Promotional Campaigns

Measured against what we know as media hype, the strategies MT and his publishers devised for calling attention to his books seem pretty quiet. By the standards of his time, however, MT believed in aggressively promoting their sales. A reviewer of Huck Finn, for example, could say that "no book has been put on the market with more advertising."

Subscription publishers spent little money on conventional newspaper or magazine advertisements, but MT and his publishers did create various kinds of posters. These were included in the prospectus, presumably to allow agents graphically to illustrate their sales pitch. But such posters also exist in unbound states, indicating that they were distributed in other ways. Because the sales of Tom Sawyer were so slow, for example, Bliss apparently sent flyers to all the customers whose names and addresses he'd acquired through earlier canvasses. And the Barrett Collection has an advertising flyer for Huck Finn printed by Occidental Publishing, the San Francisco firm that handled west coast distribution for Bliss. Except for the firm name, however, it's identical to the poster bound into the prospectus, which confirms the assumption that national publicity was controlled from Hartford, and thus makes it likely that MT himself would have usually known the details of each promotional campaign (including, for example, the decision to insist that Huck was written in "Mark Twain's old style," and was above all a funny book). The four items about The Prince and the Pauper here are from the Osgood & Co. prospectus for the book, and display more graphic flair than either Bliss's or Webster's posters.
One of the less scrupulous practices of subscription firms was to retitle a book from their backlist, and send agents out to sell it again -- in some cases to people who had already bought it. Because of this practice, MT felt it increased the salability of a book to be able to say that none of it had ever appeared in print before. Thus he was reluctant at first to allow magazines to publish any part of his novels in advance of their canvass. But Richard Gilder, editor of The Century, talked him into pre-publishing parts of Huck Finn in his magazine, and Huck became a best-seller. This experience, and the growing need for cash, led MT regularly to include magazine publication in his marketing campaigns. Selections from Connecticut Yankee appeared in a single installment, but all of Pudd'nhead Wilson, and many of the other late works, were pre-published in serial installments.
Across the course of his career MT and his publishers discovered other ways to promote a new book. MT was a popular lecturer before he was a publishing author, and performed in front of live audiences for many reasons. But beginning with his first major eastern tour, "The American Vandal Abroad," which was "smouched" from the text of Innocents, MT realized how a speaking tour could help advertise and sell his books. On 7 January 1869, in the midst of that tour, he advised Bliss to "issue prospectuses and startling advertisements now while I am stirring the bowels of these communities." This seems to anticipate the idea of a modern "book promotion tour." Bliss was unprepared to coordinate publishing and live appearances in such a fashion, but occasionally, as when MT was lecturing on "Our Fellow Savages" in Poughkeepsie, a kind of media blitz happened anyway.
After touring each winter from 1868 to 1872, MT grew tired of the demands of a season on the lecture circuit. But he remained interested in using his public performances to promote his books. His most successful lectures during the 1871-1872 season were drawn from Roughing It, which was, as he could let audiences know, about to appear in print. And in 1884 he returned to the lecture circuit in order to promote the publication of Huck Finn by his own publishing company; during his multi-city tour with George Washington Cable Cable he invariably performed selections from the novel. Programs for the performance often described these performances as "advance sheets" from MT's forthcoming book.
Another promotional device was "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar," brought out by the Century to help advertise the serial appearance of the novel. The whole calendar, in two variant forms, is in the Pudd'nhead Wilson section of the archive. The signed copy of the calendar at left was a gift from MT to Bram Stoker. In his signature, MT is making the same identification many reviewers and readers also made -- between himself and Pudd'nhead.

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