was Senator Schumer, a man from Brooklyn. He invited the senator to a launch party in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and the Daily News came and photographed the senator with the book.
While doing research for the book, Sussman also learned that 1 out of 7 Americans either came from Brooklyn or had an ancestor from Brooklyn. He included that fact in press releases, and as a result, newspapers in multiple states, such as Nebraska, wrote stories about the book and how 1 out 7 people in their city were probably from Brooklyn. The book was a best seller.
Lastly, Sussman talked about how Judith Lieber, a handbag designer and Holocaust survivor, hired him in 2007 to write her biography. She wanted to recoup her costs after, so Sussman went to Judith’s company (which she had sold in ’93) and suggested they publish her book. Traditional publishing houses had offered to pick up the book, but they were only offering 10% royalties. With Judith’s company publishing the book, they were able to spend $50,000 (the cost of their advertising budget, since the book was considered advertising), and produce a more expensive book, with 24 color illustrations. They sold the book for $35 each.
Sussman also set up many interviews (many of them of which are now on YouTube) where she spoke about being a Holocaust survivor. The book sold at all the events, which were held in museums and department stores. One event was at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where 700 people attended. Lieberman showed her handbags, which were considered works of art. 80 of her handbags are on display at The Met, and Sussman convinced the curator of The Met to write the foreword to the book and feature the book in the museum’s store.
All of marketing and publicity begins with finding the right niche. The way to do this, Sussman said, is to put yourself in the shoes of a consumer. Who would be interested in this?
Corporate manufacturers use focus groups to figure out who’s interested and what kind of packaging appeals to most people, but Sussman said if you do niche marketing enough times you’ll get a feel for what’s right.
“A book is a product,” he said. “People in publishing don’t like that idea. They like to think a book is an artistic venture […] but you can sell a book the same way.”
Sussman also said that you can’t change the book, but you change the audience/market, and then figure out how to reach that market in a clever, unique way.
Since some of Sussman’s book publicity projects were done before digital publishing became big, he said that you can also equate niche with platform, and you want to match the reader with the product. When imagining the niche, you can think of the subject that book covers. A memoir, for example, can be a platform, but the subject of the book is the niche, he said.
Sussman has a standard fee for his publicity services, though he admitted writers whose sole occupation is writing may have trouble paying him. He also only takes on clients he likes, whose work he appreciates.
“You have to like what you’re doing,” he said. “It’d be terrible to get up in the morning and be faced with something you hate.”