In my other life, when I’m not writing or blogging, I run a live literature night as part of Bad Language (alongside two of the best literature promoters out there). What we aim to do is bring live literature, author readings and book launches to a wider audience, who may not usually bother with them. There’s a preconception with literature which usually revolves around the cliched depiction of authors and readers as stuffy bores with tweet jackets, or uppity posh twonks in glasses. It’s a silly and completely undeserving view of what a reader, or an author is like. Consequently, those people tend to subscribe to the view that literature events are stilted and boring, quiet affairs where people nod in appreciation of a good stanza. What we at Bad Language have tried to do, and what I think the Manchester literature community as a whole does very well, is demonstrate that this is categorically not what live literature is all about. There’s a whole bunch of nights across the country like Bang Said the Gun, and Literary Death Match which also do a great job in being fun, engaging and as raucous as a gig.
But grassroots literature is one thing. I’d never seen a commercial book tour treated like that. Until last weekend.
On my walk into Manchester I pass by a wall near a block of flats. Usually the wall is packed full of fly-posters for the latest single and album releases, tours from bands and singers, club nights and festivals. But at the weekend, there was a curious addition.
Design wise, this is clearly marketed as a chance to see Jo Nesbo live, rather than the traditional, “Come hear a book being read,” experience you would associate with a book tour. It’s a really interesting piece of marketing, and is especially exciting that we live in an age where an authors name can potentially deliver similar results to a touring band.
Jo Nesbo, as Harvill Secker’s marketing team seem to acknowledge, is a perfect choice for this kind of campaign. Their press release clearly outlines how they’re treating this book tour, “Harvill Secker has lined up an innovative ‘Jo Nesbo UK Tour’ campaign running across London, Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin. With a nod to the author's iconic 'rockstar' status, fly posters will promote his upcoming appearances in these cities. They will be accompanied by nationwide posters and motorway billboards advertising Police, the latest Harry Hole thriller.”
I asked Vicky Watson, and William Smith from Vintage Books about the choice behind promoting Nesbo in this way. “If any author writing today has attained rock star status, it’s Jo Nesbo. His fans have bought over 20 million copies of his books worldwide and flock to his events. What’s more, he has genuine rock n’ roll credentials – Jo plays guitar and sings in Di Derre, a band that enjoys no small degree of success in Europe. With this in mind, it wasn’t long before we came up with the concept for a UK tour poster befitting Norway’s foremost renaissance man. As far as we know, it hasn’t been done for an author before and we’re really pleased with the final product.”
They acknowledge that they’ve tried other methods of promotion, ones that were perhaps stuck in the constant cycle of appealing to regular readers, “When it comes to crime series, readers most often grow attached to the main character. In Jo Nesbo’s novels, the brilliant but troubled detective Harry Hole is the star of the show. We’ve previously focused our advertising on Harry, but we’ve realised that fans are equally as intrigued by Jo himself.”
I personally think it’s a great idea. To promote an author like this can only help encourage people who perhaps would never go to these events to attend, perhaps buy their books and read more. More than that, it could really help combat the assumptions that people who don’t go to literature events have (as I discussed above). It’s fascinating, and exciting really to see this happening, and I’m sure by the end of the year we’ll see how this has worked.