Notes on the Advertising of Books

THE reader in search of a good hook may sometimes ask himself this question: ‘In looking at the book advertisements in the Atlantic, how am I to tell from a few descriptive lines whether the book is of the same high quality as its announcement would imply? What assurance have I that it is worth three dollars, that it is not second-rate prose with a high-sounding title?’

A partial answer to such perfectly reasonable skepticism may be found by taking a quick look behind the scenes. Not all books published, by any means, are advertised in the Atlantic. The publisher feels that certain types of light fiction, overpopularized inspirational books and such, books that appeal strongly to the masses who read the story magazines, would not interest enough readers of the Atlantic to justify the expense of advertising them. He realizes that the consistent Atlantic reader is serious-minded, in the true and not the satirical sense of the expression; therefore he limits his advertising in this magazine to those books which Atlantic readers will want to read and to buy. They are, in a word, his best books, whether fiction, biography, general works, or even a first-rate detective story.

The book-hunter has another assurance, the result of publishing practice. It has become customary, when a book is published, to announce publication first in the daily newspapers. The response is immediate, or none at all, and serves as an index to the probable acceptance of the book by the public at large. For instance, the firm of Adam & Abel announces in the Monday metropolitan newspapers the publication of The Disappearance of the Atom: ‘At all bookstores, $3.00.’ By Thursday or Friday booksellers’ reports will give Adam & Abel a fair idea as to whether the book is likely to do well, or whether readers are uninterested in the disappearance of so small a thing. If they begin to buy the book, the publisher will turn his attention to the literary magazines. His own high opinion of the book’s worth has apparently been corroborated; critics have praised it and people have bought copies; and so he feels that readers of the Atlantic, whether they live in Bangor or Tucson, will do likewise.

In terms of quantity, book production reaches its minimum in June and July. With the holiday spirit of the reader in mind, publishers as a rule restrict their output to first-class fiction, their advertising to the promotion of these books and to those few which have stood the test of the preceding months. Of such character are the books you may expect to find advertised in the summer issues of the Atlantic.

S. P.