Friday, May 04, 2012

Boom, Boom, Boomerang

In the 1880’s an enterprising Kansas town bought 5,000 copies of the Bible, printed a map of the city on the fly leaf, ran a description of the county around the margin of the book of Genesis, “inducements to capitalists” in green around the psalms, cards of real estate dealers in blue at the beginning of each book in the New Testament, and sent the volumes back east as book literature.

The ultimate tacky in booming books? Ya think? Or in this case, it was how early Kansans boomed towns rather than books. Kansas editors were famous for their incendiary rhetoric, and absolutely shameless in their attempts to win newcomers to their little burg, so the community had a chance of becoming the county seat. County seats were the only towns that survived on the prairie.

Yet sometimes I think writers today manage to top the Bible gambit. The truth is, marketing has become quite challenging for all writers and especially so for those of us who write mysteries. We would like readers to be aware of our books. However, some writers court my attention so aggressively that I vow I will never read their books. Their Blatant Self Promotion crosses the line into tacky.

I would love to hear from readers and writers about this topic. What inspires you to read a book? What determines if you read other books by an author? Even more important is why you read another book in the same series.

On the negative side, dear reader, what turns you off in the way of promotion and publicity before you’ve even read the book? What do like to hear about when you attend a panel? Do some writers disappoint you? Offend you? Have you ever vowed you would never read a work he or she has written?

Here’s what I like in writers I know personally; as a community, most writers are generous and happy to help newcomers. Most writers are respectful of one another’s effort and don’t gratuitously trash other genres. Most writers are quite tolerant of diverse opinions and enjoy human beings.

Please respond. Type M loves to hear from readers and we would love to hear from you. We want to know how we could improve our writing and our participation on panels.
We cherish our readers. We do not want our efforts to boom our books to boomerang.

7 comments:

aaron said...

Charlotte,

Yikes! That little stunt certainly takes proselytizing to the next level! For what its worth, however, I, as a very avid and very adventurous reader don't especially hate marketing by authors/publishers. I tend to merely follow my instincts and read the synopsis of the book and a couple of pages, and if the book interests me (or, for that matter, the author or even simply the subject matter) then I read it...or, rather place it precariously atop my TBR mountain.

Marketing is an integral aspect of the world today, but it doesn't make the quality of the work better or worse...marketing is completely outside of the work itself, imposed by external forces. A good book (or film or play or what have you) will somehow stand the test of time, if only in small, cultish circles. Terrible word of mouth won't save a terrible work no matter how massive the marketing campaign...to switch genres, ask Disney about their recent bomb John Carter on Mars. Bad is bad, even on the most basic level of entertainment. And, sadly, in publishing, chances are that the 10% of people who read buy 90% of the books are going to stick with what they know and love already despite marketing gimmicks. Happily, however, it doesn't cost 250 million dollars to write a book, or to market a book.

It seems that cross-marketing offers a somewhat better chance of selling copies but then you have to hope that the producers who take to the material and create an above-average film, series or play from that source material in hopes of selling to that audience. But that, too, is a crapshoot...I'm pretty certain that the hundreds of millions of people who stayed well away from John Carter are not going to be in the market for the novel (trilogy, really) that it was based on initially.

That's why I just follow my instincts and do a bit of research and reading, and, hopefully, I luck out and find some excellent material. The work markets itself...obviously made much more easy and efficient with the internet. I know that doesn't necessarily answer your question about how much marketing is acceptable and how much is too much, but I honestly try to trust my own judgement rather than marketing campaigns. Hopefully others can offer something a bit less prolix and a bit more concrete! Thanks for your post!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Aaron, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I especially agree with your observations about word of mouth. It's the classic way of spreading interest in a book.

To this day, the surest way to get me to try a new novel or a new author is for someone whose taste I respect say "you gotta, gotta read this. Right Now."

aaron said...

Charlotte,

The problem is getting some people to read your book in order to start the word-of-mouth wildfire. That is why I don't really have a problem with authors marketing and promoting their work...its absolutely integral to the writing process, now more than ever. The annoying part is when the media glom onto the 2 or 3 megabestsellers and simply promote those even more rather than shining a light on lesser-known and beginning writers. That's another reason that I don't place a lot of stock in bestseller lists, or even book clubs, for that matter: they all tend to simply repeat the same 4 or 5 titles and authors that everybody knows already, which is fine for those authors, but there are countless other authors who need support as well.

