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Writing Excuses Season Two Episode 20: Marketing 101 for Creators

Writing Excuses Season Two Episode 20: Marketing 101 for Creators


Key points: Promotion, advertising, public relations, or publicity are only part of marketing. Marketing includes pricing, promotion, positioning, and product. Start with positioning: who am I selling to and what makes me different. Know your market, and what differentiates you. Know your message -- the core of what you want to do -- and the delivery method for that message. Something that will grab people in 10 seconds.

[Brandon] 15 minutes long cause you're in a hurry
[Dan] And we are not that smart.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Rob] And I'm Rob.
[Howard] Rob is joining us... Rob Wells is joining us as a local author...
[Dan] my brother
[Howard] He's Dan's brother. We just made it sound nepotistic instead of special. Thank you for ...
[Dan] No.
[Howard] ruining the moment. We're going to come back to things like branding and targeting audience and stuff like that...
[Dan] Hey, it's okay.
[Brandon] No, branding. Branding.
[Dan] I mention that because I'm proud of him, not because...
[Brandon] I'm just listening to your voice. You sound like a DJ.
[Howard] That's my job this time. Hosting this episode.
[Dan] Do we need to start over?
[Howard] No, we don't. Rob, tell us a little about yourself, please.
[Rob] My name is Rob Wells like Howard said. I don't even know who I'm talking to.
[Brandon] It's not important.
[Dan] That's a good...
[Rob] I have three published novels. First one was actually a romantic comedy, and the second two are political thrillers. And I'm also MBA in marketing -- brand management -- emphasis in consumer behavior and branding.

[Howard] Fantastic. The topic today as I introduced is marketing for creators. I'm going to throw this first question at you because I get it all the time and it's hard to articulate. What's the difference between marketing and PR?
[Rob] I think the technical definition is that PR is trying to get a message out there. And basically all that it is... it's one fourth of what marketing is. Marketing is very generally defined as the 4P's, and those are Pricing, Promotion, Positioning, and Product. And promotion is really what public relations is. Promotion is the advertising. It's the getting information out there. And so marketing is much more the strategy. Marketing is everything else that goes into it before you can ever get to that public relations, telling people about your stuff.
[Howard] Okay. So when you're doing... when you're thinking in terms of PR, whether you're running a convention or putting up a website or something like that, you're probably thinking too small? There's more than just PR that you need to be considering?
[Brandon] What's publicity? Is publicity PR, or is that something completely different?
[Rob] I think technically PR might be the wrong word to use. Because PR is...
[Brandon] Authors aren't going to use PR, they're going to use publicity.
[Rob] Yeah, they're going to use publicity and advertising. PR technically is if you are sending stuff that is newsworthy rather than commercially trying to sell something.
[Brandon] I know that at Tor, I have a publicist who is a different individual from the marketing manager. And I go to them for different things. My publicist, for me, is the person who will set up my signings and will come up with posters and will do little sketches with me and things like this. Whereas the marketing manager is the person that is buying advertising and is putting stuff on the book and determining what to sell it for and this sort of thing.
[Howard] The marketing manager is doing things that are bigger -- that kind of encompass the things that the publicist is doing.
[Rob] Exactly. Marketing, very loosely, is much more of the strategy and setting your goals, and then PR, publicity, that is all just a tactic of marketing.

[Howard] Okay. Let's talk about the things at the strategic level -- the 101 level for creators so they know what these terms are. Dan, do you have a publicist and a marketing manager at Tor?
[Dan] Not at Tor yet, because there is still a long time before that book comes out. But in the UK, yes, they have already started working on marketing and publishing. And in Germany, as well. I have not really been very involved with that.
[Rob] Can I jump in and tell you you're wrong?
[Dan] Did I mention he was my brother?
[Rob] This will illustrate more of what marketing is. Like I said, it's those four things -- it's promotion, and that's kind of when we talk about publicists -- and when you say we're getting the marketing going... one of the biggest things of marketing is the product, and before you can even get to the product stage, which is the writing itself, before you can even get to that, they have positioning. Which is really where you start out, that's where you say, all right, this is what I'm going for.
[Dan] Who am I telling this to.
[Rob] Yeah, who am I selling to, what makes me different?
[Brandon] They're already going to have catalog copy. That's being done. That's one of the primary marketing things that will have started for your books already. They will have released catalogs that list your book in it with copy written by your editors there, which are marketing toward the booksellers, who are then going to be ordering copies of the book. So that's already begun for sure.
[Rob] What I'm saying is that before you ever see a publisher or before you ever see an agent, you have to do a lot of the marketing work on your own, and a lot of that is just trying to figure out who your target market is.
[Brandon] Okay, okay. So you're saying when you're writing the book, it's... determining your audience, you consider a marketing aspect.
[Rob] Absolutely. It's product development, essentially.
[Howard] I was a product marketing manager. I was actually a product manager, but in looking at my job, what I was doing at Novell was called inbound product marketing where I went out and looked at the market, collected requirements, and then told engineering this is what you need to write. Now for authors, that's awful. Looking at the market and then deciding you're going to write... vampire slash fiction... but some people do it.
[Brandon] Some people do it. I was talking to John Scalzi once, who is my arch nemesis and a wonderful man...
[Howard] He wrote the introduction for the next Schlock book. It's a good intro, too.
[Brandon] I beat him to that one. Finally, I beat him to something.
[Howard] You did.
[Brandon] I was asking him, "Why did you pick this genre?" And he said, "You know, I really wanted to do fiction. I really like science fiction and fantasy. I went to the bookstore and said, huh, that section looks like it's doing well. I'll write one of those." That's literally what he said to me, and he's a very open blogger, I'm sure he's said it before on his blog. He said, "I think this is doing well, I'm going to write like that." I tell people not to chase the markets, often, but at the same time, there's something to be said for... if you develop the skills to write, and you pick a genre that you enjoy that is selling well. It's not going and saying, "Okay, vampire books sell well." But saying, this genre does well and has historically done well, there will always be a market for this genre... he said military SF, there has often been a market, it sells well, it's consistent, I want to do this. You can do that.
[Howard] So closing that loop, that's inbound marketing. That's looking at the market and gathering information before you start creating your product.

