Monday, July 18, 2011

MKTG MON: A retrospective on how the media has changed the marketing...but the song remains the same

Publishing, especially book publishing, has changed as a result of the advent of the internet. With the web-based news delivery systems displacing plain, smelly dirty-inked paper by providing clean, reusable, always-accessible words, accompanied by brilliant pictures and embedded videos, many major news reporting businesses have gone under. The ivy-covered towers of Old School book publishers are not immune, but I don't think dead tree books (DTBs) are going away quite as quickly as newspapers did. oOh, and newspapers aren't gone entirely; they simply no longer dominate the news delivery market.

So how has the fiction delivery market changed as a result of the internet making electronic media generally accessible? Well, even before the net, we had audio books, Ye Olde Books on Tape are still popular for commuters who frequently get stuck in traffic and are looking for a distraction that won't, um, actually distract you from driving (like talking on the cell phone or texting to your tweeps will do). With the advent of the internet, the music industry developed the MP3 format for sound files and the portable electronic music player market exploded. Enter the term "iPod" into the common vernacular and the term "podcast" onto the web. Oh and yes, "books on tape" is still an oft-heard term, despite it referring to a streaming audio MP3 file being delivered as a podcast as often as it refers to an actual book on an actual ...well, disc. I don't think anyone has any tape players anymore, do we? Books on CD, then.

Then in the mid-90s, the eBook market expanded. I know, I know, many of you think the eBook market didn't explode for another 10-15 years (as in now) but the reality is, there've been eBooks around since the mid-90s and many people have been buying them. They weren't even DRM'd at first. It never occurred to anyone to be so paranoid and money-grubbing. Or maybe the DTB publishers just figured this was another fad and they secretly hoped it would just go away?

Whatever the hopes of the nay-sayers might have been, by the turn of the 21st century (hee hee, I just love being alive and able to say that--and in the past tense!) eBooks were firmly planted and here to stay. In fact, I believe the eBook market began its most-recent expansion as far back as 2004 or 2005 when smartphones were first introduced outside the US. Yes, outside the US people actually did things with their phones besides talk on them all the way back in 2005! Hard to believe it took us Americans so long to catch up. We are so far behind so many curves (literacy, sadly, quickly becoming one of them).

In fact, by 2005, interactive books were beginning to be seen in the children's and early/YA markets, the 5-8 age group obviously being the most-popular target audience for interactive books, that being the age at which the young human mind is most likely to engage a flashy-blinky thing beyond a mere glance out of our cribs at the mobile swaying over our heads. One has to wonder why our minds go on vaca from about age 10 mos until 4 or 5 years. Possibly we are too busy learning to walk and talk to bother being engaged by blinky-flashies.

I'm of a mind to believe that interactive books are here to stay, and like the MP3 file format, the SWF (Flash) formatted book will find a permanent home in the children's and YA book markets, with the interactivity levels increasing. I could easily see a Harry Potter series of "movie-like books" where readers get to direct the plot's outcome to various possible resolutions being hugely popular with teenagers. Teenagers in particular are looking for some level of control over their domains and YA fiction that has an escapist element to it will always be popular. Any amount of control given to that YA audience just makes them more loyal.

So if eBooks are here to stay, and if they continue to grow more and more integrated with the medium by which they are delivered, with moving pictures for covers and plots that vary depending on the reader's whims, what are we authors supposed to market exactly? Where's the story fit into all this digital wonderment?

I believe it's still at the heart of the successful book--whether eBook or DTB, successful storytelling begins with the story, not the telling of it. In other words, despite the media changes the last few decades have seen, the bottom line has remained unchanged: have a great story with engaging characters and tell it well and voila, you'll sell books.

Well, not so fast. You still have to pitch it to let people know you've written it, to let them know what a great story it is and just how engaging its characters are. Then you'll sell books, right? If you master the art of pitching (sales-pitching or delivering an elevator pitch), then yes, you will. If you never pitch your wares, how's anyone to know you have them up for sale? Then again, if all you do is pitch, you're obnoxious and no one listens.

The hardest part about pitching a story, we authors find, is really capturing the essence of the characters in say, 40 words or less. Or worse, never mind words, try 140 characters or less. After all, tweeting about your book is a great marketing tool, right? The problem is pitching a a book in one sentence is something of an art form unto itself. Constantly trying to find that one sentence that sells the 120,000 word novel is a totally different skillset than writing the 120,000 words. Authors who write short stories or flash fiction might be suited to tweeting their sales pitches but novelists aren't usually at their best in the truncated and abbreviated world of twitter.

So what to do about it? Sorry to have to tell you but the answer is Learn. If you want to sell your books, hard as it is to speak in a manner you're unaccustomed to and unfamiliar with, it is critical you not only become familiar and comfortable with it, but you must master it. I can't, in good conscience, just say that and not offer at least one resource to help. Here's a nifty little article with 17 ways to write better, shorter, cheaper tweets.  That's 17, not 3 quick tips, not 5 basic rules, but 17 illustrated examples. You can do this. It just takes time.

And guess what? This is not new. This is not even unique to the internet and its associated platforms (twitter, facebook and the like). Nope. learning to do a 30-second pitch, or the longer 2-minute "elevator" pitch (the amount of time it takes to ride with an editor you've cornered in the elevator from the lobby to say, the 5th floor where their office is located and they can escape the crazy author who wants them to read their book) has been a critical skill since the the turn of the last century. Or whenever elevators were invented and first installed in publishers' high-rise buildings.

When authors weren't chasing editors down in their office buildings, stalking them in the lobby and trying to circumvent the slush pile submission process, authors found other ways to contact editors or agents: attend conferences (cons) and meet with them face to face (F2F). In fact, many industry cons actually have scheduled pitch sessions for editors and agents where you can sign up for a timed 2-minute bit of facetime, one on one, and do your pitch. Books have actually been sold that way. How? What's the magic secret?

Authors who are enthusiastic about their book, whose eyes light up when they mention the core of the plot, whose voice delivers emotional depth when they describe their main characters and whose 30-second (not 2-minute) pitch sums up their book in one sentence hook the editor/agent in that F2F meeting. It heralds the ability to hook readers, to sell this book, to make money off this investment. That's why DTB publishers buy a book: they can see its marketability.

As an indie author, if you are an indie author, you need to examine yourself with the same discerning measures. Are you excited about your book? Why? What one singular thing about your MC is the absolute defining characteristic that sets her or him apart from every other character in your book. What would you say--in one sentence--to sum up the goal, conflict and resolution of your plot? That was an "and" not an "or" by the way. Sum up the goal, the conflict and how they are resolved in one sentence. Sometimes, it's precise or accurate but it doesn't have to be.

The point of the pitch is not to tell the story. The point of the pitch is to sell the story.

Sell me your story. Sing me your song. You have 140 characters to do it. I'm @webbiegrrl and I'm listening. I'll even @reply and let you know how it sounded from my side!

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