Sunday, September 12, 2010

Making Bookselling a Game

Today's post will show signs of brain-fry, that non-life-threatening condition brought on by too many hours spent failing to make a computer program do what you want it to.

However, my case of brain-fry is actually related to what I want to talk about today.

A week or so ago, someone (I've forgotten who; blame the brain-fry, and please remind me if you know) had a discussion on their blog about how to self-pimp (i.e. market yourself/your book) without making people roll their eyes.

The point this writer made was that social networking is about community, and if you do nothing except stump for your product, you are creating noise-pollution for the (few) people who are still listening to you and thus you're wasting everyone's time. Call it the classic "teaching a pig to sing" exercise: It doesn't work and it annoys the pig.

And that's a good point, but what I wanted to discuss was the thought I had while was reading that post. It ran along the lines of, "Well, ads don't give people anything they want. That's why the audience rolls their eyes."

This thought sent my brain rollicking off on a tangent. How can an advertisement give the audience something they actually value?

First, I'll back up and note that some ads do give the audience what they want, but these must be exquisitely well-targeted ads. For example, if I'm definitely in the market for a flying car, and you give me a pamphlet telling me all the specifications for your flying car (now on sale), then you're doing me a favour. The ad gives me something I really do want and potentially need, and the chances of me buying your flying car have now jumped. It's a win-win situation for seller and customer.

Some advertisements give you something you want that is unrelated to their product. The Isaiah Mustafa ("I'm on a horse") Old Spice ads are a perfect example of this. They give you a few seconds of genuine entertainment in addition to the advertising message. A lot of ads strive to do this.

Many advertisements try to convince us on the spot that their product is something we want or need, and thereby try to turn themselves into a well-targeted ad. The problem is, when these ads fail, they become a "teaching a pig to sing" exercise. E.g. If I don't own a television, then you can't sell me cable, and trying to do so just irritates me.

Now back to the discussion.

Imagine you're an author with a new book. To try to drum up enthusiasm for the book, you use Twitter to tweet about the upcoming release date or link to some good reviews.

This is arguably porcine voice lessons. Here's why: Those tweets can fall into just a few categories for the audience:

1) I didn't know that! I want to buy your book, so this is useful information to me!
2) I already knew this, but you're my friend and you hope I'll do you the favour of passing this information on. I will!
3) I already knew this, but you're hoping I'll pass it on. However, I already have, and I don't plan to continue doing so indefinitely.
4) I already knew this, and I planned to buy your book anyway, so I don't need to hear the message again.
5) I don't plan to buy your book so I didn't need to hear this.

Reactions (1) and (2) are the only outcomes you want, but with enough repetition, reactions (3), (4) and (5) are going to be the only ones you're getting.

How do you change this? How do you self-market without annoying people? What can authors do that provides the audience with something they want in addition to the message of the ad (which is, of course, "HI! MY BOOK EXISTS AND IT IS A GOOD BOOK.")

A book trailer has to provide something beyond just an ad for a book. It needs to be funny, interesting, touching or beautiful. Ideally, it should provide a little of what the book provides more of and ensure the audience knows where to get that "more of" should they desire to.

A bookmark/pen/author-bobblehead provides the audience with an item of value along with its advertising message. I don't personally consider these to be good ways to advertise books, because the item itself doesn't tie its worth to the book. You can't tell if a novel is good based on its title, and a pen doesn't have room on it for much more than that. A bookmark might, but it's probably still not enough.

A pamphlet with an excerpt of the book would provide a better way to convince people of the book's worth, but it's only going to be read if you provide it to people already in a situation where they might idly be looking for something to read--perhaps on the bus or in a cafe. Then you're providing them something they want.

Now the reason for my brain-fry.

I remember an author recently had a personality test you could take online to find out what sort of wizard from his series you would be (and I can't remember the book or the author's name--more brain-fry. Sorry.) (UPDATE: It was Brent Weeks! Thanks to Josh for having a better memory than me.)

Over and above whether you were interested in the book, the test was pretty fun. I thought it a sincerely clever idea, in the way that the "I'm on a horse" ad was clever. The audience got some enjoyment out of the advertisement itself.

So I've been exploring the possibility of creating a Flash game as an advertisement for a book.

The problem is, I staunchly believe book marketing by the author should be done on a shoe-string. There's darned little money in publishing; DON'T SPEND ANY if you can avoid it.

And a lot of freeware programs for creating flash animations kinda suck. I may break down and get a 30-day free trial of the real deal, but that means I can't "try" it again later.

When, y'know, I might have a real book out.


Got any ideas for how to make an advertisement for a book into something the audience wants regardless? I'd love to hear your thoughts! (Also, any cures for brain-fry you might have, especially if they involve applications of chocolate.)

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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