Picking a subtitle, planning a campaign

An interesting issue arose recently as the publisher and I pondered subtitles, promotional ideas and catalog descriptions for Write Hard, Die Free: did we want to emphasize what I think are the most significant aspects of the book, or the things that make it most appealing and entertaining to read?

As you’d expect, I think it offers both, but “Good and good for you” isn’t much of a book marketing slogan.

The title, cover and description obviously offer the most important elements. Luckily for me there are also a number of other venues for letting people know more about the book as well.

I settled pretty firmly on the main title some time ago.
Write Hard, Die Free was for a long time the motto of our feisty newsroom, genuinely descriptive of the approach we took to journalism and also of our aspirations. As a friend pointed out much later, the two elements of the slogan work in tension to form a relationship: passionate struggle leading to liberation.

Deep, I know. But true.

We’ve opted for one of the most customer-friendly choices amongst subtitles:
Dispatches from the battlefields & barrooms of the Great Alaska Newspaper War. Given the combination of “newspaper” and “war” in the book, “dispatches” has always seemed like a good word. I initially wanted something more substantive in the subtitle; my longtime favorite was Battling corruption, Big Oil and bad journalism to win the Alaska Newspaper War (and two Pulitzers). That described the part of the story I am most proud of—beating the odds in a quest for truth-telling—but doesn’t offer much to potential readers who might simply like the colorful and unusual tales I tell.

One of the book’s subsidiary themes is missing from all the subtitles we considered: how the lessons we learned during the war provide a kind of blueprint that remains valuable to those involved in journalism’s transformation.

I hope to engage both those missing themes (battling big foes, learning big lessons) elsewhere: on the back cover of the printed book, in social media promotions, by targeting tailored messages to different potential audiences. If we can do this right, you can expect to see a different pitch if you’re a journalism school dean than if you’re a longtime Alaska political activist.

Write Hard, Die Free will be released simultaneously as an eBook, which offers additional and different marketing opportunities. I expect one of the predictable audiences—journalists scattered around the country—may be more likely to purchase an inexpensive eBook than to order or look for a printed copy. If that’s true it will make sense to emphasize the “lessons learned” and reflections on journalism transformation in the electronic edition.

More on that as we get close to launch in early spring 2012.
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