Howard Feldman

Sign me up to the SSA's book marketing department

2017-11-15 10:01
The President's Keepers by Jacques Pauw

The President's Keepers by Jacques Pauw

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South African authors finally have alternative options when it comes to marketing their work.

Anyone who has published in South Africa knows how difficult it is to get books out there. With a limited market and a discerning readership, authors need to employ all sorts of ideas in order to make sales.

I know this because I have published and sold two books. And it wasn't easy. But when I finally complete my 3rd book, I will have the way forward.

And it's thanks to Jacques Pauw for discovering the incredible and talented people at the State Security Agency (SSA). Without him South African authors would have continued with the struggle. I guess in some ways, because of him, South African authors have also had some insight into "the struggle."

The SSA is defined as "the department of South African government with the overall responsibility for civilian intelligence." Get that? "Intelligence." Their job is to make South Africans smarter! Which makes it natural for them to get involved in literature. Because nothing raises our IQ and educates us quite like a good book does.

Further, if anything has educated South Africans recently it is not only the book itself but the SSA's handling of Pauw. They are very clearly a well-oiled machine, so it's only natural that they morph and use their amazing talents in the area of book sales.

The only sad thing is that it seems to have taken so long for them to get there (1994 seems so long ago).

The services that they offer are apparently quite extensive. Not only will they publicise the book so that it is "top of mind" for every South African, but they also take care of the book launch itself – all the way through the lighting (which everyone knows is so important at any event).

They deal directly with Eskom (which saves the author time) and even work with the venue to make sure that the generators don't interfere with the lighting plan.

The copy writing for the adverts and publicity is apparently done in-house and they are able to utilise the police as well as the judicial system for some of the very creative campaigns. In essence, many authors would kill for their reach and their rollerdex.

The SSA marketing plan for The President's Keepers is a masterful one. Exclusive Books has already sold more than 10 000 copies, with customers ordering the next print in advance. Amazon can hardly believe their eyes and a "free" PDF version has been forwarded and onward forwarded thousands of times.

This has resulted in an almost unprecedented situation where recipients of the PDF are simply paying an amount to the publisher in order to make sure that Pauw is not financially compromised. One might say this is even "unpresidented" in South Africa and indicates just how desperately South Africans not only want the truth, but also how much they want to live as law abiding and respectful citizens.

It is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

What is remarkable is how quickly the circle has closed in on South Africa. It seems like yesterday that I was reading The Clockwork Orange under my bed covers and watching the "Life of Brian" subversively with my friends. The banning of André P. Brink's Looking for Darkness was most likely the only reason that I read it, and only because I was told that I was not to go anywhere near Steve Biko's essays that I did so

To tell people they are not to read something is to tell them that they are not smart enough to. To tell them that they should not know information is to tell them that they are not trusted. And that they are unable to think and to process and to discard and to make up their minds.

All countries have secrets. Not everyone needs to know everything. Doctors discern what information a patient should receive and teachers work carefully with children communicating that which they believe will help them most.

But in each case, this can only be successful if there is trust for the person who holds the knowledge. A doctor or teacher or government who has lost the trust of the patient or pupil and citizen has lost the privilege of control.

And when that trust is gone they have lost the power they might have possessed.

The good news is that the future of the SSA is very clear. Whereas they might currently not look like the most intelligent agency on earth, the sure know how to market the hell out of a book.

Sign me up!

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

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