Tag Archive for marketing

Genre Schmenre

People often ask: “What genre do you write in?”

Anymore I will respond: “Whichever the publisher puts me in.”

TPWK Limited Edition Cover

Horror or crime? Flip a coin.

Discussions of the pros and cons of genre labels have been going on for some time. Not long after I first started writing for horror markets, the big debate was whether horror writers were better served by being stocked on specific horror shelves at Borders or by being mixed into the general fiction or literary section at Barnes & Noble. Some writers preferred the former because it was an easy way for their audience to find them, while others jumped at the opportunity for the latter as an escape from the “horror ghetto” and into—to paraphrase the attitude—legitimate territory.

I understand the arguments on both sides. There is no question there are fans who seek out the hardcore horror and would go straight to the horror section to browse the shelves. However, there are books that cross genre boundaries and could just as easily be labeled horror as literature or general fiction (The Road is a popular example). I imagine similar arguments are made in crime fiction circles, and there’s still that segregation when you get to science fiction & fantasy and romance, even if they are much larger sections.

Does it matter anymore? With the Internet, word of mouth in specialty shops, and countless online retailers’ recommendation algorithms, readers have all the information they need to find both their favorite authors and new authors they might like. Discovering Cemetery Dance and its reviews and ads back in the day opened my eyes to the small press and the plethora of killer horror writers and publishers it contained. Today? Readers have forums, news sites, blogs, and podcasts that do the same thing.

I think genre is more a convenience for publishers. Labeling a book helps them sell it not to readers, but to retailers. They know which reviewers like horror, so they say “here’s a horror novel.” They know shops like Borderlands Books and Dark Delicacies cater to a horror audience, so they say “here’s a horror novel.”

In fact, some publishers embrace their genre status. Consider Deadite Press, for example. Take one look at their covers and there’s no mistaking their audience.

Trolley 1852

Wait, don't tell me... it's a bodice ripper, right?

Writers know their audiences, and audiences know their writers. Let the publishers and marketers and retailers figure out the rest, especially now that so much of the work is available electronically and there is no ghetto anymore.

Yeah, sure, readers can still browse Amazon by genre, but again, who sets the label? The publisher. And the recommendation engine knows what the reader is really reading and buying, so before long it still becomes irrelevant.

Writers, just write. If you have a successful string of horror novels under your belt and you get an idea for an epic, sci-fi space opera, then write it. If you’ve made a career on romance and you get an itch for police procedurals, then why not go for it? Hell, fuse genres, if you want to. If it’s good, your readers will follow you.

Which brings me to the exception: rookies.

For rookie writers, genre is a convenience of marketing. By shouting out “Look, I wrote a horror novel!” it helps readers get an idea of what they’re dealing with. It’s an icebreaker before getting into the heavy petting that parts the reader from their money.

Just understand it’s more about marketing than it is about defining or confining the work. The horror genre label tells Rue Morgue they may want to review it. It tells Mark Justice you may be worth interviewing for Pod of Horror. It tells Borderlands and Dark Delicacies their readers may be looking for something just like it.

Or, if you haven’t gotten that far yet, it tells prospective publishers whether they should even take the time to read your manuscript. It helps you sort out small presses and the things they like to read. Deadite, for example, is not going to read your bodice ripper.

Well, not unless there are tentacles ripping said bodice, anyway.

In short, genre is a tool. Use it like one. Genre only becomes a ghetto for you and your work if you allow it to be one.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

How Comfortable They Are Lying to You

We all know advertisers lie to us. It doesn’t take a genius to look at the Big Mac you were just handed, compare it to the one pictured on the menu, and realize something’s just not right. We also know women on magazine covers are endlessly Photoshopped to match them to some impossible vision of beauty.

But sometimes it’s the subtle things that stand out. Take, for example, this Harley-Davidson brochure I received in the mail the other day, advertising their new Blackline bike:

What’s wrong with this picture?

My first thought was They’re making a bike with pipes on the left? That can’t be right…

Then I noticed he’s riding on the wrong side of the road (I’m assuming he’s riding here in the States). Could they have mirrored the image? I looked closer at the tank, and sure enough, the text is mirrored. Some designer in marketing must have taken the original picture and flipped it to match the layout of his ad.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, for starters, you’re looking at the bike backwards. If you go to a dealership, do you look at the bikes’ reflections in the windows, or do you go look at the bikes?

But what really bothers me is they had to do it at all. Was there not a photo that matched the layout? If this is the best photo, should the designer not have just changed his layout? It’s like he said “Ah, nobody will notice” and clicked the button. Obviously he’s not a rider himself.

I also wonder who, if anyone, on the H-D side approved it. Surely the people in charge of marketing at H-D are familiar enough with their product they should have noticed something like this, even if they’re not riders. Or do they just let the ad designers fire things off without proofing?

Yeah, it’s a small thing, but that’s why it bothers me so much. I understand they’re going to tweak lighting, clean up blemishes, maybe even add gleam to chrome and make their bikes look great. Usually it’s not in your face. This is just a blatant, lazy edit that shouldn’t have gotten beyond the proofing stage.

