clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lies, Damn Lies, Marketing, and Advertising

At left, breakfast of champions.

I wouldn't have to work very hard beyond putting up a sign outside a cafe saying "American Breakfast $5.99" for you to know exactly what product I was offering. If you were hungry, you'd probably come inside and I'd have a chance to add you as a "regular" every Sunday morning.

This technique is low effort marketing. (You might have learned it as low-impact marketing which is a horrible turn of a phrase. Shoot that bastard.).


  • Little advertising money expended. 
  • Little barrier for customer education as there is high product identification already.
 Location and price are the two major inputs on our initial chance to win you over. Yes, we have to deliver a quality product that conforms or exceeds your ideals of the product we portray.

This is the business proposition most of us think about when we think of selling our novels:

  • It's good. 
  • It's affordable (Dog knows, readers are rich compared to writers).
  • You know what a novel is, anyway. This is a novel - what's not to like?

We'll put it in front of you and hope you are a voracious eater ...er, reader.

Of course, the large difference between the low effort marketing for the cafe and the low effort marketing of our books is that we know breakfast. We've met him before. We know his name. We know that besides being hot and devoid of pooling grease, it's hard to miss the target of customer expectations.

Novels are different. Novels have very high barriers to sale because of of poor product identification. Frankly, your hoped-for reader probably doesn't know you. She probably doesn't trust your content.

One book is not very much like another despite the blurbs and dust cover lies we tell. I have six books in my library now identified by the publisher or other author blurbs as "reminding me of Douglas Adams and his madcap universe of exceptional events." None - not a single one - has a damn thing in common with Douglas Adams except for the "inadvertent" theft of a line or two that probably was innocent in the end. If you read the guy, his stuff sticks in you a bit.

How to over come this barrier?

If you are customarily addressed as His Excellency, you can devote some income to advertising ... print, online, broadcast mass market, and direct mailing. No? No provinces in the old country named after your late uncle?

What do you have in trade? Content.

You have content.

It appears to me that a successful way to build readership is to get your craft product in front of influence readers who do tend to be voracious,  who do talk a great deal with friends about what they read, who are consulted for book recommendations, and who buy periodicals and anthologies which publish stories in your genre. We'll leave reader based reviews out of this.

Crowd-sourcing is for lemmings. You know what happens to lemmings.

I advocate the short-story route for building readership that can help with your novel's marketing as legitimate sale efforts.

I know short fiction is not an income proposition in itself. I know no advances come from short-fiction efforts. I know your agent might try and have you bumped off for janitor's insurance if she finds out you're working on short stories instead of the next novel she can sell. Here is a hint: don't tell her until it works.

What? You can't deceive your agent?  You told your mom how your prom date with Jimmy Football-Guy went? I didn't think so. [ Oh, you sign your taxes every year, too. I'm talking to you. Triple moca latte is NOT an unreimbursed business expense.]

I do know that getting advertising dollars from your publisher is determined by an internal formula based partly on your sales and on your advance. Get a $1M advance and you better bet there is some house money going into press ads for your work. Get a $5K advance and you might get house money to pay for a press release written by the internal contractor. Sorry.

How to up your advance ? Readers. Exposure. A change in visibility since your last deal.

I'm suggesting that getting your name in the eyes of readers by working at short fiction in conjunction with your novel work can pay dividends far beyond the smug look of satisfaction when you have one of your stories in something on the rack in the powder room.

It can attract influence readers (sales) you've not been in front of before and it can give your agent something material to say to the publishing house about why you're worth more THIS deal than the last. You become an "up trender."

You only have content to trade. Your blog and your tweets and your loving network of writers already know and love you. They'll buy your book. They re NOT an "up trend."

You need new readers. Short fiction can help.

I read a story this week by Samantha Hunt in the No. 55 Tin House  ("All Hands"). I don't know what new work she has in the pipe but I know she has a novel The Invention of Everything Else that I will buy this week. Yep, I loved the short story. I'll buy her novel.

Bonus - the novel is about Tesla, the best toaster-fixing physicist the world has ever seen. That's another post.

Never heard of her before. My loss. It will not be this way in the future. [ BTW - she's the 2010 Bard Fiction Prize winner].

I'm not saying you can get in Tin House or The Paris Review; but, you might. You know your genre periodical hierarchy - or should. [ Hint - subscription price is a decent ballpark estimate for status]. Never fear starting in the middle. You can always go either way with future submission depending on your state of mind.

You generate content. How can you get it in front of a reader? Get it in stuff influence readers buy. That's how professionals do it. ( Look at the adds in this weekend _WSJ_ magazine supplement. Those brands do not advertise in Redbook because the influence buyers don't have eyeballs there).

In the end, it is all you have beyond using the market building techniques of the life insurance business as applied through a social media lens.

You don't actually believe joining more civic breakfast clubs is going to catapult you on the NYT bestseller list, do you?



1 comment:

celeste holloway said...

I say it every week, but I'll say it again...I think I'll forever envy your brains , Jack. I hope people are paying attention because I'd wager you know what you're talking about. I'm still in the minor leagues, but who knows, I may work my way up to the major leagues, and maybe I'll get there from the powder rooms or beauty salons. I've never tried short fiction, but it might be fun. :)