[Rob] I don't want to interrupt or get off on a tangent, but there's a story that I just absolutely love that marketers study in a business context, even though it's about artists. I find it so interesting. A couple of years ago, there were two Russian artists that wanted to do... basically look at what the market wanted for art, but they went about it in this very over-the-top performance art way. They went and actually got a market research firm to poll all Americans... well a sample of all Americans, to find out which style...
[Howard] They didn't talk to me.
[Rob] Find out what style of art they liked, find out what colors they liked in the picture, find out what subject matter they wanted it to be about, find out all of these things, and then they created a painting that matched exactly what the public wanted. And so they found out that the public likes realism, they like landscapes, they like blue, they like pictures of children, and they like pictures of historical figures. And so... it's the funniest picture you ever saw. It's absolutely bland and worthless. It's a landscape -- there's a lake and a mountain -- and it's all in kind of blue colors because that's what people wanted. And there's some kids running around in the grass, and then there's George Washington sitting in the middle. And I think that's kind of the folly of...
[Brandon] This is good. Authors need to know this. I teach a class at the local university about writing and I hadn't realized until just recently -- I was going through giving critiques on some of the writing -- a lot of people don't know their market. And not knowing who you're writing for is a problem.
[Howard] So, yeah, they did their inbound marketing, but they didn't do any real study of their audience.
[Brandon] They were trying to do something ridiculous, I think. They were trying to prove that you can't write for the market exactly. But knowing your market is useful. You can go too far, but you can go too far the other way as well. I've had writers... I'm reading their books and I say, "Is this YA? Is this middle grade? Is this adult? Is it humor, is it not humor?" And they don't know. There's a little bit of everything in the book. You would think, oh, it's got a little bit of everything, that's great. Actually, no, it's terrible, it's a train wreck, it's a disaster.
[Howard] We talked about that when we discussed genre busting.
[Brandon] And sometimes you can make it work, but you do it intentionally. You can break any rule if you do it intentionally. Inevitably, these authors will say I don't know. And that's okay in the classes they're doing. They're trying different things. But if they don't settle down on what they're trying to do, they're going to have issues figuring out... they're going to have issues selling it, because they don't know what they're writing.

[Rob] I think this goes back to... one of the 4Ps is positioning. The two artists when they were make in the picture -- they knew exactly what was demanded by the market, but they didn't do anything to differentiate themselves. They didn't say this is why we're better than anything else. That's classic positioning, is where you say, "All right, I'm writing this, and it is similar to what the market wants in these ways but it is better than what's out there in these other ways."
[Howard] This is a challenge that marketeers run into all the time, which is when you've got a product which has been created -- whether or not there was market research that went into creating the product -- the product now needs to be positioned, and often you're looking at something where the product can't be changed. Now Brandon, your students, when they're writing something, you can have that conversation. You can say, "You're going to have a hard time positioning this, you need to tweak the product."
[Brandon] What they're doing is they're exploring different things. What I say to them is eventually you're going to have to settle on something. You're going to have to decide what's the age group. Age group is really important when you are writing books. Knowing what age group you're targeting, very important.

