Some Thoughts, Part Five – Marketing
Posted by BigWords on April 5, 2010
I’m coming back to the world-building again, so I can tie in with some things raised in connection regarding the Extras I mentioned. This will lead into thoughts on marketing in due course, but my main focus is on the perceived problems with side-issues such as podio, vlogging and other new-media which are struggling to maintain the levels of interest which marked their early days. Podio, in particular, has come under more scrutiny than it really should, given how malleable and open the basic concept is – and this is partially the fault of early successes not leading to more breakthrough authors. The format is, if you believe the reports from the front lines, not living up to its’ full potential. I posit that there is something inherent in the way we look at media which is to blame, and suggest that the way such things have been approached by writers is too mired in traditional thinking to continue as is. Remembering the way other audio successes have accomplished their status is vital in crafting an effective assault on the market.
Nathan Bransford recently pointed out that a novel cannot be turned into a phenomenon by the publisher, and that is fine as far as the novel itself goes. I’m not going to disagree with him, but I will point out that there is a vast difference between a single novel and the world in which the story takes place. Stories, as I pointed out, are not bound by novels. We should be looking at the problem of how to create popular stories and not novels – two very different things in the digital era. This is something which should begin long, long before the book is sold, never mind published. The current advice is to start publicity as early as possible before the novel hits the shelves, but there is no standard set. Keep researching this area, even after digesting this post. I’m sure you will be wondering how all these disparate things are connected, being grabbed seemingly at random… Well, they are connected, and in ways which authors should be already be considering – it doesn’t take much work to come up with a wholly-contained and flowing narrative utilizing the strengths of the internet, and you too can mastermind a phenomenon if you put all your energy into doing so.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock… This is the sound of your window of opportunity slipping away. It is the sound of other authors stepping up to the challenge. It is a sound you should be listening to. There is little time, and little opportunity left, once the book appears in shops, so pay attention to the flow of media which attracts attention outside of the publishing world. This means podio, short videos on YouTube, multiple websites, and an eye towards a simple ARG which builds your characters up in the minds of potential customers. Yes, customers. Lets not be artistic when it comes to getting the novel out there, because it’s a business, and in business you need targets to hit. The artistry comes in deploying just enough material to grab the peoples attention, but not enough material to damage any sales. It’s all about raising questions and withholding answers, and this is where we can really learn from the past.
One of the most celebrated radio plays in the history of the medium is War Of The Worlds, and it still has a certain power to this day. The effectiveness lies in verisimilitude, and this is a vital point. In using podio effectively, strength rests in its’ immediacy. While I’m pointing out the obvious, I’ll also add that the most effective lie is sold to an audience wrapped in truth. If you are using in-character audio to build a market for a novel, then lower-key is more effective than a full-orchestra production. Same thing goes for video, with CCTV having much more power to sell the fiction than a glossy HD short film. When plotting out the back-story for a novel, the material which would provide such content generates itself if done thoroughly enough. This opens up a secondary marketing tool beside hooking potential readers into the characters’ lives. You may not have deliberately looked at an ARG, but it is very likely that you have seen elements of one if you spend enough time online. The most effective ones are designed with the specific objective of blending in to the rest of the web. Once people invest enough time into the characters they will be more willing to invest money in the novel.
The in-universe marketing plan is only one side of the equation, and some blatant (i.e. traditional) marketing is also required, but using fiction to sell fiction is still a under-developed area which needs more uptake before being dismissed. The requirement for authors to use accepted social media is still important, but relying solely on this doesn’t answer my earlier question – what investment (as a reader) do I have in the characters before I drop my money on the novel? The answer is one which you should come to on your own. Of course, if you are intent on relying on a Facebook fan page, it is essential that communication is not restricted. Proper discussions, which doesn’t include endless press releases or ego-stroking. I used to be very interested in a particular SF series’ fan scene, but since it turned from a to-and-fro with the audience to a narrower focus, spewing out information rather than engaging people with ideas and nuggets of behind-the-scenes material, I lost interest. I’m sure others left at the same time, disappointed with the shift away from interaction.
Communication is vital to every aspect of marketing, even if no stakes are involved. It doesn’t matter that a novel isn’t being run through the presses, because we (as authors, readers, listeners, viewers, or merely interested observers) are curious about the world around us. This is the primary reason why ARGs work, and why we should foster as many connections with potential readers and collaborators as possible. Looking at the interlinking segments of the internet as being held apart by barriers is old-media thinking, and trying to interlink everything is verging on madness. A happy medium is difficult to find, but the balance at the moment for most is skewed in favor of the kind of press ads which wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine. This is the internet. Use it.