Mike Morrell (not the CIA guy) helps authors and artists get their message out. He has a unique program called SpeakEasy. If you’ve heard of the book The Shack (regardless of how you may feel about it), Mike was the marketing genius behind its tremendous sales.
Recently, I interviewed Mike and asked him to tell us about the program. If you’re an author or musician, you’ll want to read this.
Explain what the SpeakEasy program is and why did you create it?
Mike Morrell: Speakeasy is a way to spread and discuss compelling ideas – author to bloggers to readers. It’s like a funnel of literary goodness, precise and deliberate at the entryway (we’re selective in what author and publisher submissions we accept) and wide-open at the end (when a campaign takes off, we get ‘everybody’ talking).
I started doing word-of-mouth marketing for books six years ago, when a friend of mine wrote a controversial Christian book that was sure to generate discussion . . . if only people heard of it. The only problem is, his publisher wasn’t doing much to promote it, and what little they were doing was in the arenas of expensive, traditional advertising. Research I had looked at – as well as my own personal experience – indicated that potential book-readers were far more likely to trust a friend, a blog they read, or a podcast they listened to, than they would an ad in a magazine, on the radio, or on a website.
So we got permission from the publisher to distribute a number of copies of my friend’s book to bloggers in my rolodex. Nearly all of the bloggers accepted, and the results were phenomenal: The book and its contents were being discussed and debated the Web over in the Spring and Summer of 2006, and Technorati.com dubbed it the most-blogged-about book period for a week straight.
From there, I realized that there were other authors who didn’t fit in the Christian mainstream – people who existed in a sizable-yet-marginalized fringe readership. I want to help authors reach these tribes, and I want indie & alternative Christian tribes to meet these authors. That’s why Speakeasy was born. These days, we have over 1,000 bloggers and 50+ quality podcast and radio show hosts who regularly review books that I vet and offer to them.
What kinds of authors would benefit from using SpeakEasy?
Mike Morrell: I would say that anyone who’s written off-the-beaten path Christian literature can benefit their writing and platform getting more exposure via Speakeasy. In the six years I’ve been doing word-of-mouth publicity for authors and publishers, the books that have really taken off and resonated with our bloggers and their readers are ones that illuminate spiritual realities in a personal or unexpected way. These fly under all kinds of different genre and theological banners – memoir, journalism, fiction, creative nonfiction, et al; missional, emergent, spiritual-but-not-religious, organic. But what unifies titles in their appeal to the Speakeasy community is their willingness to color outside the lines in writing prophetically.
Can other artists benefit from using it? If so, what types?
Mike Morrell: The music we’ve offered is few and far between over the years, and honestly we’ve experienced mixed results in what’s resonated with bloggers. Maybe musical tastes are far more diffuse than reading tastes and inherently more volatile, I don’t know. With that said, I have two albums that we’ll be giving away for bloggers to review over the next three months that I’m quite excited about.
Can you give any concrete examples of how SpeakEasy has helped an author’s book sales?
Mike Morrell: Sure. I was the only paid marketing that The Shack had during the first year-and-a-half of existence, before its small publisher reached a co-publishing arrangement with Hachette. My work, combined with that of Paul Young and a host of people who believe in the book, saw it through its first couple-million sales.
Of course, not every campaign I run is as effective as The Shack . . . or I’d be retired by now. I have little in the way of hard sales numbers, as publishers are surprisingly reluctant to part with that data. With that said, I gauge Speakeasy’s impact on sales by repeat collaboration with authors and publishers, which happens frequently.
How do authors sign up for SpeakEasy?
Mike Morrell: Any interested author or publisher can contact us at speakeasyontap [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be happy to send you a detailed services overview and rate card, and we can talk from there.
How do bloggers sign up for it?
Mike Morrell: Easy as pie. Right here, it takes seconds: http://thespeakeasy.info
It’s worth noting that by signing up for Speakeasy, bloggers and podcast/radio hosts are under no obligation to review books, ever. You get an email when a new book in one of your indicated preferences is available; you only blog about a book when you request it. This makes us different than 95% of in-house publisher publicity departments out there, who simply send you books unbidden. We want to respect your time and commitments more than that – we only send you what you ask for.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share the word about Speakeasy, Frank. I think that your readers would be interested in a number of review book offerings we have just over the horizon.
My readers might be interested to know that Mike worked with me on some of my earlier books – Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, and From Eternity to Here. He did a great job at getting the word out about those titles. Here are a few other impressive endorsements for SpeakEasy.
“You did a great job in helping get the word out about my book!”
—Daniel Radosh, journalist, The New Yorker and The Week; author, Rapture Ready (Scribner)
“[It’s just a few weeks into our campaign and] we’ve already been hearing some buzz on this – from our authors among others. Just what we hoped for!”
—Tom Hallock, Associate Publisher /Director of Sales and Marketing, Beacon Press