Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Meet Bruce Harris

I didn't have to go too far to find today's Jungle Red guest. Hank suggested him and since I believe that Hank is practically perfect and right about almost everything, I thought why not?

During his years in book publishing, Bruce Harris has been the founder of Harmony Books, Director of Publishing at Crown, President of Sales and Marketing at Random House Trade Group, and President and COO of Workman. He's now an independant consultant for both authors and publishers. (And, yes...he's also my husband.)

RH: That's a pretty impressive resume. Are there any books or authors you've worked with who have a special place in your heart?

BH: That's a hard question because I've enjoyed working on many types of books from Be Here Now to 1,000 Places to See Before You Die - which I guess is a little like Be Somewhere Else.

RH: And from The Joy of Sex to What to Expect When You're Expecting...which also has a certain symmetry, doncha think?

BH: Certainly two of my favorite authors were Martha Stewart and Douglas Adams. I also really enjoyed touring with General Colin Powell - who I really hoped would run for president. They were three of the hardest working authors I've ever encountered.

Gen. Powell was, of course, already famous when his book was released, but Martha wasn't known outside of a small circle of people in Westport, CT when she catered a book party where she rather serendipitiously met Alan Mirken, one of the owners of Clarkson Potter (Crown), the company that was to publish her first book, Entertaining. They are still her publisher, by the way.

RH: So what did she do when she was first starting out?

BH: Everything! She was just as eager to do an event at a Junior League in Nashville as she was to do The Today Show. It was all about building her platform. Gen. Powell also took a very military approach to getting the job done. He would frequently have lines of over three thousand people, and he would stay until every last book was signed.

Of course, marketing non-fiction is very different from marketing fiction. It's much harder to promote a novelist (assuming they're not already famous) because there aren't as many hooks for the media.

RH: So how do we "hookless" novelists get attention for ourselves? Can you give us a taste of what your Free Marketing Seminar at New England Crimebake will be like?

BH: Well, you'll be addressing what the authors themselves can do. I'll be focusing on a Nine Month Countdown to Publication - what goes on at your publishing house and when. I'll also be giving tips on how to work with your publisher.

RH:...without getting in their hair?

BH: Absolutely! They want to do a good job on your book and the more ammunition you can give them, the better.

RH: Like what...give us an example.

BH: Don't bemoan your lack of publicity. Give your publicist story ideas, don't expect her to think of them herself. Send pix. And think "off the book page."

RH: Bruce will be around to answer questions, and as mentioned he and I will be giving a free Marketing Seminar at the New England Crimebake this November. Check out


  1. Hi Bruce!!
    I can't wait to catch your session at Crimebake.

    I love Colin Powell's military approach to book signing! Also interesting that the Entertaining book launched Martha Stewart, I always assumed the book came after her fame!

  2. Hi, Bruce --

    I hadn't planned to come to a class at Crime Bake...but I'm reconsidering. Like just about every other author I too am obsessed with how to get noticed. You make it sound so rational as opposed to insane flailing about.

  3. Hey Bruce!

    I'm so eager to take your class..what goes on inside a publishing company is still such a mystery to me.

    Can authors really make a difference? It sounds so logical to say "yes, of course"--but I really wonder...

    I have a pal--very successful--who doesn't do a thing. And even at the beginning of her quite stellar career, barely did a siging. She says--it should be all up to the publisher.

    As we say at JR--what think?


  4. Ro, didn't you pick the right husband! Interesting that Martha Stewart went anywhere and everywhere at first. I'm still torn about how much an individual author can do to lift her book out of the teeming masses. Right now I'm in a mode of believing success is all in the writing and being chosen by a publisher as a lead title...thoughts about all that?

  5. Hello Jungle Red gang,
    Roberta - Of course good content is the most important part of book publishing, so you're absolutely right. But very few books get picked as lead titles and most of the ones chosen are from authors who are already successful. After content, the second most important factor is having good relationships with key personnel at your publishing house.

    Hank - these days leaving everything up to the publisher is a risky way to handle one's career. Certainly some people do, but the more you do yourself, the more likely you are to get on your publishers' radar. With thousands of books being published every year, why just cross your fingers and hope for the best?

    Rosemary and I will be throwing out lots of ideas at the seminar. They won't be "one size fits all" but hopefully they will spur people on to find their own unique selling points.

  6. You guys know that I'm game for almost anything promotion-wise, but you may be surprised that I am a bit more methodical than I may seem. While Bruce has the inside skinny on what your publisher does, I'll be the voice from the trenches. It should be a fun and informative session.

  7. Ro & Bruce,

    I'll be taking notes! Can't wait for Crime Bake.

  8. Ro--just read your intro again. What do you mean I'm right about "almost" everything?

  9. I really think you're right about everything...I just didn't want to seem like a total suck-up.