The Case of Rebecca Costa

Using a Book to Build a Marketing Platform

Some time ago, the typical marketing strategy for a high-potential book included print advertising, in-store promotion, distribution leverage, and title packaging; those components alone could propel a first-time author to national visibility. Today’s marketplace is brutally more difficult, and the old rules no longer apply. Nonfiction authors especially need their own marketing platform for their books to succeed.
A platform can include any number of elements. Among the valued parts:

  • Regular media exposure – perhaps a syndicated radio or television show, regular guest appearances on radio or television
  • Internet reach – maybe a widely read blog or a Web site with large measured traffic
  • A high profile speaking schedule – top fees via a top lecture agent and dozens of high profile appearances annually
  • Regular appearances in the print media – perhaps a high profile column or frequent articles or frequent op-ed pieces
  • Positive audience building over time
  • A signature message – with the talent to refresh it regularly

Best of all, of course, are previously published highly successful books, but those are the rarest elements of all.
As a rule, Arthur Klebanoff rarely represents first time authors for several reasons. To begin with, expectant rookies often have ambitious expectations. The odds are stacked against them: of the 8,000-plus new titles that the Big Six publishers release each year, the vast majority fail, and the failure rate for first time authors is that much higher. You are better off buying a lottery ticket. New authors who cannot adjust their goals as reality unfolds and sets in usually end up disappointed, even depressed. These relationships rarely end well for the agent.
The exceptions – Michael Bloomberg– tend to prove the rule. When Bloomberg’s advertising and marketing editor Bernice Kanner introduced Klebanoff to Bloomberg , Bloomberg already controlled his own publishing company, had reach through his Bloomberg financial terminals and his magazines’ websites, had full access to radio and television media—and had a major publisher, John Wiley & Sons, chasing him. If the first-book client opportunity is not this obvious (and sure-fire), then do not take the client.

Building a Marketing Platform

Nothing about Rebecca Costa was obvious. Klebanoff met her in 2009 after she sent him a particularly persuasive presentation package. She had been working for quite some time on what would become The Watchman’s Rattle (named after a noise-making device used in the 19th century to warn townspeople of an impending disaster). That is what Costa wanted her book to do: to serve as a warning that our planet has entered the midnight hour before its collapse, as other advanced societies had collapsed before.
Costa had built and sold a web-based direct response company in Silicon Valley years before, was living splendidly in Carmel, and advised Silicon Valley companies whose founders — usually scientists or engineers—needed help explaining their plans to change the world. Costa enjoyed the company and the respect of award winners from every walk of scientific life. But that fellowship did not count in the publishing industry.

Costa walked in with every negative:

  • She had no consumer profiled — virtually no presence on Google
  • She had sold the one viable piece of her platform years before.
  • The unfinished manuscript needed editorial help.
  • The book markets were nose-diving and publishers were cutting staffs and titles.
Costa did however have all the obvious entrepreneurial talents that served her impeccably as a business leader and philanthropist. She obviously planned to launch this project successfully no matter what it took. To Klebanoff’s mind, she needed a marketing partner who would see the book as an opportunity and act accordingly.

He found her Vanguard Press at Perseus where they traded advance commitments for marketing commitments. She also needed a promotional plan that Costa could implement herself; Klebanoff coached her about the impact of public relations, author websites, lecture appearances, endorsements, outreach for international rights, and the like.

Costa took Klebanoff’s coaching to heart. Specifically, she:

  • Created a content-rich book website,
  • Generated her own stream of speaking and seminar invitations with regular appearances in front of important – and ever larger – audiences.
  • Launched a syndicated radio show The Costa Report which is already successfully placed in dozens of markets with many more likely to follow soon.
  • Completed hosting a first season of a web-based advertiser-sponsored television series, Countermeasures.
  • Merged her philanthropic and book promotional interests so that leading scientists worldwide are lending support.
  • Began to permeate the media culture with the catch-phrases of The Watchman’s Rattle, such as supermemes, which is a meme (that is, an element of behavior that passes from one person to another often by imitation, thereby advancing society as a whole) that no longer educates but blinds people to necessary changes in their behavior. It leads to the collapse of corporations, economies, and whole civilizations. In effect, the ever increasing complexity of our reality and the ever increasing power of insight prevent us from seeing the forest for the trees.
Publishing With a Purpose

She decided to use The Watchman’s Rattle as a means of building a community of scientists, government officials, and active individuals who care about saving the planet. Publishers normally issued paperback editions one year after the hardcover, once hardcover sales slow down. But The Watchman’s Rattle got more attention one year after publication than at launch due to Costa’s steady drumbeat of promotion, and so Vanguard decided to delay the paperback.
Costa’s efforts raise the question, “How should we judge the success of a book launch?” Should we judge them on sales alone or on their broader effects on society? The sales thus far of Costa’s hardcover are modest, as are the advances on the ten or so international editions. Costa has invested far more cash than royalty returned to date—without any return on several years of her time. But Costa is doing what she does best:

  • Convincing leading scientists to translate their path breaking work for a wider audience even if it stirs up controversy.
  • Creating a platform which will permit her to launch another book.
  • Inspiring people with money to support the non-profit causes which matter for sustainability
  • Convincing wide ranges of people through a combination of the media, live appearances and her radio and television shows that the themes about which she is writing – how complexity has led and can lead to the collapse of advanced societies – really matter.

And that even at this late hour, there is still hope, depending on how you conjure up and use “inspiration.” Hers is an elegant and forceful argument.
Rebecca Costa is publishing with a purpose. She is a veteran of conducting an ensemble of players; Klebanoff taught her about orchestrating the players in publishing. Costa taught him the real value of total commitment and hard work.

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