A publisher once told me a dark secret; it is estimated that only 10% of books that are bought are actually read.  If you buy books this is a depressing statistic, but just imagine what it is like if you write books.  All that work – hundreds of hours, thousands of words – published in a beautiful, accessible paperback that practically no one ever gets around to reading.

When my book ‘50 Cautionary Tales for Managers’ was published, I knew from past experience that I would have to promote my own book but, being a withdrawn, modest sort of chap, the prospect was daunting. It is completely out of character.  I just want other people, preferably unprompted, to say how wonderful my book was and to recommend that everyone in the world should read it (we’ll conveniently overlook the fact that my book is only available in English). 

So, with a low heart, I set to work to see if I could get the Great and the Good (a) to read my book and (b) to recommend it as essential reading.

I sent a copy to Sir Digby Jones (now a Lord) when he was still Director General of the CBI.  Soon after, in a column in The Times, I was appalled to read that he claimed not to read management books.  I wrote to him suggesting that he should have seized the moment and said; ‘I don’t often read management books but at present I’m reading the latest book by Peter Honey and finding it very enjoyable and useful.  So much so, that I’m going to recommend it to all our members.’  No reply.

I sent a copy to Sir John Bond, then Chairman of HSBC.  He wrote back a polite letter – but it was the very next day, so I knew he couldn’t have read the book (unless, of course, he is an accomplished speed-reader).  His letter said, ‘Thank you for your book; I wish you had written it earlier in my career! I hope your book will be a great success.’   I thanked him, suggesting that since he was going to become the next Chairman of Vodafone, I had probably sent it to him in the nick of time.  No reply.

I sent a copy to Sir David Normington, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office – the top man in a vast government department once described as ‘not fit for purpose’.  Surely my book could help save the day?  He wrote back saying, ‘Thanks so much for the book, which I shall enjoy reading’.  I replied suggesting that every manager in the Home Office should be rushed a copy.  No reply.

I read an article about Justin King, Group Chief Executive at Sainsbury’s, that said he personally read every letter sent to him.  Since the last story in my book is about a bad tempered Sainsbury manager, I wrote to him enclosing a copy of the book and suggesting that it should be essential reading for all the managers in Sainsbury’s. He wrote back saying, ‘Thanks for your letter and the book.  I do indeed read every letter though I have to confess I am less diligent with books!’.  Oh dear.

I sent a copy to the wife of Sir Howard Davies, Director of the LSE, ex-Chairman of the Financial Services Agency, ex-Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, etc etc.  I should explain that I sent the book to his wife because I had met her and I had read book reviews written by her husband in Management Today.  A review written by Sir Howard, no matter what he said, seemed a prize worth going for.  I suggested that his wife might leave a copy of the book on his pillow so that he couldn’t fail to notice it.  In retrospect, this might have been a mistake. Sir Howard often travels to far flung places (I know this from his monthly column in Management Today).  Imagine the scene.  He arrives home, jet lagged and grumpy, and collapses exhausted onto his bed only to find a hard thing under his head where a soft pillow should be. Intensely irritated, flings the offending object across the bedroom.  Not promising, and, of course, no review.

See what I mean about the difficulty of getting the Great and the Good to pay attention to my dear little paperback?

There have been a few reviews of course, but reviews can be perilous (unless you cheat and write them yourself!).  For example, I was astonished to see a review in The New Statesman by Tom Hodgkinson, that said, ‘The books under review recommend all sorts of immoral actions.’   Unfortunately my innocent little book had been bracketed with four other books, including one called Winning: the ultimate business how-to-book by Jack and Suzy Welch.  I wrote a letter to the editor of The New Statesman challenging Tom Hodgkinson to point out anything in my book that could be described as an immoral action.  Rather to my surprise they published my letter but, alas, no further word from Tom Hodgkinson.

So, what’s the answer?  Perhaps I should leave copies of my book on trains (first class compartments naturally), or in that big meeting room at the Institute of Directors?  A post-it note on each copy would say; PLEASE READ ME AND, IF YOU ENJOY ME, TELL YOUR FRIENDS. Or, perhaps I could inflate the Amazon ratings by buying hundreds of copies myself?

Hey ho.  Perhaps it’s safer to keep plugging away with straightforward marketing and steer clear of jiggery-pokery.  After all, Benjamin Franklin said; ‘Energy and persistence conquer all things.’  And here is a very encouraging quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson; ‘That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.’

I do hope he is right.

Add your voice

Current day month ye@r *

Enjoyed this article? Want to hear more? Book me as a speaker at your next event.