Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two Cent Tuesday: Writing & Politics: The Common Thread

Failed attempt at salesmanship
This is one of those things that hit me last month when I was commenting on Andrew Leon's post about how 99% of authors are doomed to obscurity, even those employed by the Big However Many.  Basically it's that authors face the dilemma of politicians at election time.  That is that you can stump, you can appear at events, and you can spend loads of money advertising, but none of it matters unless people actually go to the polls to vote for you.  That was illustrated beautifully in the Simpsons episode where Bart runs for class president and thinks he has it locked up until he finds out too late that everyone (including himself) forgot to actually vote for him.

I don't know about you, but mobilization is the biggest problem I face.  Sure I Tweet, I Facebook, I blog (obviously), I post stuff on different websites to advertise.  What good does any of it do?  Most of the time, none at all.  Actually most of the time it seems like the harder I try to advertise, the less sales I get.  I know there are some articles that say it's a waste of time to self-promote, that advertising is pointless.  And advertising can be pointless if it fails to get people off their butts to buy your book.
Another epic fail in salesmanship
Despite what the GOP might try to spin, Obama didn't win the presidency in 2008 and 2012 just because he was black or even because people were sick of Bush.  He won because he had the machinery in place to get people's asses out there to vote for him.  Sure that was still probably only 30% of the electorate, but that's still better than a lot of elections.  I remember in 2008 when I went to the polls I saw some Goth chick ahead of me in line and some other young people and so I felt pretty good that Obama was going to win because when you get that most apathetic voting demographic out there, you've done something right.

In Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, the mayor of Atlanta talks about his creative way to solve the problem of mobilization.  On election day his campaign would go around with vans and round up people and take them to polls.  (Probably more than one polling location too.)  Because especially in the inner-city it can be difficult for people to find the time and transportation to get to the polls.  So if you go and pick them up and grease their palms with a few bucks they don't have any excuse.

Maybe this would work!
Which actually if you have a few thousand dollars this could be a good technique.  Just go around and sign up a bunch of people and pay them $5 or $10 or $20 or whatever to go buy your book.  The best strategy would be to synchronize it so everyone buys the book at a certain time.  Like say you pay a thousand people to all go buy your book at 9am EST next Tuesday.  Then you'll probably make a splash on Amazon's sales rankings, for a couple of hours and that might help bring your book to more people's notice.  Even better is then if you can pay those people to review the book over the next few weeks.

The problem is for those of us without those kind of financial means, what can we do?  I don't know.  If I knew that, I'd be selling a lot more books and thus probably not writing this post right now.  A problem authors have that politicians don't is there are a lot more of us.  Your book is competing against billions (nay perhaps even trillions or dare I say gazillions!) of other books out there.  In an election you might have a dozen other candidates at most for something like a school board or college trustee election.

As an author without financial means you have to try to come up with an enticing ad campaign all on your own.  It's pretty damned difficult without a lot of luck.  Because most authors are not Mad Men, ok?  That's why publishers have marketing departments and politicians have campaign managers, pollsters, and a whole mess of other people.

Really though the first step is probably to stop thinking like an author and try to think like your potential reader.  Why should I buy your book when I have 89 books in my Kindle already?  Because it's MY book!  (So what?)  Because I'm the greatest author!  (In your own mind, but who the fuck are you?)  Because it's cheap!  (So are a billion others.)

I should probably analyze my own buying tendencies.  Those would be:
A)The price is low, like $3.99 or less (because I'm cheap)
B) It sounds interesting
C)  It helps if I've read other books by the author I enjoyed.  Or if I've at least heard of the author it helps.

Do covers matter?  Not that much to me.  Do titles matter?  Sometimes.  Like last month I bought one on sale called "Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain".  There's a title where you go, "Huh?  WTF?"  And then go to the page to see what it's about.  (Incidentally that book is as hilarious as the title suggests.)  Or one called "Superhero (An Action Thriller) naturally intrigued me even though the cover was lame.  Maybe I should have called A Hero's Journey "Superhero" or something like that so people would know what kind of book it is straight off.

