Idle Threats

I was making the bed one morning, the television tuned to a morning program on a national station, when James Patterson’s voice implored me to buy his latest book or he would “kill Alex Cross.” Oh, really? You would? This advertisement from the thriller-meister has generated a great deal of talk on DorothyL, a listserv that I and many of my Stiletto brethren subscribe to. People fall firmly into two camps when it comes to expressing their opinions about this ad: brilliant versus schlocky. I think I’m somewhere in the middle.

The first thing I wondered is exactly how much does it cost to get thirty seconds worth of air time during “Good Morning, America”? I’m sure it’s more money than I have but I wonder nonetheless. Second, I wondered how many people actually believe Patterson. Is there a contingent of die-hard Patterson fans out there who would trudge to the bookstore (or to their computer keyboard) to order the book just because he said so? Obviously, Patterson is being tongue-in-cheek. But I’m curious to know how successful an ad like that is in generating sales.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read an Alex Cross novel, so I don’t know whether to be chagrined or not that he might travel to the great unknown in Patterson’s next novel. Is Alex Cross the guy that Morgan Freeman always plays in the movies? If so, please don’t kill him, Mr. Patterson. I love Morgan Freeman and want him to have work well into his 80’s, some 50 years after it is unacceptable for women to have a decent leading role.

Let’s remember that Patterson began in advertising, something that’s been pointed out several times on DorothyL. According to one of the posters—our friend and fellow mystery writer, Chris Grabenstein—the sign on Patterson’s door to his band of ad copywriters was “Startle me.” I actually have a friend who worked for him, and by all accounts, he was a master at the game. So it’s not surprising that he would pull out all of the stops to sell books, which got me wondering (once again…I do a lot of wondering), “Just how far would I go to sell a book?”

Conclusion? Not far.

People know what they like to read and they are not usually persuaded to go outside of their comfort zones, in my opinion. I think back to one of the first book signings I ever did, as the guest writer featured during our middle-school’s Barnes and Noble fundraiser. I sat, all alone, at a table in the middle of the store, smiling and trying not to look as uncomfortable as I felt. A woman approached me and asked me what kind of book “Murder 101” was. I gave her a rambling synopsis of the plot, and she took the book over to where she was sitting to look through it to see whether or not it was worth the twenty or so bucks B&N was charging for it on that particular day. She walked back to me a few minutes later, her face stern. She handed me back the book. “I don’t think I want to read this,” she said. And instead of screaming, “Buy this book or I will kill Alison Bergeron!” I bid her a nice day and sunk a little lower in my hard-backed chair.

I used to work in college textbook publishing and one of my jobs was to support our sales reps in the field by traveling with them and making sales calls. I have to say, I was pretty good at closing the deal. And I will admit I once used the old “baby needs a new pair of shoes” line to a professor who was considering one of our books. I was eight months pregnant at the time, and he was so surprised by my cheekiness that he ordered 150 copies of a $40.00 book on the spot. Yes, that’s $6000 worth of business in a five-minute call. All this to prove that when necessary, I can sell. But there’s something different when it’s a book that you wrote, that your blood, sweat, and tears went into, that came from your heart. The hard sell just doesn’t seem to apply.

All this to say that I applaud Mr. Patterson. I won’t buy his book (“I don’t think I want to read this”) but I will probably buy a copy for a family member for Christmas. Because in a thirty-second ad, Patterson piqued my interest. People obviously care enough about Alex Cross as a protagonist that killing him off would upset them greatly. And that makes me wonder.

“Final Exam” came out yesterday. If you like my kind of mysteries, I hope you’ll buy it. More than that, though, I hope you enjoy it.

And in the interest of blatant self-promotion, commonly called BSP on DorothyL, what I will do is offer an excerpt of “Final Exam” here at the Stiletto Gang on Friday. Please check back if you’re interested in finding out what kind of trouble Alison Bergeron gets herself into this time. Let’s just say it involves exploding toilets, drugs, aliases, and one very hot and bothered Crawford. Interested yet?


5 replies
  1. Mason Canyon
    Mason Canyon says:

    You've peaked my interest. How could anyone resist finding out about exploding toilets. I'll check back Friday for sure (and also Thursday to be fair).

  2. Nancy J. Cohen
    Nancy J. Cohen says:

    An ad like that would not induce me to buy someone's book. I am wondering about the value of a book trailer these days since I just did my first one. A teaser, unlike a straight ad, might be more intriguing but I still think it would only appeal to readers who like the genre or the author anyway. In terms of name recognition, though, both of these techniques work.

  3. Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
    Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith says:

    I doubt that it'll effect his sales negatively. He's a super star and people buy him just because his name is recognizable and an ad like this only makes it more recognizable.

    Now, exploding toilets, that sounds mighty intriguing–just so long as it's not my toilet.

    Best of luck and mega sales with the new book.


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