In a related note ( hopefully others will have interesting responses for this), I actually have argued, and firmly believe, that even the canon is a form of bestseller list, that, in a way, allows readers to limit themselves and the scope of their reading. So, if you read the 50 greatest novels of all time, you can call yourself a well-read person. But those sorts of lists also tend to focus on the same talismanic literary names which is so limiting. That is why I consciously choose to read as widely and voraciously as possible...and which is why blogs like this ( and the internet in.general) are so helpful in finding these lesser known authors and savoring something off the beaten path. The internet really is epic-scale word-of-mouth, and has certainly changed my access to books and authors, thanks to excellent blogs like this one.

Thanks again, Charlotte! And everybody posting here!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Oh bless you, Aaron. From your mouth to the publisher's ears! There's no question that with the big six publishers the biggest promotional efforts go to the ones who are already destined to make the best-seller list.

I don't resent this. It's just a factor in the game. Nevertheless, when I see huge piles of discounted books in B & N I wonder if some authors aren't over-promoted.

As to the 50 or so Best Books ever writer--read those and all the others too. I'll bet you have a formidible list with incredible diversity. Clearly you are a one in a million reader who thinks for himself.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Oh bless you, Aaron. From your mouth to the publisher's ears! There's no question that with the big six publishers the biggest promotional efforts go to the ones who are already destined to make the best-seller list.

I don't resent this. It's just a factor in the game. Nevertheless, when I see huge piles of discounted books in B & N I wonder if some authors aren't over-promoted.

As to the 50 or so Best Books ever writer--read those and all the others too. I'll bet you have a formidible list with incredible diversity. Clearly you are a one in a million reader who thinks for himself.

aaron said...

Charlotte,

OMG! Thank you so much for your kind words...I just try to follow my instincts and read the work that has the potential to speak to me as reader. I just find it so disheartening to find piles and shelves full of Fifty Shades of Gray on display in Chapters (I live in Calgary, Canada) and only a handful of copies-at best- of other writers. In their defense, they do also offer small displays of award-season nominees and books with buzz, but still more FSOG. Or Twilight. Or whatever the flavor of the month is recently. I actually went in while a lady was sitting at her tiny table with, maybe, 10 or 12 copies of her book, but nobody was interested in her book when there are piles of megabestsellers around ( full disclosure: she was selling a local cookbook, so its not exactly the same kind of book, but still disheartening.) But, I would also like to point out that there is an upside to these things:

First, people are still reading...certainly FSOG is not even close to my areas of interest, but people are still buying books.

Second, she was able to use the internet and social networking and made herself into a self-publishing phenomenon, which she parlayed into being simply a publishing phenomenon. If she can do it so successfully and come out of nowhere with just her Passion and her laptop, then this is available to anyone willing to spend the time and effort. Maybe it won't be quite such a huge payoff, and maybe there won't be movie deals, but it is possible to be a successful writer in the 21st century, and that is excellent news.

Thirdly, ideally, the publishers who make truckloads of money from the megabestsellers build up their bank, which in turn allows them the chance to publish other writers in hopes of discovering more talent and market other authors in their stable. Ideally.

And I do certainly make an attempt to read the canonical works, but I simply refuse to limit myself to those Great Classics alone. If you're going to read Wilkie Collins (keeping with a crime theme), then why not explore the other great sensation novelists like Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Rhoda Broughton, Charles Reade and Ellen Wood? If you want to read Agatha Christie, then why not read the other Golden Age greats like Patricia Wentworth, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers? To me- and I don't mean to insult anyone, I am Canadian after all!- the Canon is kind of a lazy approach to literary history. Somebody arbitrarily decides that one author is better or more important than another, therefore we should read one body of work rather than another...readers should search and read everything that they can get their hands on in order to build both their mental and physical libraries. Don't let other people decide what you should or shouldn't read, find out what works speak to you and explore more by that author, or in that genre, or more works from that country.

Per the over-promotion of some authors, it may be too that there is still some figuring out to do in deciding print runs with the advent of the e-book. Certainly many factors would come into play here so it is possible that publishers honestly are experimenting to find the most propitious ratio of paper copies. I'm not in the industry, so I can't be certain!

Charlotte, thanks again for your excellent post...I find it so fascinating to see these kinds of topics explored as they're not the kind of thing that you can bring up with people on the streetcorner. I look forward to reading more from you and all if bloggers here!!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Aaron, another topic I'll explore later is what drives me to different kinds of books at different times. I love the total escapism of suspense fiction.