[Howard] Dan, let me throw this at you. In your recent book sales, did you have to do any editing of your product in order to better meet the positioning that your agent and your editor wanted?
[Dan] Not really.
[Brandon] You're in a weird position because it's being marketed two different ways.
[Howard] What about you, Brandon? What about Alcatraz?
[Brandon] Alcatraz. I did have to reposition. Alcatraz... I sent it to the editors and the editors came back and said, "You have the character at 15, he needs to be younger because the humor is targeted at a younger audience. It's middle grade."
[Howard] What was it they said, where middle grade readers want to have a hero who is their age or maybe a little younger?
[Brandon] A little older. A couple of years older. And they said, "You can't have... you can, but it's better to not have a 15-year-old. It's better to have a 13-year-old cause you're targeting 11-year-olds." And that's because I was using a type of humor which I think... humor... adults will find it funny too, anyone will find it funny, but the target is me at age 12. Quirky, intelligent humor, but silly. Silly humor works for middle grades. Silly humor doesn't work as well for YA. And understanding that is an important deal.
[Dan] Getting back to your question, Howard, the reason that I haven't really had to do any changes like that at the editing level is cause I did all of that before I submitted it. My first draft of my book, the character was much younger.
[Howard] So you're saying you've already figured this out?
[Dan] Because of my writing group. They all pointed out, you know, this is great, but the audience is a little messed up. Your protagonist is a little too young. And looking at it, they were absolutely right. So I made him three or four years
[Brandon] You wanted to have like an eight-year-old, didn't you?
[Dan] No, he was initially 10. Which made it very creepy, but...
[Brandon] It was really creepy.
[Dan] It made the audience almost unbearably narrow.

[Howard] A fascinating thing has happened in the course of this discussion. Everybody is expecting us to talk about suit and tie sort of marketing things, and we've come back to essentially refining our writing based on one marketing principle which is positioning.
[Brandon] Yeah, thinking of your audience, and how we would call it...
[Howard] Thinking of your audience. Tell me about message. You've used that word a couple of times and it's laden with meaning. What's message?
[Rob] Sure. And I'm sure we'll talk about this more in a couple of weeks when we get to branding...
[Brandon] Who, me? Sorry.
[Rob] But... message is... essentially... well, it's essentially your brand. It is... well, you can have a message for your book... which is, basically, if you can boil something down -- they've actually done psychological studies -- if you can boil something down to 25 words that encapsulated in all those 25 words everything that you want to accomplish with what you are doing...
[Brandon] I've got an example of this...
[Howard] Is it everything that you want to accomplish, but not a synopsis?
[Rob] Not a synopsis at all.
[Brandon] I've got a great example of this. I was on my mission, while serving for the LDS Church in Korea, backstory really isn't important, we were walking past a wall plastered with bills, just different kinds of advertisements. And my companion was a marketing dude, and he said, "Look at this. This is really interesting." It was the different beers. And he said, "You can tell from the beers what they're trying to say -- what audience they are going for." There was the rugged cowboys-drink-this beer, there was the this-is-elegant-and-women-can-have-it-too bear, there was the this-is-the-working-man's beer... just from the pictures, the way they were doing it, the message of that beer was either you're refined or you're... this is for working men, this is real beer. This sort of thing. And that's what it is, isn't it? Is that what you're talking about?
[Rob] Oh, absolutely.
[Howard] I found that... at World Con, I tried out a lot of pitches for Schlock Mercenary on passersby, and the message that worked well -- the text that worked well -- was, "this is epic space opera being told four panels at a time." And the trick with your message... you come up with your message, but then you have to come up with a delivery method for the message -- in the case of the beers, it's photographs -- that sells that. Just saying your message -- your 25 word distillation -- is not the same as successfully marketing it.

[Brandon] Right. You have to say... you're not just writing fantasy. What type of fantasy writer are you? Are you the fantasy writer who's writing the gruff, warriors fighting on the walls type of fantasy? Are you writing the sweeping character drama epic fantasy? Are you writing the small adventures in a mystery style fantasy? What is the tone, what message do you want your readers to get? This is kind of in looking at what your cover would be before you even publish.
[Howard] Before you even have a cover. And the cover is one of those things where the marketing manager is going to work with the artist and say, "Hey, here's the message, here's what we've come up with." And hopefully the artist is on message.
[Brandon] That's where the Mistborn covers came from. When I talked to the art director at Tor, she said, "Well, what I know of the books was this is nonstandard epic fantasy with a dark edge." That's what she wanted to get across on the covers. And so that's why the covers are what they were. That's where she was going. If it conveyed that, she considered it to be successful. An author, we say I want the covers to be pretty. But that's not what the art director [garbled -- thinking?]
[Howard] But the marketing manager understands.
[Rob] And so often, the authors want... well, obviously, an author would want the cover to be accurate to what's in the book but that's not even really what the art director's going for.
[Brandon] They don't care. They want to get the right message.
[Rob] When people are walking through bookstores, I think the average is that someone -- when they look at the book and they actually look at it rather than just walking past it -- they'll give it between, I think it's 11 and 15 seconds worth of time and so that cover has to sell them on the message and who cares if they get the details wrong. If it gets someone to pick it up, flip through it -- that's the point.
[Brandon] The cover is... is this the type of... this is the type of book you like, is what the cover is saying. Then they read the copy and see if they're intrigued enough to actually buy the book.
[Dan] That's why your message has to be so defined, at least in your head, because then when you have that 10 second opportunity to grab someone in a bookstore, you're ready for it.
[Brandon] Right. And you're going to be using that to grab your editors before you get published.

[Howard] Okay. This has been Writing Excuses episode 20. And the writing prompt: come up with 25 words that distill everything that you want to say about your next work.
[Brandon] Thanks for listening.
[No idea] Dun, dun, dun
[another voice] Lalala.
Tags: marketing, message, positioning, writing excuses
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