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Writing Wednesday: Everything You Know About Marketing is WRONG!!!

September 14, 2011

So on Monday’s post I was going on about how most of us do the blogging thing all wrong by aiming our blogs at other writers.  Instead of aiming at other writers, we need to aim at the larger audience who might actually buy our books.

Last month Rachel Harrie began another Crusade/Campaign thingy and while it’s a nice way to connect with other bloggers, it’s part of the problem I was talking about on Monday.  The problem with the Crusade/Campaign is that the “platform” you’re building is only with other struggling writers.  So while my participation in the second one made me a couple of new “friends” like Michael and Rusty, it didn’t really do a lot in terms of sales.

What you need then is to stop the penny ante bullshit and focus on doing some real marketing.  The problem though is always HOW?  I was thinking of that and then I remembered my favorite Twilight Zone episode.

That episode is called “He Lives” from the hour-long fourth season, which incidentally you can’t watch on Netflix Instant yet.  Jerks.  At the start of the episode a young Dennis Hopper is a would-be Fuhrer preaching on the street corners of New York.  But except for his three loyal minions everyone else just laughs at him and throws rotten vegetables at him.  Then one night a mysterious stranger shows up outside Dennis Hopper’s building and starts giving him tips.  The big twist (spoiler!) is that the shadowy stranger is the ghost (or reincarnation or whatever) of Adolf Hitler.

Maybe it’s not a great idea to be taking advice from fictitious Hitler, but here we are.  What fictitious Hitler tells Dennis Hopper is that if he wants his message to reach the people, he must first JOIN the people.  You have to be part of the mob before you can expect to control it.

And that’s what you need to do.  After you identify who the mob is, you need to figure out what the mob likes and where the mob hangs out.  Getting back to my example from Monday, I said my theoretical audience is teen-20something women who like reading about women kicking butt.  So now that I have a rough idea who these people are, I need to figure out where they go on the Internet.  Probably social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and so forth to start off with.

From there we have to follow the next stage of fictitious Hitler’s advice:  Make your cause, their cause.  But the worst way to do that would be to go on Twitter and Facebook and start saying “Buy My Book!”  No one will listen to you and they’ll probably just hate you.

A few months back I wrote an entry referencing the movie “The Joneses” about a fictitious family who are actually undercover marketers selling things to people without anyone realizing it.  How?  Not by running around screaming, “Buy this!” like an infomercial.  Instead what they strove to do was to be the coolest people in the room.  And then everyone, seeing how cool they are, would buy the same stuff as them to try and be just as cool–the old keeping up with the Joneses expression.

That might be the biggest problem of all.  Most writers are not cool.  We’re nerds.  That’s why we’re writers!  Instead of playing football or basketball or doing cheers in high school, we sat in dusty libraries reading and scribbling in notebooks.  So most of us–especially me–do not have the social acumen to be the coolest person in any room, even if it’s a chat room or a Facebook page.

But by Grabthar’s Hammer we need to try!  Because that’s how you get out of the penny ante scams and into the big time.

So if you find where your audience is hanging out, don’t scream at them right away to buy your book.  And don’t try to make the wry, ironic comments us writers love to Tweet.  If we learned anything from the George W regime, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachman it’s that America does not appreciate smart people.  So don’t go marching in there trying to impress everyone with your big, delicious brain.

Instead, keep your mouth shut!  You got to look around first, get the lay of the land.  See what the people are talking about.  See who the cool people are.  Then you join in.  If you’re lucky you’ll make some inroads with the cool people and thus everyone else will think you’re cool too.

Only then after you’ve thoroughly infiltrated the mob can you begin trying to steer it towards your website and thus your book.  If all that hard work pays off, then you might be hitting the big time.  And you might whine (as I would) that this is going to take forever.  It might, but do you think Coca-Cola or McDonald’s or Wal-Mart built their empires in a day?  It takes years to go from local to regional to national to global.  So you got to think in terms of the big picture here.  This is a long con, not a game of three-card Monty.

Of course this is all theoretical at this point.  It’ll probably take someone who’s a lot savvier than me to make it work.  But I think the principles are sound, even if most of them come from fictitious Hitler.

Friday:  Why titles matter.


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  1. Joe Konrath says that all book sales are luck. He said that if you don’t sell books by the fifth book you’ve written, you just haven’t written enough books. No one knows when you’ll get lucky. You may never get lucky. He attributes all of his success and Amanda Hocking’s success to absolute luck. I kinda believe that. I don’t think you can control book sales. I think with marketing you can give yourself a temporary boost but in the end explosive book sales are just luck.

