Learning About Marketing From Politics

Last night a friend of mine from Colorado phoned. I was screening my calls, but picked up when I realized who was on the other end. She laughed and asked me if I was trying to avoid the blitz of political messages that invade our homes.

For the next few minutes we commiserated about the flood of political ads delivered through the airwaves, over the phone, and in the mailbox. So many are negative. Here’s what’s bad about the other guy—bad policy, bad performance, bad presentation.

In fact, my friend and I both said we could hardly wait for the election just to stop the flood of commercials.

Even while we were talking, though, I realized that these candidates for office are simply marketing themselves to the public. In fact, I told my friend about a recent Dilbert cartoon about marketing. Except, typically, I got the punchline wrong, so here’s the real thing:

I think I said “liquor and luck” instead of “guessing.” Guessing is the better term, though. Most professionals in the book business, when they discuss marketing, admit there is no way to know what will work to capture the public’s attention. How many ads, which print reviews, interviews with whom?

Yes, publicists make “educated guesses” and set up as many media contacts as possible, but the author is expected to pitch in, too. Book signings, online reviews, guest blogs, Facebook and Twitter presence, newsletters, email loops …

But here’s the question. Does there come a point when those with whom the author is communicating say, Enough already!

I’ll be honest. I’ve reacted that way from time to time.

As I think about my irritation with the political ads and my reaction to writers marketing their work, a few commonalities surface.

1. Ads that seem invasive are a turn off. How can an author seem “invasive”? For one, I’ve started receiving unsolicited e-newsletters from authors I “know” through email loops. That feels invasive.

Also, when Facebook or Twitter messages are always and only about the new book, that feels spam-ish.

2. Ads are clearly one-sided. Well, they should be, shouldn’t they? We expect that from a commercial.

But what about blog posts or e-newsletters (ones I have subscribed to)? If those only carry content about the author and/or the author’s work, I feel they are nothing more than a sales pitch rather than beneficial communication that offers me, the reader, some take-away (other than an opportunity to be sold to).

3. Ads may be untruthful—and often that fact is apparent without any need to do any checking.

Case in point—here in California Senator Barbara Boxer has an ad running on TV that vilifies her opponent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, because she laid people off in California while shipping their jobs overseas. In this particular commercial, three or four supposed former employees tell their sad tale of being laid off. And right after one decries the jobs going to places like China, another laments that they even had to train their replacements. What? I thought, HP sent them to China to train Chinese workers?

And of course there’s a little editorializing. The commercial narrator says that Carly Fiorina “proudly stamps” her products “Made in China.” As if somehow this omniscient narrator knows what’s in Ms. Fiorina’s heart and can see just how proud she is.

I could go on and on about the nuanced misrepresentations. But here’s the point—authors can do that too. Only instead of giving a slanted view of a competitor, the view is slanted to give the impression that all readers only love the new release.

I don’t quite know how to handle this one because fans do write in gushing terms at times. But perhaps when reactions are solicited, they don’t hold as much credibility.

I’m not talking about authors asking reviewers to post their reviews at places like Amazon. I’m talking about things like saying, I’ll publish your comments (on a blog, newsletter, or in the next book) if you say nice things. Well, somehow, those nice things don’t seem so genuine any more.

And how about this. When a friend bravely and kindly tells a writer maybe they don’t need to market so hard, the author should listen instead of blogging about why they disagree.

Sometimes more is actually less. Much less!

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. Jumping up and down here and yelling, “Oh, me! Me! ME! Call on me!” (:D couldn’t resist a little kid humor here)

    Frankly, I can hardly stand Facebook at the moment because I’m getting reams of messages; almost all of them marketing something (usually books) or invitations to an online marketing event (always RSVP. I do not have time for these, sadly.). It’s to the point where if anyone DID happen to write to me personally, I might never see it. I do try to screen for the personal emails, but it’s getting harder and harder.

    It’s gotten over-whelming to where I am seriously considering deleting a bunch of sites that I’ve fanned, etc. I got on Facebook to maintain friendships and expand my acquaintance, reconnect with old friends and make new friends, and grow my business, too–if I could. But most of that is not what’s happening now.

    If it wasn’t for the number of looks that my Facebook page generates on my Zazzle store and book blog, I think I would delete my Facebook account.


  2. I learned that you can put facebook friends on ignore. Really. It has been most helpful. I realized that there were several people I never read. When I was skimming down the page there were some that after reading several times I had subconsciously figured out that they always posted the same kinds of things and they were things that I wasn’t interested in. So I skipped over them. Then I figured out that I could tell facebook to stop sending me their updates. It was wonderfully freeing.

    As for newsletters…I delete most unopened. I have some favorite bloggers and facebook friends I read religiously. I have others I skim. And I have a growing list I ignore.

    But I think your point is well made. If I’m ever published I want to be the one that is read religiously, not the one that is ignored. I think being friendly goes a long way. If you interact with other people’s posts instead of only speaking to people when you want to sell them something, that helps a lot. And then give something of value to your readers. Write about interesting stuff on your blog and in your updates. I think a good rule might be to write ten things that are not about your book for every one thing you write about your book.

    Even in newsletters. Does it have to be all about you, you, you? Why not write about someone else, someone else, someone else, once in a while? You know who does that well? Brandilyn Collins consistently advertises other authors in her newsletters.

    Of course you have to be careful that you aren’t a shill for your writer pals. Just selling, selling, selling is not good even if you are selling your friends as well as yourself.

    I think guys like Jonathan Rogers and Athol Dickson and Andrew Peterson are doing well with their blogs. They want to sell books, sure, but they are giving something to the community, too, not just posting advertisements.


  3. Yeah, hate those political ads too 🙂

    I think you’re right. An author’s blog should be about more than just writing. Most readers do not understand the writing world, they simply want a well written book. Instead, authors should find something that can connect them to the readers they want (for example, I was walking by the magazine rack and saw an article for a knitting magazine advertising Debbie Macomber as a fellow knitter. I doubt many of those knitting ladies care about POV, but they do understand knitting 🙂


  4. Krysti, Sally, Morgan, thanks for your responses. I do think there are authors doing the marketing thing the right way. I want to learn from them, not just for “some day,” but for now. I want to use social media as a way to connect with people, not just sell to them (CSFF blog tour, fantasy, my editing, this blog, whatever it is that I care about). Thinking about marketing has meant I needed to take a hard look at my own motives.



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