Is this your first time? I've been relating each of the 22 Immutable Laws discussed in the Ries/Trout book to the business of being an Indie Author. Catch up on my previous discussions by clicking here. Be sure to look for the complete series, edited and in eBook format, coming soon (est. February, 2012). You can also subscribe to the Webbieggrl Blog and have the next entry in this series delivered straight to your Kindle.
Today, I'm discussing Immutable Law 20: Hype. When you click through the jump-break, you'll find out how and why it's important to remember things are not always what they seem--nor should they be if you want to sell books!
Law 20: Hype
This Immutable Law can herald a warning--if you listen to your own hype. When you're doing well with sales holding steady or climbing, you probably don't think you need to put out a lot of hype (blastastic promos). When you think you do need to use some hype, you're probably in trouble--and something in you thinks the hype will fix the problem.
Even worse than buying into your own hype is the fact that the media coverage and success might be misleading you. If you get a bazillion RTs on Twitter but no one clicks through to buy your book, what's successful exactly? Is your product succesful or is the hype surrounding it successful? Sadly, the latter, and promo is pointless if it doesn't convert into a sale, right?
Hype is a powerful tool--using press magnets like celebrities of the moment or huge giveaways or "never before" offers can glean interest. Unfortunately, the interest is often fleeting and it only translates into money when you're a banker, not a publisher. Conversion, not interest, should be your goal. History is filled with examples of hype for products where the hype was successful but the products, themselves, ultimately failed--and failed miserably. To paraphrase from the Ries/Trout book:
Polyester was going to make wool obsolete. The personal helicopter would make roads and highways obsolete. These predictions promise too much--more than can ever be delivered. Why? Because the hype violates Law 17 (Unpredictability). The only revolution you can predict is one that has already started--or one you start yourself (Laws 1 and 2: Leadership and Category).
Suggesting that your book is the Next Big Thing sure does sound tempting (and it sure seems like it made a million for Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling) but bear in mind, they did not hype up their own work. They didn't even hype up their own careers. Not even Amanda Hocking ever claimed she was going to replace the #1 best seller, even though she actually did (repeatedly). The media hype around these overnight successes fed on existing success--and it didn't happen overnight. It just seemed that way because you didn't hear about it for the first nine (yes, 9) years Amanda Hocking was "hocking" her books. The hype arrived at the end of the journey and made it seem like Hocking had some magic formula for success.
Case Study: Prehistoric iPhone with Facetime
Personal Video Phone service could be yours in the 1980s (when telephones still had cords tethering them and carphones were less removable than radios) all for the low, low price of only $100/month (and that's in 1980s dollars so multiply by about four). And if you called right away, businesses were being offered real-time video (with intensely choppy connections) for the bargain-basement price of just $2,300/hour. Per hour. Yes, that also is in 1980s dollars. OMG.
Gee, I can't imagine why these never caught on! Ironically, they did catch on for DoD/government site-to-site jobs. I used early video-conferencing in a DoD job in the early 1990s (before the internet had streaming services). Thanks US taxpayers for letting me be a part of the future that never happened. Sorry I wasted your hard-earned money to play 3-second lagtime video chatting on a system that was totally non-secure, but I wasn't in charge of requisitioning office equipment.
Back to the real question. Video phones were a futuristic concept that just never died and yet never caught on in sales. Why not? Easy. The hype wasn't about the product; the hype was about a coming revolution in an industry that still hadn't changed. It took over 50 years for the industry to catch up to the hype. We didn't have computers in our hands in the 1960s, we just wanted to think about it because back then, computers filled an entire room.
It wasn't until Apple introduced the iPhone--and even then, Facetime wasn't added until iPhone 4--that AT&T's 1960s dream finally came true. I find it interesting that AT&T never let this one go. In a way, AT&T bought into their own hype. Eventually, it could be said to have paid off but they had to get Apple involved to do it. Getting the exclusive on the iPhone's introduction, however, was a boon Old Ma Bell really needed to fend off Verizon and other cell phone providers in the US. Generally, however, you're better off not buying into your own hype. Just go with promoting the actual product based on its own merits.
Yeah, you knew if I went to all that trouble to put down an idea there had to be a catch.
There's a place for hype and your so-called "product description" is it. Although you should never outright lie (using bait-and-switch tactics can ruin your good name permanently), you should always bear in mind that the idea of your promotional effort is to sell a book. You're talking to prospective customers in your product description. Apply the Immutable Laws. Be first to capture their attention (their mind) in some unique and special way. Own that one word that will close the sale. Remember, it's a sales pitch, not an awards-acceptance speech.
Far too many authors make their descriptions too involved--plot summaries with intricate side descriptions about the main characters' extra-special attributes. Authors forget to infuse sales hype--or worse, deliberately shy away from it. Your product description (or blurb as we authors often call it) is your #2 top sales tool after your cover art. It should sell.
As a sales tool, the product description should have hype. It's a hook, a build-up and it should close by asking for the sale. Your blurb's not actually describing your book--it's selling it. Can't repeat that enough. If you're going to hype anywhere, do it here.
Use impactful language. Ask questions. Lead the reader into the world of your story--but don't try to indoctrinate them into your fanbase in 50 words or less. Your book can capture them as a fan, assuming it's delivering a "Satisfying Reader Experience." If your book's as good as it can be, your sales tools for it should be, as well.
Use quotes of dialog and descriptions of action that can sell the book. If you have to edit a quote of dialog to make it more "sales-pitchy," do it. Don't worry about accuracy in the blurb. You're selling, not reporting under Oath. Again, don't lie, don't bait-and-switch, but do snippet something exciting from your text. After all, you are pitching a sale with this blurb.
Find ways to hype your own work in 10 words or less. That's what you'll tweet to promo your book--10 words or less. You need room for #hashtags :) Use the hype you get in the media but don't believe the hype, yourself. When you start doing that, you've forgotten Laws 18 and 19.
Next week's entry in the series is the second to last one. Immutable Law 21 (Acceleration) revisits that tortoise versus hare fable covered last week. If you want to get a head start, read up on the1000 True Fans idea for background.
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will discuss some of my ongoing GoogleHate. It's the Netscape vs. MSIE battle all over again--this time it's called Google vs. EE. Find out how Google's going after your private data and making it sound like a Plus (not!)
If you've missed an entry of this series. I'll be editing the entire series and publishing it as an eBook just as soon as I get my scifi thriller out later this month, so probably sometime in February, 2012.
Thanks for joining the blizzard. Follow @webbiegrrl on Twitter for more tips tweeted throughout the week.