Paperback Incoming!

Bryant and May

Writers who don’t listen to readers are idiots.

My delightful editor for the Bryant & May novels is concerned about what readers like, and concentrates of making the covers particularly gorgeous. There’s a hint of modernisation going on in my Bryant & May paperbacks at the moment, with the cleaned-up non-retro typeface – and although the publishers have had a couple of complaints about the change the feedback has generally been good.

But what do you think about branding it as ‘A Peculiar Crimes Unit investigation’? There’s still mention of the Old Gits on the back, of course. The thinking is to counteract negativity to the longevity of the series. Potential readers often ask me where to start with the books, and I tell them, ‘Not at the beginning’, simply because for me the beginning didn’t begin there at all. It began both earlier, and later. Earlier because Bryant & May made appearance in other novels before the series while I was test-driving them, and later because the series, per se, didn’t start until ‘The Water Room’. So when potential readers see the words ‘Bryant & May’ on the cover they must sometimes think, ‘Oh, I have to start zillions of books back’ and end up not bothering.

Okay, if I’d had my way the paperback would be out in time for Christmas, but the timing for both this and the hardback is always March. But we all listen carefully to what readers tell us. If you glance back through comments pages from the past decade here – apart from discovering the delightful voice of Dan Terrell – there are some wonderfully obtuse and mad comments (no names, no pack drill) and they often make very valid points which I’ve subsequently acted upon and incorporated.

This time I have a new problem to set before you.

It’s very hard to market a series like this is a way that attracts new readers. I usually give away a few books, and the publisher sends some out, and that’s about it. What can I do to publicise this one? Is there something ingenious I haven’t thought of? As you know, I’m pretty hands-on with this stuff and don’t mind schlepping books about – but maybe there’s a trick I’ve missed, or there’s a mad thought you’ve had. Whether it’s big or small, let me know. Writers who don’t listen to readers are idiots, or as my American-invasion-by-stealth spellcheck suggests, readers are Doritos, so my ears are wide open.

34 comments on “Paperback Incoming!”

  1. Debra Matheney says:

    It’s the 60’s, baby. A love in? A communal event? Beatles and Stones and Marianne Faithful and Petula Clark for a soundtrack. Miniskirts and Mary Quant and Twiggy. A Carnaby Street fair? I thought the charm of the book was all the 60’s stuff so I would play that up. There are still plenty of us aging hippies or hippy want-to-be’s around.

  2. snowy says:

    Doesn’t sound like an enterprise with a luxurious budget, however we work with what we have.

    But picking up the thematic gauntlet, thrown into the arena by Debra:

    Hanging a coach out over a cliff, is not the draw it used to be. It’s a bit cold for a topless frock, ditto failing to sit the right way round on a chair whist in the nip, [not to mention unhygenic.] Killing a President would be popular, very zietgeisty, [difficult to organise that many people at short notice, though!]

    Collude with the Russian state to act against Western interests, that was popular, [there is possibly several overlaps between that and the previous]. You could get pissed and drive off a bridge??? Do a bus protest? How about a give-away? Can’t see a free ‘Gannex’ for every reader being much of draw, and a bit pricey. Rainhats, in period and dead cheap, Who doesn’t want to appear in public looking like they lost a fight with a supermarket veg bag?.

    Er…. Um…

    If you were to do a targetted mail out to the usual suspects; but before you filled the envelopes you sellotaped an eighth of Lebanese Red or a blotter of acid to each book, I’m fairly certain it would attract attention, get your name in the papers and have people banging on your door to interview you.

    [There is a glimmer of an idea, but needs more thought…]

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Carnaby St. event? Debra’s right as far as general readers are concerned. It’s a country house weekend for mystery readers, but I can’t get the two together in my mind. (Bet Dan would have been able to. I miss his voice and was so glad to have had a chance to meet him.)

  4. Jo W says:

    Hey,I don’t want to be a Dorito! Couldn’t I be a Twiglet instead? 😉

  5. Jo W says:

    # Helen,
    Hope you received my e-mail reply?
    (Sorry to use this space for personal message,everybody.)

  6. Matt says:

    Can you still do a Chain Letter email thing? Maybe start it on a social media site get people to reblog, tweet or share it with ten friends or so. I’m not sure what the consequences of not doing so could be though.

