18 August 08 | Chad W. Post

That publishers would employ BzzAgent to generate sales, but I was surprised to find out that a book was behind the first “Bzz” campaign—and that this campaign actually worked.

From the fascinating and incredible Buying In by Rob Walker:

The first full-fledged Bzz campaign was for a book called The Frog King. It lasted one month and focused on New York City. Balter persuaded Penguin Publishing to let him do it by charging the publisher nothing. The Frog King was a quirky, comic first novel by a young writer named Adam Davies. [. . .]

The guide for the agents, a no-frills seven-page document in those early days, welcomed them as members of “an elite group” of word-of-mouth spreaders [. . .] It summarized some of the novel’s highlights, noting a few passages in particular that might be useful “conversation points,” and suggested tactics like reading the book on mass transit with the cover clearly visible, posting a review on Amazon.com, and calling up bookstores and chatting with the clerk about this great new book about New York publishing with lots of sex and drinking whose title you can’t quite recall. JonO signed the cover letter assuring agents that the folks back at the hive found the book laugh-out-loud funny.

Local events for The Frog King drew larger than expected crowds of 100 or 150 people, according to Pascocello, who said that thanks to the word-of-mouth campaign, the book sold in three months what he had hoped it would sell in a year. [. . .] The fee [BzzAgent] charges varies according to the size and nature of the campaign, but in 2005 a twelve-week campaign involving one thousand agents cost $95,000.

Really not that much different from sending galleys to booksellers or giving away copies through LibraryThing, except for the fact that in those cases you’re not hiring the people to spread the word about the book or call up bookstores and play dumb. (Funny, I can’t remember how many hundreds of calls like that I got while I was working at bookstores. I just figured customers were forgetful . . .)

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