Marketing has never been about advertising at The King’s English. We’ve always believed that two things, our communication with our customers (whether in-print or online) and the author and other events we hold are the best ways to generate name-awareness and enhance our reputation in the community. Dollars spent mailing our newsletter, The Inkslinger (click here to see the most recent one and here to see our 2010 Holiday Edition) a publication chock-full of reviews, interviews, and interesting ideas, is money well spent—as is money spent hosting such novelists as Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, and Sherman Alexie; poets like Mark Strand, Octavio Paz, and Joseph Brodsky, adventure and nature writers such as Aaron Ralston, Jon Krakauer, Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams; politicians from Jimmy Carter to Bruce Babbitt and children’s writers like Tomi de Paola, Jon Scieszka, Jan Brett, Marc Brown, Stephenie Meyer and our own Shannon Hale.

Believing that in a community such as ours, creating buzz is as easy as creating an event that is interesting to people who like to read, and that by becoming a center for such events we become known as the center of the literary community in the city, we’ve always focused much of our time and energy on building ties with authors and publishers. The goal, of course, is to be seen as a desirable stop for touring writers with new books, but our motives are actually far wider than that. We booksellers fall madly in love with books—quite literally and quite frequently—and the natural consequences of such passion is the desire to connect with the author, whether through letters or an event. Authors sense the sincere nature of our passion—it’s evident in our reviews, our correspondence, in the love we lavish on our events (no lonely table in the middle of acres of shelves for us—our authors are surrounded by adoring fans ringed by adoring booksellers, plied with cheese and wine, heaped with praise). In short, we support the authors we love, new or not, local or national (we have an active local author program at TKE) and they in turn support us, returning again and again to our store and our city (Allende, for instance has returned to TKE six times). We choose our events carefully so that people don’t become blasé about author appearances and we publicize them skillfully, taking care to organize and staff them so that they run smoothly. We have a wonderful outdoor venue on our patio for summer events, a beautiful art gallery next door that can hold an audience of up to 300, along with several schools, libraries, and churches around the city where we host larger events for authors such as Lemony Snicket, Alexander McCall Smith, John Mortimer or E. L. Doctorow, to name a few.

We’re not a large store, Salt Lake City isn’t exactly on the fast track for author tours, and we don’t have the means to send marketing teams to visit publishers in New York twice a year the way larger stores do, so why do authors come to us? At least part of the answer rests in our ability to handsell—something we’re known nationally for—and then to turn the resultant buzz we create into a marketing advantage. In the handselling section, in the tale of Abraham Verghese and Cutting for Stone, you’ll see a perfect example of this and a great example of how good buying, handselling, marketing, and customer service all work together to further awareness of our store in the literary community at home and nationally—the end result of any good marketing campaign. It’s also a perfect example of both the method and philosophy on which our business is based.

In more literal terms, here are some details of our marketing efforts. Jenny Lyons, who heads our marketing department, came to us from Northshire Books in Vermont via Black Diamond, a huge sporting concern in Utah. Experienced in graphic design, she’s also a skilled writer and an addicted reader with a taste for fine fiction and the books about nature which are so much a part of our store and our readership. Jenny (along with Anne, our store manager) coordinates with publishers and works on publicity for all events as well as laying out The Inkslinger both in print and online, creating event promotional materials including posters and tickets, tweeting, facebooking and, of course, blurbing.

Anne Brillinger, who retired after a long career as head of PR for the Health Sciences Department at the University of Utah had told us for years that her dream part-time job upon retirement would be at our store and true to her word, she puts her magic to work on our behalf on a regular basis doing dazzling press releases and generating creative PR ideas for the store as well as editing every word that we send out whether to the press or the public. Jenny, Anne Brillinger, and Anne Holman meet once a week with a checklist to go over all upcoming and planned events and to assess those just finished with an eye to improving anything that was less than perfect. They also lead an event host team that consists of those booksellers who are as skilled in working with the public as they are at handselling one-on-one. We assign people to host events with great care, always making sure that the bookseller in question is the right match for the event in terms of age, knowledge of whatever topic is being featured, etc.

On the children’s side, events are coordinated by Rachel Heath, a student at the University of Utah who has worked at the store literally since grade school (her mother also works at TKE). Deeply knowledgeable in Children’s books, she works with Margaret and Anne to schedule and plan the many events we host in the children’s room from author appearances to story hours (many with guests—including the occasional dog—these occur on an almost daily basis), science camps, nature camps, kids’ book clubs, the highly successful children’s summer reading classes, in- and out-of store book fairs, and a host of other activities and events too numerous to list. The children’s room at TKE is a constant hive of activity and Rachel Heath, along with Margaret Brennan Neville, are at the heart of that activity.

Our skill at creating and holding events is the bedrock on which our marketing efforts rest. But here is how we publicize them:

  • The Inkslinger (please click here)  8,000+ online subscribers
    Betsy Burton writes and edits The Inkslinger with the able help of the booksellers at TKE, all of whom contribute. We mail and hand out print copies and post a PDF online that people carry  around for weeks, checking off titles or authors
  • Facebook/Twitter/Blog—Total readership per year is 20,000
    We use social media every day as most indies do; it is a terrific way for us to be in immediate touch with our customers. Our blog focuses on local news more than national and we have regular guest bloggers from our community who contribute their time and talents.
  • Public Radio reaches 150,000 locally and well over a million via HD
    Betsy Burton does weekly radio reviews on KUER, our major public radio station in addition, several times a year she, in conjunction with two other booksellers from locally owned independent stores, does an hour-long radio show based on books. This past December in far-off Boston), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Carla Gray heard Betsy effusing about Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies and Bruce Machart’s The Wake of Forgiveness and called to thank her.
  • Newspapers—Over 1 million Utah readers
    Ann Cannon has a regular column in The Salt Lake Tribune and although it isn’t necessarily about books or TKE, her association with the store is known throughout the community, lending us added cachet. Also, The King’s English is mentioned every week and often every day in The Salt Lake Tribune, The Deseret News, Salt Lake City Weekly, Catalyst, and other local publications.

In total, these outreach efforts reach upwards of 2 million potential customers. It is the combination of the wonderful events we host, the excellence of our written work, and our ability to get this work out to such a wide network of readers that make the marketing efforts at TKE such a success.