So think about it:  what factors cause you to buy a book?  How can you apply that to your book?  If at some point you get it all figured out, let me know.

Here are a couple of obstacles you face in getting people off their asses.  You have the people who say, "I can't talk about any book I haven't read and approved of!"  And you have the people who say, "I'm too busy to read your book but maybe I can fit it in next year some time."  You can't get much of a campaign together with people like that.  What you need are what another blogger described as "fangelists" (fan + evangelist) the type who will sing your praises online and offline to everyone they meet.  Good luck finding someone like that.  You're far more likely to find the apathetic types.  It does probably help if you aren't the apathetic type yourself so you can pay it forward.


  1. Just guessing here....I think most women prefer romance novels, while men like action thrillers, Tom Clancy style. I'm the oddball. I perfer non-fiction. I think genre's matter. Appeal to as large an audience as you can.


  2. I just work my audience. I think a lot of marketing is letting people who you know will love your book, know that it's available. For my last book, that was easy. I already had a built-in audience. So anyway, that's what I'm brainstorming about these days...how to reach my target demographic. It's a lot more productive than just networking with a ton of Christians who want to tell the world in every post how much they love Jesus and thank him for every good thing that happens in their life and blame Satan for every bad thing.

  3. Marketing is always a nightmare, but you hit on the top three reasons they sell. Although I do love a good cover. I know I'm not supposed to judge a book like that, but I'm human.

  4. Yeah, yeah, I know you pegged me with two of those, but that is what it is.

    I was reading this thing within the last week or so talking about marketing to a smaller audience. Most authors are busy trying to throw their stuff out into the ocean because huge audience, but what they should be doing is looking for ponds interested specifically in what they've written about. so, for you, I'd say that would be finding some good super hero forums, joining in, and, occasionally, mentioning that you write super hero stories.
    It sounds like an interesting idea, at any rate.

    1. I thought of marketing to smaller audiences almost 2 years ago: http://roguemutt.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/writing-wednesday-everything-you-know-about-marketing-is-wrong/

      The problem is I'm just lazy and not well suited to such things.

    2. I just can't bring myself to spend the time on it. Too much time, that is. Most of what I've seen/read, the actual data on the topic, shows that a writer's best use of his time is writing. And, well, if I spend two hours a day on marketing, that's two hours a day I'm not writing.

  5. Your idea about paying people to buy your book on Amazon just to get it to link up with "also boughts" wouldn't work. I'm saying this because every time I've boosted my books in the rankings (usually through setting Vallar 1 free), they've always come back down within a month. This is because many many people are doing the same thing, so books are always burying each other. Sure you would get some sales, but it wouldn't compensate from what you paid out by far.

    Covers are very important, but if your book is buried or has few reviews, it might not be a noticable difference.

    I think the best promotion for unknown authors is having some thing free out there. But you need at least 2 books to do it (or it's not worth it). Then you need to have the links to all your books in those downloads. Plus I've heard of authors using a newsletter like mailchimp. So when you have a release, you send your readers the newsletter. When I released Vallar 2. I emailed a lot of people to tell them. Everyone on Goodreads who reviewed it with 3 or more stars and just anyone directly that had read it I could find. This worked well for awhile.

    I think your main focus should be gaining more reviews as difficult as that may seem. With reviews you have to be willing to take chances. Then see if you can do an ENT or Bookbub ad. The good part is...You have a lot of books to work with.

  6. I think the best way to get your book known is to figure out a way to insult someone. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code was a piece of shit but he managed to get the Catholic church all worked up, Christians got upset and the author made enough money to buy Hawaii. So who can we offend with your writing to get a bunch of free publicity?

  7. The painful truth is that if you've done what you can to promote your book and it hasn't taken off, then the problem is the book itself. The only really effective advertising is word of mouth: people who have read your book that tell other people. That growth is exponential. The more people who talk about it, the more people are exposed to it. But if that's not happening, then it's the book. That doesn't mean the book is bad. It may just have a limited audience. I accepted that about my series TOONS. What's the only solution? Write more books.



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