Misdirected Mail

Be honest. When you hear the term “direct mail,” how do you feel?

Kind of gross, right?

But I cannot lie, it’s part of what I do now. The elaborate, extensive catalog we produce each season is a showcase that editors, sales reps, and authors can use to promote their work, but it is also a direct mail piece. I rent lists from bookseller associations and marketing data agencies to get copies of this catalog into the hands of academic librarians, department heads, and booksellers who might want to order stock for their respective dominions. I get it; our primary customers know what they want, but they may not know that what they want exists, so it’s our business to get proof of our books’ existence into their hands. The list rental and direct mailing is the most common procedure for university presses to do this. But it’s a pretty haphazard task, and hundreds of catalogs are printed and mailed to people who don’t want them, or have moved, or who already get a copy from some other source, and so forth. One of the many, many things I am doing that I am in no way qualified to do is researching ways my press can effectively and legally maintain its own mailing list of people who actually want catalogs, either to order books or to read my lyrical prose on the train.

However, I’m not just an unwanted direct mail sender. I’m an unwanted direct mail recipient!

Over the last month, I’ve been getting mailings from major presses (Penguin! St. Martin’s!) about newly released books. Not just about the books, actually–I’ve been getting copies of the books themselves. Hardcover and paperback they come, with a generic cover letter to a “young publisher” or a “young booklover” so that I know they’ve picked up my name and work address from a young publishers’ group I belong to in name only here in Philly. But why, I’m not sure. The books are about young rich women trying to get by in the city or the relationships between poor young sisters out in the country; they have broken dishes or legs capped with stilettos on the cover; one is nearly a word-for-word copycat of The Devil Wears Prada. I am not going to read them. There is nothing about me or my consumer patterns that suggest that I would read them. No, not even the fact that I am a woman and in a “young publishers” group; women are the majority buyers of all of the books, not just the ones designed in a lab for them. Considering the cost of shipping a book (which may weigh up to a pound), that’s an expensive direct mail misfire to make for a book that will probably garner very little returns.

Perspective. Anyway. While we’re talking book business, let’s celebrate the fact that I have been working for the same employer for a full year. One year ago this week, I stepped eagerly and anxiously into the world of academic publishing in the role of book exhibit and marketing assistant. One year later, I’m sitting pretty in my own office, compiling my second seasonal catalog and fighting off free books with a stick. It has not been a bad year by far, although it has been a challenging and exhausting one. Let this blog post trap the moment in amber, so that in another year I can look back and think with relief of how much easier it’s all gotten (and, hopefully, how much the free book selection has improved).

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