  7. Matt says:

    Oh and BTW i’m sure the PCU investigation wording is probably the right choice over B&M as I agree with your statement about putting off some new readers.

  8. Stephen says:

    Hi Chris,I try to recommend the Bryant And May novels to other people.

  9. Crprod says:

    We would agree with Stephen as we learned about Bryant and May from a friend who is the music librarian at a university famous for biomedical research.

  10. davem says:

    No marketing thoughts but I support ‘A Peculiar Crimes Unit Investigation’ on the cover of the book.

  11. Brooke says:

    What can you do to publicize your work and attract new readers? Imo, if you are still interested in the US market, how about making the books available, rationalize the formats and distribution across formats and geography? E.g. I get B&M books via three clients (male executive, 30-45 yrs old, readers) who commute to London regularly. Otherwise I would wait for 12-18 months for US publication. Each executive has sampled B&M and really liked the writing. But because they can’t find edition they forget about the books- they’re busy with a ton of stuff to read. Airport bookstores, e.g. Hudson’s in US, are good way to reach new readers. That’s how Hilary Mantel boosted her sales–her books were in every airport and train station shop from Boston to DC. imagine the traffic and sales.

    Branding; I find cover design of WC, HoM and LH confusing, like cozy covers. E.g. compare
    style to WC cover– same busy backgrounds and cartoon like figures. In contrast, UK editions of LGlory and Strange Tide are less fussy, more like British Lib. Crime Classics editions, lean, not a lot of text. On my desk are copies of Penny, Cleeves, Bellaire, Wills Crofts and others. All have sparse covers,graphics in background. title is large font, prominent, author’s name is next in prominence, and then a reference to key characters. I buy B&M for three characters, the City, Arthur and John, not the PCU.

  12. Peter Tromans says:

    A modern person asked me what we do for marketing. I said customers kind of come along. They told me that’s totally inept and gave me the following lecture.

    First you learn about your potential customers/audience/whatever with ‘Big Data.’ I’d no idea who or what Big Data might be. After some blah, blah, I understood that we already did some ‘Big Data’ to study the ocean, but as the ocean is not going to pay us to do anything, I was no wiser.

    Then you can begin marketing. You have to think in terms of selling lifestyle. I might have said that’s not obvious for a consultant engineer. It seems it includes selling coffee mugs, T-shirts, and stuff with logos and pictures that sort of advertise your product or what you do. You can also sell or give away games and videos that relate to or publicise your product or activity. And, if you sell software, then all the effort should go into visuals.

    All this sounded like codswallop. However, as I’m writing this, I’ve realised that I’m constantly offered such products from everyone and anyone, alive or dead.

    So, is the future a Bryant and May coffee cup or video game?

  13. Colin says:

    How about a Bryant and May walking tour of London, not all of it!Maybe a particular case or the latest book.
    I know this might be a something long time readers would go to as well but they could preach the word of Bryant & May! Finish the tour at a bookshop and see if they get the hint!

  14. Peter Dixon says:

    I always liked Alan Coren’s reasoning for his first book, a collection of articles called ‘Golfing for Cats’; it had a swastika on the cover.

    He said he’d done some research on top selling book covers and that golf, cats and anything about nazi Germany outsold everything else by miles.

    Mind you, this was in the 1970’s before Big Data and computers only existed in wages departments.

  15. admin says:

    Well, this is interesting! I’ve spent so much time thinking about this that there’s no column today. Snowy, as off-piste as always, and all the more delightful for it although I think mailing drugs to readers is probably illegal, Brooke has clearly given this serious thought although it is a fact generally acknowledged that the US covers are, er, somewhat confused, and Peter recommends trying a method he cheerfully admits having no clue about. Brave suggestions all!

  16. Brooke says:

    I liked Snowy’s suggestions and legalities never seem to bother Arthur. So why not.
    Peter T. , here’s an example of uber marketing using big data Shameless commerce.
    I would like to have a B&M game, good graphics and music. Corporations are using games to gauge applicants’ intelligence–what better way to test intelligence than having someone follow Arthur’s mental peregrinations.

