The Long Lynn Isenberg Interview, Part Two

October 5th, 2005 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

Cover for My Life Uncovered by Lynn IsenbergYesterday, we explored the dead business, today we explore a business that can scare people to death: marketing. Lynn embraces self-promotion with a zeal that is awe-inspiring (also a zeal that would send a weaker constitution to the naps). She looks at what has worked for her, what hasn’t worked, and how promoting her new book impacts her first novel.

You essentially self-financed your the tour for your first book (My Life
Uncovered). Is Red Dress Ink supporting this tour?

I am my own entertainment marketing and pr firm. Red Dress Ink has been a wonderful back up support system, but they don’t finance author book tours. I don’t think any publisher finances an author’s book tour unless the author is of a John Grisham or Stephen King or Nora Roberts caliber. Based on my experience in the entertainment industry, I find the publishing industry on the whole to be incredibly antiquated in their marketing approaches. But that’s okay. It gives me wide open space to be incredibly creative and playful with my own marketing — which I have TM’d as “Narrative Marketing.” Everything I do now is under my umbrella company — a Narrative MarketingTM Agency called Focus Media, Inc. Focus is an acronym for Finding Opportunities Creating Unified Success, because at the core of me, is the desire to inspire others and be a catalyst for positive change. Like Madison, I love connecting the dots — whether its in business or interpersonal relationships. Under Focus Media, Inc. I create organic narrative driven branded entertainment properties for myself and for others whom I believe in. My approach is also holistic. I believe you need to look at the sum parts that make up the whole. So I like to be involved in creating the content of those sum parts that will include organic built-in narratives to drive the product, brand or lifestyle from conception through distribution.

Marketing dollars are scarce for most authors. How did you prioritize your
spending? What was worthwhile and what was a waste of money?

I cut back on my book tour this time, choosing to do less and spreading the travel out so that I would have time to rest and work in between and not wipe myself out. I also decided to dovetail my book tour with other events; so an invitation to a bat mitzvah in Toronto got coupled with a reading, and a desire to go to Charleston, SC where I’ve never been turned into a birthday present trip for my mother coinciding with a reading. What’s worthwhile is stopping in every bookstore of every airport I’m in and signing books and promoting it to travelers and booksellers. Well, I’m not so sure how worthwhile it is, but it’s fun and exciting.

As for prioritizing my spending — part of it is an experiment to put a little money in many different aspects of marketing to test the waters and see which ones work best. The 300 pink handkerchiefs turned out to be a big hit — now people ask me to sign them as limited editions. The branded coffee sleeves and bookmarks with calendars (a la The Funeral Planner) also received wonderful reactions. But I carefully chose promotional marketing items that were an organic fit to the narrative. The media training was definitely worth the money. The website for both the novel, the grief guidebooks and the business was the best thing I ever did. Hiring an outside pr firm — not so sure — I think there’s no one better to promote your novel than yourself. And ultimately, it was more cost effective for me to hire an assistant and do it myself as I did before, unless you have big bucks to pay or can make it a pay or play deal. I can’t say much more than that — because these experiences and findings are going into one of my next novels.

How does one go about setting up a book tour? It seems so easy, but surely
the details are daunting?

Again, this is going into a novel, so I can’t say too much — but I think this happens to be natural fit for me. When I was 8 years old I wrote a story called The Tall Tale of King C. My story and I were chosen to represent my school at Oakland University’s Young Author’s Conference. My mother recently reminded me that I was so proud of my unexpected accomplishment that I called the local paper, The Birmingham Eccentric, to tell them about it, but when I called the operator for the number I apparently asked for the Birmingham Excedrin. My mother said I was promoting my work then and I’m still doing it now. Of course, I eventually learned to divine the difference between painkillers and characters with free-wheeling imaginations.

Unlike many authors, you wholeheartedly embrace the essential self-promotion
aspect of the job. Where does this marketing savvy come from?

I think I answered this in the question above. I guess at the core, it comes from a deep sense of pride. I’m proud of my work and I’m not afraid to share that. I believe that I have something valuable to share and that if it inspires me — it will inspire others — because in a deep spiritual sense — we’re all one anyway. So my self-promotional desires come from pride and my marketing savvy comes from a playful competitive spirit to see just how clever I can be against my own wit. I like to outwit my own wit, if you will.

I imagine that part of the business of writing is developing a marketing
strategy. Is this true, and, if so, what are the key elements to consider in
developing a plan?