    • Sure, luck is part of it, but you can’t just sit around rubbing a rabbit’s foot and 4-leaf clover. You have to be proactive, which is always a problem for me because I hate anything involving “active”. The bottom line is you’re the brand and the book is the product, so get off your arse and start selling!

  2. I’m enjoying these “YOU FOOL!” posts, Rogue. I’m particularly looking forward to tomorrow’s entry, “Everything you know about having sex is WRONG!”

    On a serious note: Do you mean to say this blog of yours isn’t where all the cool kids hang out? Have I been wasting my time here for months trying to impress y’all?


  3. OMG! (To quote some of your target audience.) I didn’t know that you were doing titles next when I chose to do titles next. Great minds think alike… and we all think like Fictitious Hitler? (I would like to see Fictitious Hitler face off against my own hero, Time-Traveling Elvis (TM) in a battle royale (TM).)

    Anyways, for a while there I thought we were going to wander into darker territory on this post: When you said:

    “After you identify who the mob is, you need to figure out what the mob likes and where the mob hangs out. Getting back to my example from Monday, I said my theoretical audience is teen-20something women who like reading about women kicking butt”

    I figured the next sentence was “So I’m going to be spending all my time at ‘Forever 21’ until that restraining order gets filed.”

    But you surprised me and went in a totally different direction, instead. And one I’m not sure that I agree with.

    (Count me in that group of people that is NOT afraid to courageously take a stand against Fictitious Hitler and his savvy marketing tactics.)

    People say they’re annoyed by ads — but who, exactly says that, and what, exactly, is the result of being “annoyed” by ads? As I mentioned on a blog post a while back, everyone says they hate sequels, but what they mean is they hate STUPID sequels. And when people say they hate ads, they mean “I hate ads for things I don’t want to buy,” or “I hate stupid ads.”

    Because if you’re in the market for something, you LOVE ads. If you’re thinking “What sequel should I go see at my local cineplex?” and a bunch of movie ads come on, I bet you don’t say “Posh AND Tish! I despise these foul ads and wish to consign them to the darkest regions of the netherworlds!”

    (No, I don’t know why you became an 18th century robber baron in that example. Roll with it.)

    And who says they hate ads? Not the 33 jillion people who respond to ads by buying the things in them. When was the last time you went into a restaurant and said “I’ll have a cola?” You said “I’ll have a coke, or a pepsi.” Because of ads. I don’t watch TV shows because I heard about them from critics (reviews being a form of advertising, in that free copies are sent to people in hopes they’ll advertise them subtly, the way Fictitious Hitler would like). I watch them because I saw an ad and they looked funny/smart/filled with close-ups of bugs having fights. (“Monster Bug Wars.” It makes me itch but I love it.)

    But I’ve never bought a book because I thought the author was a neat person. Neil Gaiman seems neat on the Internet, but I bought his books before I knew that, and I haven’t bought a single book of his since I saw his Tweets.

    So I’m a big believer in just advertising away, but not being obnoxious about it. Ads should be clever, or interesting, and well done, and not overly present, just like anything else. I do one tweet a day for “Eclipse,” and none tweets per day for my other books (because I’m too lazy to go do something about it.) I occasionally post about my books, and have links to them on my blogs. I have what could loosely be referred to as “book trailers.”

    But if I could, I’d advertise the living bejeezus out of my books. I once looked into GoogleTV because a Slate article said you could get national airtime for $100, and I’d do that in a second. If I had the budget, I would make it so that you couldn’t blow your nose without the tissue saying “Claudius wanted to be the first man to reach the stars…” because IT WOULD WORK.

    A billion people bought Dan Brown’s last book, which might as well have been called “All The Stuff I Deleted From The First Draft Of The Da Vinci Code.” And they did it because in spite of that book being complete dreck, it was advertised as though it was a Super Bowl between Peyton Manning and God referreed by Steven Spielberg. A billion people bought Twilight for the same reason.

    And I guarantee you: if you gave me a $1,000,000 advertising budget, I would sell a million copies of “Eclipse.” I guarantee it. I would have Eclipse ads and mentions in TV shows and a radio tour and book posters all over Barnes & Noble and piles of the book in the front of Borders if there are any of those left and Selena Gomez would carry a copy of it to the MTV Music Awards where it would be in all the celebrity book bags and I would sell that million copies — and my NEXT book would be even bigger.

    So although I know I run a great deal of risk angering the Rogue Mutt and his dark disciple, Fictitious Hitler, I have to respectfully disagree.

