Lame joke? Nope. It's the true tale of one of the most surprising book publishing success stories in recent years. After William Morrow editor Claire Wachtel read Stephen J. Dubner's piece about economist Steven D. Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, she called their agent Suzanne Gluck to talk about a book deal.
The result: "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything." From the get-go, then-Associate Publisher Lisa Gallagher "had big ambitions" for the book. Now senior VP-publisher at HarperCollins' William Morrow unit, Ms. Gallagher, 36, and her team started building the strategy to get people talking about the book. "When we first read this manuscript, we immediately saw ... how we could slice and dice this in ways that would appeal to different readers," she says.
Ms. Gallagher headed up a team whose key marketing elements included choosing the book's "completely memorable" and "unique" title-which Mr. Levitt's sister came up with, subtitle ("it's about looking at the world in a new way," says Ms. Gallagher), and cover art (a plan for an all-type cover was tanked in favor of an "orangapple" image, a green apple with orange innards).
They also mailed 6,500 galleys to bookstores and the media; a six-part postcard and e-card campaign that "played to the content of the book"; an extensive Web site where the authors had a strong presence with constantly updated blog and traditional ad designed by NYC-based Verso Advertising that ran in magazines and newspapers.
Director of Publicity Dee Dee DeBartlo worked on an all-out publicity campaign that reached out to all media by pulling out relevant areas of the book and custom tailoring the content to publications and media outlets. For instance, Freakonomics-inspired pieces ran in publications from Child to Details to Fortune, and TV appearances ranged from "Good Morning America" to ABC's "20/20" in which host John Stossel spent an episode interviewing the authors and exploring various concepts raised in the book. The result: One year after it was first published, there are 1.5 million copies in print.
"Sometimes it really is about the stars aligning, but you've got to give the stars a chance to align and be set up properly for something to ignite in that way," says Ms. Gallagher.
Selected for: 'Freak-onomics'
* Capitalized on author's sister's inventive name for book.
* "Orangapple" generates doubletake effect.
* Custom tailored publicity efforts gets press in everything from Child to Details.