Again, unless someone out there wants to retain the services of Focus Media, Inc., I’m going to save those answers for one of my novels. But I will say this, or rather write this — that if you want people to remember you, your product or your brand — you need to tell a good story. It’s my experience that information conveyed as facts are not as easily retained as information conveyed via story.

You’re promoting The Funeral Planner and Lights Out Enterprises. What about
your other work? How do you remind readers that you have a previous book.
Does the promotion on the current title impact sales for My Life Uncovered?

The nice thing about doing a book tour is that the booksellers (for the most part) automatically include your earlier titles — so it’s a built-in format to promote all of your work. And yes, doing the book tour for The Funeral Planner has helped spur sales for My Life Uncovered.

Initially, I was not concerned about promoting “My Life Uncovered” — in fact, I was timid to promote it because I didn’t want run the risk of being stigmatized by earlier misconceptions transferring over to my new work. Earlier misconceptions included my belief that people out there judged “My Life Uncovered” by its cover in more ways than one. Though not the Italians because for some reason it’s done incredibly well in Italy! I think that many people automatically assumed from the title that it was pure autobiography or they simply didn’t get the fact that it was an entrepreneurial sex comedy in the same vein as “Sex in the City” — and by the way, far more tame than that! Then I thought that maybe it was just a bad year for “porn”. After all, the cable networks at that time were afraid to consider it because the cable series “Skin” crashed and burned and because there was such a public backlash over Janet Jackson’s right breast.

Ironically, long before it was a novel, it was a treatment for a television series with a bidding war for the rights to it and before that it was an idea for a serial magazine story that Premiere Magazine wanted just before its parent company imploded sending all the executives interested in other directions. My Life Uncovered was also the first Red Dress Ink title to become part of a distribution-triage-campaign. RDI thought if they published more books that there would be more readers. They discovered that the third new title of the month was minimized by reader’s budgetary constraints so they’ve gone back to a two-title per month distribution plan. And I’ve since learned that readers now look at me quite differently — now that I’ve got two novels under my belt — and that seems to make all the difference. “My Life Uncovered” is now viewed as part of my greater growing collective work and rightly perceived as fiction with a greater interest for it… and now there is renewed interest in it as a TV series. Go figure.

You mentioned that you tap into a network of friends from many years of
working in Hollywood. How do you make this type of relationship mutually

I’m not sure what you mean by this question. Do you mean in terms of my novels or in terms of Lights Out Enterprises? I’ll go with the latter — Lights Out Enterprises has a Talent Team of A list Hollywood talent on board to write, direct, and produce Life Bio Videos for pre-need clients. That includes the co-creator and executive producer of “In Living Color”, the producer of “Something’s Gotta Give” and “What Women Want”, the writer of “Murphy Brown” and “Cosby”, and the comedy writer of “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, to name a few… in addition to myself (my film/tv credits and relationships). Here’s an example of that means: Let’s say my client “Jack” loves movies and his favorite actor is Dustin Hoffman. Because I grew up working in the industry with Dustin’s agent, I call him up and say, “Hey, would Dustin entertain the idea of narrating or making a cameo appearance in Jack’s life bio video?” This actually happened and the answer was yes. So it helps that I have these long standing relationships in the industry. Now this Life Bio Video, by the way, is not only for viewing at an end of life celebration, but can be pre-purposed (as opposed to repurposed, or multi-purposed, if you will) and shown to friends and family at say, Jack’s 50th birthday party, and again at his 60th birthday party, etc. And maybe along the way, we’ll do updates with more cameo appearances from the likes of Dustin Hoffman. But all that is being cleverly designed into the narrative about Jack’s life, integrating his friends and family and storyline that identifies and celebrates the essence of Jack. Involving my Hollywood friends in the creative process is mutually beneficial for all of
us, because ultimately it’s about being able to be creative with people you like and generate some income from it along the way.

Two books in, what have you found to be effective when it comes to
marketing? What have you found to be ineffective?

Effective: Tenacity tempered with Timing on all fronts.

Ineffective: Paying a PR agency for their “efforts” is not good enough. The entire business model for PR makes no sense to me. What’s the point of it without results. I think PR firms would be more effective if they were pay or play or if they had a some sort of commission from the sales of the book.

You’ve tackled the porn industry and the world of funerals. What’s next?

The White House… and various other stories in negotiation so I can’t really say more than that at this time. Check back with me next month.

File Under: Wrapped Up In Books

1 response so far ↓

  • Michelle Dunn // May 26, 2006 at 8:12 am

    I had the opportunity to meet Lynn in Washington DC last week at the BEA. I found her to be a wonderful, warm, inspiring woman. Congratulations on all your success! You deserve it!
    Michelle Dunn