  17. Susanna Carroll says:

    I’ve recommended, Bryant & May on The Fortean Times forum (now the Forteana Forum) before now, as there’s a lot of overlap the between interests of subscribers to that journal and Mr Bryant’s interests and associates.

    I like the idea of a Bryant & May walking tour!

  18. snowy says:

    When people pose me a complicated question, all sorts of strange ideas pop into my head at once, each fighting with each other. [As evidenced above.]

    Peter has pointed out the pointlessness of off-the-peg, broad-spectrum marketing. It doesn’t work as a one off, it has only a slight impact as part of a sustained campaign. [The only bit of marketting tat that I’ve ever known people actually wanting was a nomograph, built up as a sort of cardboard slide rule that allowed quick calculation of various technical er… things.]

    “What can I do to publicise this one?”

    If the objective is publicity, and given the foregoing; then it is time to switch to precision targetting. This will take time and effort so we will only target those that have the highest Risk/Reward ratio.

    Your publisher should have sent copies out to the usual places. Most likely these went straight onto a big pile in the office to be picked over by interns and never get anywhere near anybody who is going to do any good.

    Step One.
    Get the goods into the hands of the person that matters.

    Mailouts that look like they have come from a publisher will be intercepted and never reach their target. So camoflage, boxes that look like they may be personal are usually passed directly without demur. A doctored up Amazon package with the adressee’s name on it works in most cases, but might not serve for this. This can be target specific so we will pause here and refer back to it later.

    Step Two.
    Create intrigue.

    However carefully crafted the disguise, if all that falls out upon opening the package is a book and a comp. slip then we have gone to great effort for nought. There has to be something else in there that absolutely has to be picked up and examined. What is included is very specific to the target, it’s essential that it sets them into a suitable frame of mind for the moment they pick up the book and read the words on the back cover. Hopefully having been suitably primed. they will then want to open the book and start reading it.

    Step Three.
    Do nothing.

    It either works or it doesn’t. What am I, magic?

    Case Study One.

    Target HG
    Reach estimate >500k
    Born 1948, therefore would have direct experience of the period age 12-22, ‘includes’ should reflect this range.
    Trained as an actor.
    Published author.
    Also works as an academic, this provides an alternative address for package delivery.
    Father noted writer of detective stories.

    Needs more than 10 minutes research to form an opinion on what may work best, but looks promising.

    Case Study Two.
    Target PW
    Reach estimate not found! use download figures and scale into live listeners, expect to find figures in 50k to 200k range.
    Reviews a book every week, requires author interview as part of the format.
    Born 1974, no direct experience of the period, this can be both good and bad, ‘includes’ would have to reflect to view of someone whose perception of the period has been generated at third had though media representations. This is some thing of a mixed bag, but offers up some interesting possibilities for ‘includes’.

    Hmmmmm… a] this is getting really long, b] it probably makes me appear even less sane than my previous comment, c] nobody comes here for a lecture on PsyOps.

  19. Martin Tolley says:

    I personally don’t go for re-branding as the PCU. As Brooke says “London” is a large part of the appeal of the series, and B&M I think cleverly suggests that. PCU is more like NYPD etc – it has American echoes which I don’t think fits with the tone of the stories IMHO.
    Like Susanna C, I too would fancy a B&M walking tour. Arthur is a licensed London tour guide, so a B&M guidebook to London, taking you through various routes and giving the real history of some of those places, narrated by Arthur would be a seller for me (although that book market seems overly saturated – the BL bookshop has hundreds already). Tickets/flyers for the tours could go out with every book – getting some “across the pond” interest? On-line tickets could be available within the ebooks? And there’s a trend to have walking apps these days – Diamond Geezer’s blog recently looked at TFL’s contributions to “Go Jauntly” an app which gives you maps directions and photos of walks in various places. An app could easily incorporate audio commentary or juicy excerpts from the books at appropriate scenes.
    And Peter’s recall of Alan Coren’s strategy got me thinking about Crippen. There’s a character that could be beefed up a tad perhaps with a picture of the animal on every new cover, hiding somewhere…. doing an Alfred Hitchcock?

