Monday, January 24, 2011

Tiger Marketing

Psst! The winner of a signed copy of my uncle Vince's book is listed at the bottom of this post!

By now you've probably heard and read about the hype surrounding author Amy Chua and her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.

Her book --and the hype-- concerns the concept of strict, "traditionally Asian" parenting depicted in Chua's memoir. It's gone mainstream--it's this week's cover story in Time magazine, and People did a big spread, not to mention all the television appearances and newspaper articles and blog posts.

Let's put aside the parenting issue and talk about the book marketing. Because it was pretty good--and I personally find it fascinating.

You'll find only passing references to the marketing aspect of the situation, which is that the original Wall Street Journal article, which excerpted the book before its release and which has been viewed over a million times, was:
  • Purposefully edited to show the harshest moments
  • Presented as a essay and not an excerpt from a memoir
  • Does not reflect that the book shows transition (change) of character
  • Titled, "Why Chinese Parents Are Superior" -- NOT "An Excerpt from this book"
  • Supposedly not edited by Chua, nor was she given the opportunity
Any marketing person can tell you that one of the most effective--albeit morally questionable-- methods of starting a fire surrounding your product is to tap into people's outrage and indignation. You'll notice politicians regularly do this. Outrage is what captures people's attention--and Chua's publisher/publicist knew it.

And you'll also notice that Chua's book has skyrocketed to a bestseller using this marketing tactic.

Here's the thing: Chua says that she was initially shocked that the WSJ post had misrepresented her book, or that her publicist or publisher had decided on this tactic. She is careful to mention in every interview since the WSJ post that she "gets her comeuppance" in the book and that her methods worked for her family, to a point, and when her daughter rebelled, she compromised. She's doing the right thing to say these things carefully--if indeed the WSJ post took her by surprise.

What would you do if your publisher twisted your words around to make your book sound like you were advocating something in the name of marketing? Apart from a San Francisco Chronicle article on Chua, I haven't seen any of the coverage mentioning the marketing angle that was taken--and the SF Chronicle article was interesting in that it was early on in the media coverage, and thus one of the first to piece together that the WSJ post didn't quite gel with the point of Chua's actual memoir. Most people probably don't care, but I went "hang on. have we been duped?" At the end of the day, it doesn't matter, because the parenting thing is what people are concerned about.

But as a writer, what if Chua didn't know her book would be positioned this way? What if she wasn't in on it? Maybe she doesn't care--after all, she's a bestseller now, and appearing on every talkshow and magazine article and newspaper. But if she didn't know, is it right? What do you think? Do you think it's ultimately for the best since the tactic sold her book?


And now: The winner of a signed copy of Vince Ferraro's book, Blood and Chocolate, is:
Demery Bader-Saye!

Congrats Demery! Random.org picked you. Please e-mail me with your address!

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