A polished book-marketing plan nails it

August 9, 2013
Zoya nail polish designed especially for the characters in Emily Liebert's debut novel, "You Knew Me When" (NAL/Penguin).
Zoya nail polish designed especially for the characters in Emily Liebert’s debut novel, “You Knew Me When” (NAL/Penguin).

Discoverability has quickly evolved as the major hurdle for new authors. How will readers find books in an ever-expanding ocean of titles?

Publishers face a similar challenge as they try to catch the attention of editors, producers and feature writers who receive hundreds of new books every week. If your novel isn’t by someone famous, won’t receive a star in Publishers Weekly, or can’t generate a slavish “At Home” featurette in That Other East Coast Newspaper, how do you get someone in the media to notice it?

Swag, of course.

Washington Post rules forbid us accepting gifts of any kind, but every few months, a publisher sends along some book-related item that makes us stop — everything from silk flowers to little bottles of liquor. (Note to publishers: My wife’s father was a florist, and I’m a teetotaler, so don’t bother.)

"You Knew Me When," by Emily Liebert (NAL/Penguin).
“You Knew Me When,” by Emily Liebert (NAL/Penguin).

But still, hope — or something — springs eternal. Emily Liebert’s debut novel, “You Knew Me When,” won’t appear in stores until early September, but Penguin has sent out advance galleys with a three-bottle set of nail polish.

As an example of what authors are doing to push their books, this is an interesting — if quirky — case. The nail polish isn’t just some random bribe for book reviewers; it’s part of a carefully designed marketing plan to attract attention from media and potential readers: “You Knew Me When” is about a successful cosmetics executive. Naturally, she cares about her nails.

I asked Liebert, a writer and editor who lives outside of New York, how she came up with this idea.

“I know how hard it is to sell books these days, especially as a debut novelist,” she told me via e-mail. “So I wanted to make sure I found inventive ways of getting my name and the name of the book out there! With any luck, it’ll translate into sales.”

She contacted over a dozen companies before making arrangements with Zoya, a cosmetics firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. “They had a number of creative ideas and suggested doing a set named after the book with three polishes, each named after one of the three main female characters. Each color represents something about the character’s personality.”

Clearly, I haven’t been paying enough attention to characters’ nails.

“Red is always classic, just like Katherine,” Liebert tells me. “Laney, on the other hand, is much more of a free spirit and would likely wear a color that’s more offbeat, like emerald green. As it turns out, Laney is also ‘green with envy’ when Katherine returns home looking like a supermodel boasting the wildly successful career that Laney had always dreamed of. The third color is named after Luella Hancock. We chose purple because it’s regal, just like Luella.”

“Incidentally,” she adds, “these are also very on-trend colors for Fall 2013.”

Good to know.

Liebert got 300 sets of nail polish to send to editors, bloggers and TV producers. She’ll also give them out at book signings and readings. The polish and the novel will also be available for sale on Zoya’s Web site and Liebert’s Web site.

Emily Liebert is a writer and editor who has also been a spokesperson for Bing’s partnership with Facebook.
Emily Liebert is a writer and editor who has also been a spokesperson for Bing’s partnership with Facebook.

But this is just the start. Liebert has managed to get Brazilian designer Alessandra Meskita to create a new collection of dresses named after the women in “You Knew Me When.”

“The ‘Katherine’ dress is long and glamorous — and red!” Liebert says. “The ‘Laney’ dress is fun and flirty. And the ‘Luella’ dress is classic, but a bit more conservative.” Interested readers “will be able to buy the dresses at retail locations such as Fred Segal, Kitson, and many more.” Plans for a line of jewelry are in the works, too.

Let literary snobs mock. (Madame Bovary Blue, anyone? Jane Eyre Ecru?) New authors who want to find readers will find creative ways to attract them.

Bringing out a debut novel is always a nail-biting experience. So why not make those nails look as pretty as possible? If Liebert fails, it certainly won’t be for lack of effort.

@RonCharles

 

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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