Marketing Duncan Falconer

David Shelley , Paperback Publisher of Sphere, the commercial imprint of Little, Brown, describes the marketing campaign behind thriller writer Duncan Falconer’s latest book The Protector. David’s authors include Mark Billingham, Jeff Abbott, Duncan Falconer, Nelson DeMille and Mark Gimenez.

I am lucky enough to publish one of Britain’s most talented action-thriller writers, Duncan Falconer. Formerly a member of the elite SBS Service, Duncan has some amazing tales from his days in action, as well as a natural gift for storytelling.

He delivered his fourth book, The Protector, to me 18 months ago. As soon as I read it, I knew we had some thing special on our hands. A hard-hitting and compelling view of post-war Iraq, it had all the excitement of his previous novels, but was also a bigger, richer and more mature novel.

I felt that that this was the book to get him up onto the bestseller lists. Although we had previously enjoyed success with Duncan, he had not yet reached the heights of similar authors, such as Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. And, as Duncan’s publisher and Number 1 fan, it was my job to make sure we did that.

Marketing is a term that is interpreted in various ways. For me, it is, in essence, about communicating why a product is special. So, with an important author such as Duncan, there are three stages to the marketing process: 1) communicating to the rest of the company, 2) communicating to the book trade and 3) communicating to the public.

With this in mind, multiple photocopies of The Protector were made and distributed around the office. I also made a point of talking about the book as much as possible, and emphasising that it was a real step up for Duncan. Fortunately, Duncan has many fans in-house, so this bit of the process was not difficult; several people quickly came back to me to say that they had read the book, loved it, and were determined to help make it into a bestseller.

The second part of the process – and arguably the trickiest – was to market it to the booktrade. With close to 150,000 new books published every year, booksellers can be forgiven for being a little sceptical about claims made by publishers. So we have to work really hard to make them pay attention to our big books. In the case of Duncan, this meant commissioning a ‘supermac’ – a glossy, impressive brochure – extolling the virtues of The Protector, complete with a new commissioned photograph of Duncan by renowned photographer Charlie Hopkinson. It also meant Duncan’s joint Number 1 fan, Andy Coles (our supermarket sales director) emphasising to the supermarket buyers what a big title this is for us and how passionately he felt about it. Andy has a close relationship with his supermarket buyers, so this kind of personal tip counts for a lot with them.

The orders from bookshops finally came in and we were pleased with them. Now, all we had to do was make sure that the books ‘sold through’ – in other words, that customers bought them. To do this, we relied on our Senior Publicity Manager, Kirsteen Astor, to get the book into the public eye. She placed interviews, reviews and features in a number of high-profile magazines and newspapers – including The Daily Mirror, The Independent and even Nuts magazine. Helped by this wave of publicity, The Protector went on to sell more than 20,000 copies in hardback, reached Number 11 in the bestseller list, and was one of Asda’s bestselling hardback novels of the year to date. A great result.

We are now publishing the paperback edition of The Protector in the autumn, and my aim is to see a 25% uplift in sales on Duncan’s last book. To do this, we will be doing even more marketing – including a specially designed computer game, with prizes to be won, and an online viral marketing campaign. But the marketing process for an author, really, never ends, and as long as I publish Duncan my job will be to constantly communicate to my colleagues, to the trade and to the public what is so special about him and his books. I couldn’t ask for a more exciting or rewarding job.