  20. Brooke says:

    The wealth of responses and ideas suggests leveraging existing readership is a good way to get new readers. I can get you five new readers, easily.

  21. Crprod says:

    A B&M guidebook to London would be appreciated. We’ve never been there, but we are influenced by what we remember from the books when we read other materials about the city.

  22. Helen Martin says:

    I agree with Brooke about the US editions (ghastly – why do you think we order directly from the UK) and the idea of a guide book. There are odd connections that occur in people’s minds; I recently saw a tour of the Isle of Wight (British tourism is hiring every actor from popular series plus a gimmick – an old Morgan – Mission Impossible challenges – history tramps) and thought about that when I ran across my ticket stub from Portsmouth Dockyard and found the advert for Hover travel to the Isle of Wight. I’ll keep it as much for the advert as for the Dockyard memories.

    #Jo W Yes, & I’ll reply quickly.

  23. Peter Tromans says:

    Arthur Bryant
    the fragrance
    coming to you this Christmas

  24. snowy says:

    With the aroma of Pipe Tobacco, Humbugs and just a hint of Wintergreen.

    140% by volume, cheaper than meths and guaranteed to remove stubborn stains.

  25. Ian Luck says:

    I’m pleased that someone mentioned the ‘Fortean Times’ – I’ve been reading it for over 20 years, and, like ‘Viz’ (which, for a while, was published by the same company), is thoroughly entertaining and oddly, for a magazine, endlessly re-readable. A lot of content is just hogwash, but entertaining hogwash. Other items are well thought out and written, and sources are always cited (which has made me buy books on several occasions). Stories featured years ago are often reexamined if new facts have come to light, and the whole thing is very open minded and fair. Above all, it’s great fun. It might sound ghoulish, but my favourite section has always been the ‘Strange Deaths’ column. It’s often mind blowingly weird, head shakingly stupid, and heartbreakingly sad; sometimes all at once. Other times… Other times you will burst out laughing, because the person who died was obviously an unwitting Darwin Award nominee, removing themselves from the gene pool in a really stupid manner. The Fortean Times is a unique magazine, the only other one that came close, was it’s sister magazine, the sadly departed ‘Bizarre’. You know that a magazine is going to be good, when it’s very first issue goes on sale with two pages torn out of an article. It was a great read, and showed just how very odd some people are. Sadly, it veered off down the ‘Lad’s mag’ route, and turned into an odd softcore porn publication, with more pictures of young ladies with a clothes allergy, and less words about people who like people, in a culinary fashion, that sort of thing. FT (not the broadsheet) has always had articles on writers of fiction – they had a great feature (which I thought was recent, but wasn’t) on Dennis Wheatley, and more recently, on H.P. Lovecraft. His name often pops up – more frequently than you’d expect, actually. Whatever, I gladly admit to being a fan of The Fortean Times. The question is, though, would Arthur Bryant be a reader of it too? I could imagine him writing a stiff letter to the editor, saying something on the lines of:


    Your article in last month’s issue, entitled ‘IT CRAWLED FROM HELL’, which was purportedly about the incidents referred to in the press as being the work of the ‘Bermondsey Scrabbler’, in August of 1952, was incorrect in several areas. Two of these I know, but still cannot reveal, but the claim that it was lured out of hiding by the Hammond Organ playing of Jamaican musician Jackie Mitoo was complete balderdash. Mittoo would have been four years old at the time. Secondly, the ‘Bermondsey Scrabbler’ panic had died down, and stopped completely when the perpetrator of the ‘Witnesham Strangler’ attacks near Ipswich in the same year, one Eric Inkerman Stannard, was arrested for throttling publican Terrence Cowell, and his wife, over the smashing of a ceramic Tolly Cobbold ashtray.When interviewed, he also admitted to being the ‘Bermondsey Scrabbler’, giving details known only to the police. He was brought to London, where I, and my associate, Mr John May, interviewed him further. His statement proved that he was, beyond doubt, the ‘Bermondsey Scrabbler’. CHECK YOUR FACTS. I was there.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Arthur Bryant.

