Monday, May 19, 2014

5 Things Mad Men Can Teach You About Publishing

The AMC TV Show Mad Men kicked off its final season last month.  The show is about ad executives in the 1960s, and has been immensely popular since the first season.  Here are some things Mad Men can teach you about the world of writing and publishing.

Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

In the Book World Style Counts

One of the things Mad Men is known for is the iconic 60s style of the show.  The clothes, hair styles, office furniture, and homes are meticulously recreated, and give us a glimpse into a different, sometimes more formal, world. 

One reason this show stood out from the very beginning was that it was different from everything else on television.  There's a good lesson in that for writers and publishers.  Style that is original, and not a copycat, will always get people's attention.  As a writer, you never win by trying to write like someone else.  You can only write like yourself or you will come off fake.

The same is true about the style of a book itself.  Book styles, cover art, and packaging all need to be original and authentic to truly catch attention.

Photo by Jordin Althaus/AMC

Products Appeal to the Personal Side

In coming up with ad campaigns, viewers see Mad Men character Don Draper coming up with slogans and visuals that appeal to the personal side of their client's customers.  Draper often looks at things happening in his family or daily life to get ideas for products.

Translate this to the book world.  Marketing blurbs and book descriptions need to be written to hook someone into wanting to find out more.  Offering a personal side and tugging on a reader's emotions can transform a book into something that stays with the reader for years to come.  They might not remember the words, but they will always remember how they felt.

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Details Are Important

Part of what makes Mad Men so fun to watch is the detail the show's producers go to in recreating 60s life.  The items on the set, the way someone wears a dress, or the way they talk about things are all meticulously detailed to transport you to the 60s.

The same should be true of books.  The books that seem to get the most loyal readership are those that have such vivid detail it gives people something to talk about.  People want to know about characters, so the small nuances of their life are important in telling a story.

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Telling a Good Story Still Trumps Everything

Mad Men isn't just a show about style over substance.  The reason it has developed a loyal fan base is because people want to know what will happen next in the lives of its characters.  The writing of the show is as important as the detail of the sets.

With books, a good story will always catch attention.  It doesn't matter if the book is from a first-time writer or a seasoned novelist.  Give readers a good story that they will become absorbed in and they will gladly hand over money for your book.

You Won't Sell a Product No One Knows About

On Mad Men, ad executives need to come up with campaigns for products that are superior to their competitors, and yet seem to be lacking in sales.  Advertising helps get that accomplished.

In the book world, the term "advertising" encompasses many different things, but the overall result in the same.  Writers need to do social networking, blog, respond to readers, and more, to get people interested in buying their book.  The best book in the world won't sell unless readers know it is out there.


Cherie Burbach has written for, NBC/Universal,, and more. Visit her website,
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  1. no comments! well, i'll add my immediate response - "duh, yeah"

    then reminded myself i also needed to "practice" these points ;-)

    very nice use of images of some of the Mad Men characters to make each point

    yeah, nice, very nice :-)

  2. ps - have shared to fans and writers, whom hopefully are more often in both categories :-)