    • I just think since none of us do have millions of dollars for ads, we need to try and figure out who would be most interested in our books and try to get them interested. Even companies that do have millions of dollars do that. It’s why Lexus advertises in The New Yorker (or some upscale mag like that) versus Teen People. And why beer, snacks, and fast food advertise so much during sports games. Sure a lot of it is just throwing spaghetti at the wall, but you only have so much spaghetti and a lot of wall, so you want to try and target your throws as well as possible.

      • And what Rod Serling said through Fictitious Hitler back in 1963 is the same thing politicians still do today, especially the Republicans. That’s why they make all those stops at factories and diners and spout all that “Main Street” crap even though most politicians these days are millionaires who’ve never worked at a factory or eaten at a diner in their lives.

    • I think that the best place, Briane, to put an ad would be on the new Kindle and the new Nook. Having that kind of product placement at the time you turn one of those baby’s on is a gold field. I know I read the ads for books that pop up on mine.

  4. I know we don’t have millions, but we do have blogs and Twitter, and those are free. You’re talking about guerilla marketing. I’m talking about simply just advertising. I think there’s a place for both, but I believe in the effectiveness of a well-done ad.

    (By the way, I checked after I posted. I have sold ZERO copies of “Eclipse” this month, but 7 copies of “The Scariest Things, You CAN’T Imagine,” which I don’t advertise at all. So apparently, I’m the coolest guy in some horror chatroom somewhere, and you and Fictitious Hitler are pounding the table in your Evil Lair and saying “EXACTLY! Why don’t you listen to me the first time!”)

    (Which is what Sweetie does a lot, in HER evil lair.)

    • I’ve sold 14 Kindle versions of “Where You Belong” and 4 of “Virgin Territory” and I do even less active advertising than you do. Go figure. That much is just luck as Michael suggested.

  5. Marketing sucks. I feel like a dick just for telling people I have anything for sale. Every once in a while I’ll think I need to drum up some publicity by going over to the kindleboards and posting. But again, saying “buy my super-awesome story or you’re a moron” hasn’t been as wildly successful a ploy as I hoped. So I’m all tapped out for ideas.

    I’ll try the Hitler thing I suppose, if I get desperate enough. But as it stands I keep going back to my Field of Dreams marketing plan. Which means I’ll be lazy and hope for the best.

    • That’s pretty much been my marketing plan. I just need to outsource the whole promotion thing to someone else. A social networking publicist or something.

  6. I feel that way, too, @Rusty. But here’s the exact text of a tweet from Khloe Kardashian:

    Hi dolls! Have you snaged a copy of @searsStyle @teenvogue Oct issue yet? Check out KK jewelry, you’ll die! It’s amaze!

    The Kardashians are not ashamed to plug every single product they have. We should not be, either. If you have a book and want to advertise it, go ahead and do it. We don’t need millions of dollars. Just be interesting enough for people to pay attention to and then now and then tell your dolls to buy your stuff.

    If anyone asks, I did NOT take advice from a Kardashian.

    • That’s okay…we secretly know that you want to drink Kim Kardashian’s bathwater. And thus, we understand. /pats Mr. Pagel on the head.

  7. I see what you mean about the GFC widget, Rogue. Hmm. I wish I knew more about wordpress. You should try contacting that guy I linked to on my post today. He’s more technical than I am.

  8. I was going to reply to your comment via email, Rogue, but I don’t have your address.

    Anyway, that sucks! I’ll have to research it more now. Thanks for pointing that out.

  9. And now that I had time to read your post, I think you make a great point. Luckily, I’m the coolest kid in every room I go into.

    Only problem is I write for young people, and it would be pretty stalkerish for me to hang out with them online. Maybe I’ll get my kid to do it.

    • That’s a good idea. Kids are better with all this new-fangled technology. Sadly the closest I have to a kid is my 7-month-old niece.

  10. Just to mention it, this is now the 3rd time I’ve “subscribed” to your blog, and I still haven’t received an email when you’ve posted something new. I only got here today, because Rusty tagged you.

    I agree with you, and I’ve thought about the issue frequently. So far, the best thing I’ve come up with is reading the book in my kids’ classes at school. I have a pretty good fan base there, but the kids have a hard time convincing their parents to fork over $15 for a book that so-and-so’s dad wrote.
    If I have any bright ideas, though, I’ll let you know.

    • WordPress must be acting up. Entries are generally every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday though. There’s also the RSS feed button in the top right corner that might work better.

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