Not long ago I got the sort of telephone call that every author loves: Tiffany Lampe from BestBooks Publishing invited me to her office for a meeting about my work. I was very excited about this, as you can imagine, and I got all of my ‘book pitch’ materials together.
When I arrived at BestBooks, a friendly receptionist showed me to a seat and told me Tiffany would be ready for me soon. As I sat down, I couldn’t help looking around the waiting area. It was quite attractive, with plum and grey carpet and comfortable light-grey padded chairs. I also noticed something else: instead of the usual institutional-style prints on the walls, there were ‘photos of different companies’ logos. I thought that was a little unusual, but I didn’t have time to reflect on it. Just then the door between the waiting area and the offices opened and Tiffany walked in. After introducing herself, she thanked me for coming.
‘We’re really excited about your work,’ she said.
‘Thank you,’ I answered. What author doesn’t want to hear that?
As we got to Tiffany’s office, she said, ‘I hope you don’t mind that I’ve invited Justin Tyme to join us. He’s got some great ideas and I think you’ll want to hear what he has to say.’
We went into the office, where Tiffany introduced me to Justin. As we shook hands, I noticed that the walls in this office had logo prints, too. Then we settled into seats. Tiffany started the conversation.
‘We think your work has real potential. It’ll need some editing of course.’
‘Of course,’ I said. After all, just about any story can be improved.
‘We’ll talk about the content and characters soon. Right now, I’d like you to hear what Justin has to say about your book.’
I turned to Justin. ‘Thanks, Tiffany,’ he smiled. ‘I don’t know if Tiffany told you, Margot,’ he said turning towards me, ‘but I represent Pepsico.’
‘No, she didn’t,’ I answered. This was odd. What was a Pepsico representative doing at a publishing meeting?
‘Yes, and we at Pepsico are committed to supporting great books and talented authors, so I’m happy to work with you and Tiffany on your project.’
Well, I’m always open to hearing good ideas, so I said, ‘I’m sure your input will be helpful.’
‘I’m glad you see it that way, Margot. I think your work’s great – just great. A real thriller with lots of grit and plenty of nasty twists in it. Terrific demented serial killer too.’
‘Erm – that’s not really the way I’d describe my Joel Williams books.’
‘The point is,’ Justin waved his hand, ‘you’ve got some good stuff. We can get your work into millions of homes.’
‘Really?’ Now, that was, as the saying goes, too good to be true. Still, I won’t deny it piqued my interest.
‘Sure! That’s where our brand names come in. Pepsico has one of the largest brand collections in the world. Quaker, Walkers, Lipton, Mirinda, they’re all quality products that millions of people trust.’
‘I’m sorry. I’m not sure I understand.’
‘Let me explain how we’d work things, Margot. We sponsor your work, and we let Tiffany and her team take care of editing, printing, and so on. You get your books distributed all over. Doesn’t that sound great, Margot?’
‘But sponsorship usually means advertisers put in logos and messages, that sort of thing, right?’
‘Exactly. In return for all of that marketing and financial support, we place logos and ads in your books. You know, ‘’This page brought to you by…’ Oh, and there are ‘photos and messages between chapters too. We even have video inserts for e-books.’
Now I saw where this was going, and it wasn’t a place I liked. ‘I’m sorry, but I really don’t think that would work. From my experience, readers don’t want their novels interrupted by commercial messages and logos. They want to get caught up in the story.’
‘And they will be. We don’t cut much of your story out. We just abridge it a bit so there’s room for our messages.’
‘But that would change the story.’
‘Not the core of it,’ Justin patted my shoulder in what he must have thought was a gesture of reassurance. I didn’t see it that way.
Tiffany noticed my facial expression and broke in. ‘You know, Margot, we’ve found Pepsico to be a great partner for publishing. We can work with a lot more authors than we would without their support. And as an author, you get a lot more reach than you do now.’
‘But what would that do to quality?’
‘Quality?’ Justin asked.
‘Yes. If one of your brands takes over the sponsorship, then the publishing decision could be more about advertising revenue than about whether the work is good.’
‘But what does that matter if your books are being sold everywhere?’
I was not happy at the direction this conversation was taking. I looked to Tiffany for support, but she said, ‘We’ve been seeing some great sales numbers since we teamed up with Pepsico. It’s an exciting new way to do publishing. So, what do you say, Margot? Would you like to be a part of it all?’
I thought about it for a moment. I imagined a soft drink ad being placed in one of my books just at the point where the killer is about to be caught. ‘You know, I think I’m going to explore other options…’
You are now invited to collect your disbelief at the door as you go. Thank you.