  26. Jo W says:

    Peter T and Snowy.

    I wish to order two large bottles of Arthur Bryant,the fragrance,immediately! It will surely get me through the C word!

  27. Brooke says:

    Peter T and Snowy: I like it. But the ad graphics may be problematic. Oh, I got it….plain label with just AB–borrowing from Chanel, you could just number it–AB No. 1.

    Ian, good idea and a great Arthur type letter.

    Or riffing on Banksy, just post AB quotes all round, again graphics are most troublesome part but we can get past that.

  28. Alan Morgan says:

    Long time no comment, sorry about that. Moved house, marriage, many more children. Hope all is well? Jolly good 🙂

    Branch it all out. Infiltrate different media/hobbies. Using book format still tap into the huge resurgence of gaming (board, and pen and paper). Gamers are collectors, and pick through everything. A B&M rpg, with each book a scenario with some twists for those that have read ’em and think they have the advantage.

    I’ve worked in games since I was 17. I hit 50 this year. Drop me a nod.

  29. Porl says:

    Come to Harrogate the week of the release AND the week of the Crime Festival, and lets fine a room. A hotel room maybe? Or my contact at the Library would be up for it! Create a locked room / escape game with loads of B & M / PCU references. Fill it with mirrors!

    Winners get copies of the book. We can run it for a week or more! 🙂

    The Old Swan Hotel (where Agatha turned up!) might even be up for it!

  30. admin says:

    What on earth did I do? Arthur Bryant, the Fragrance? Snowy branching off into PsyOps? The return of Alan Morgan, who appears to have packed in a whole life during his absence on these pages?
    The comments are getting more interesting than the articles!

  31. Ian Luck says:

    I’m trying to think of what ‘Parfum D’Arthur’ would smell of. Damp Tweed, cough linctus peardrops, cannabis, Navy shag tobacco, perhaps? Or maybe Norman Hunter’s default smell in his wonderful ‘Professor Branestawm’ books, which was the very 1930’s ‘Paregoric (a violent cough remedy) combined with a touch of gas escape’. As an aside, his books must have been known to Douglas Adams, whose description of the fluid that emerges from a ‘Nutri-Matic’ machine, is described as tasting: “Almost entirely unlike tea.” Many years earlier, a Professor Branestawm story described a baby burping machine he has made, thus: “It looked like a toy steamroller with three funnels, but not very much like one.” Still makes me laugh.

  32. glasgow1975 says:

    I dislike the PCU rebranding, without B&M there’d be no PCU now would there?
    As an aside, I was surprised by how upset I was when I found out from Helen that Dan was gone, many months afterwards, due to not being as regular on the site as I had formerly been :'(
    Walking Tour/App/Guidebook all good ideas, to which I’d add simple giveaways on book sites like GoodReads, National Book Tokens, etc – what about Facebook/Twitter/Instagram ads? Is there budget for that? an Instagram/Twitter account from Arthur featuring obscure London trivia?

  33. MI says:

    What about some creative contests or other incentives for your loyal readers to spread the word themselves? Perhaps the chance of an up-close-and-personal or unique Bryant & May experience or item? Experiencing Bryant & May is such a joy, and that joy can be infectious when shared by fans.

    Applying any kind of data-driven marketing strategy, on the other hand, seems too joyless for the task! (I work in marketing and hear “big data” almost daily… I know joyless.)

  34. Long live Bryant & May, but as a coveted American reader (lol) I think PCU is a good brand move. A tease of the macabre and the humorous is exactly what hooked me into the series years ago. You’ll always have series fans, but B&M can’t register much for newcomers… unless there’s a decent TV adaptation, sad to say …

    Um, also commenting to say congratulations; Hall of Mirrors was fantastic. Mysteries are so much more thrilling without smart phones! I hope we get more older PCU cases. As much as I love old Mr. Bryant, it was quite fun having him in a state of higher agility. I’ll be gifting this one for the holidays.

Comments are closed.