And would it have killed them to put a much-needed comma in the headline? They have a period at the end, so can’t be a conscious decision to drop punctuation marks.

This is the kind of thing you expect in a poster advertising the three-man custom shop down the street, not a world-famous manufacturer.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Writing… or Marketing?

I’m seeing a lot of advice lately to ditch the traditional marketing scheme and self-publish through places like Amazon CreateSpace. Writers avoid all the middle men like publishers, printers, distributors, and retailers, and they get to take a bigger cut of the royalties.

This is all well and good, but there’s one question writers always seem to miss: do I want to spend most of my time writing or marketing?

Take this Los Angeles Times article for example. It talks about the number of authors who are taking their work to digital self-publishing, guys like J.A. Konrath, Neal Stephenson, and David Morrell. Konrath is a huge proponent of self-publishing through the Kindle, and he talks about it frequently on his blog. The Times article and many like it suggest this is the next big wave of publishing (newsflash: print on demand was the next big wave ten years ago, and nothing changed), and writers can make a living on digital self-publishing.

Yes, they can, but I call it the Konrath Anomaly, primarily because he is such a vocal proponent. Joe can make the shift to digital self-publishing because he already has a following built on several years in traditional publishing. You don’t have a series of novels published in hardcover without having a fanbase. Stephenson and Greg Bear can team up to try a new, digital subscription model because they, too, have substantial fanbases. There’s a good chance it will be successful for them because they certainly have fans who will pay them to read the new story they’re building, and I’ll bet they have more than a few hardcore fans who will pay the $1000 to become patrons. Writers like Morrell (the creator of Rambo, folks!) can take their backlist and put it back into print with the click of a button, letting them reconnect with fans and generate income again on dormant work.

Is that to say the rest of us shouldn’t self-publish? Absolutely not. Understand, though, that it’s just one of many tools available to you. Yes, traditional publishers are going to take big chunk of that cover price because they have to cover all of the work they’re going to put into it, from the initial editing through marketing and distribution. (Notice we haven’t even discussed agents yet. They like to be paid, too.)

Let’s put aside editing and manuscript quality for a moment and talk about marketing, and let’s take a real-world example. Let’s pretend Bentley Little was about to get his start today. For those unfamiliar, Bentley Little is somewhat of a hermit. He doesn’t do blogging and social networking, he doesn’t do convention appearances, word is he’s not a fan of email, and there’s even a story out there about how he submitted a short story to an anthology in print via snail mail (complete with a self-addressed, stamped envelope in case of rejection). He’s successful on the strength of his writing and the marketing efforts of his publisher.

So here’s young Bentley ready to submit his first novel. We’re confident it’s good because he’s Bentley Little. He learns digital self-publishing will make him scads of money, so he uploads his manuscript to CreateSpace, sets a price, and sits back and waits for the cash to roll in. Now, keeping in mind he’s a hermit, this is all he does. He presses send and he starts typing his next novel.

Answer me honestly: is anyone going to buy that novel? Whatever you may think of Little’s work, no matter what kind of following he has now, I contend that if he just hit upload and ignored the rest the very first time he unleashed a novel on the world, he wouldn’t be a full-time writer today. How does anyone find it amongst all the other self-published books out there? Amongst all the other books out there, period? Maybe — maybe — if someone got a hold of that novel and started talking it up, he’d see some word of mouth traction. Would it amount to enough to make a living on? Now we’re talking some fairly significant word of mouth. Remember, reviews don’t make a bestseller. Success stories like Christopher Paolini’s are one in a million, at best.

Again, I’m not saying self-publishing is wrong. I bet Brian Keene has enough of a following it might be worth a shot, especially with some of his backlist. But he busted his ass the traditional way, too: he went to conventions, and he marketed the hell out of himself. He built the brand that is Brian Keene, and that brand now has value.

As for myself, I don’t think I could pull it off… yet. Sure, I might make a buck if I were to have posted The Pack: Winter Kill on CreateSpace, but I sure as hell wouldn’t make a living. I wouldn’t have the editing input I received from Mr Ommus at Evileye Books. I would have had to pay the cover artist. I would have talked up the book on my blog and other social platforms and online outlets, but I wouldn’t have had the banner campaign Evileye set up, or the PR people pushing releases and review copies out to places like The San Francisco Books Examiner. And so on.

Sure, some of those costs will come out of my royalties, but you know what? I’m okay with that. Their marketing people are a lot more savvy than I am, and that’s more time I can spend writing. I’d rather be waiting on royalty checks than paying off debt generated from paying for marketing. I also haven’t been able to make much time for writing or marketing the last few months, and I’d much rather put that scarce time into writing than begging people to buy my book.

Digital self-publishing is a tool, one of many available to you as a writer. Just take a good, long look at all of your options and at your following. Don’t expect it to be easy money, and don’t quit your day job.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Reviews Do Not Make a Bestseller

I had a conversation with a writer who was mystified that her book was not selling despite good reader reviews. I agreed that it was frustrating, but reviews do not automatically equate to sales.

“That doesn’t make sense,” she said. “If people like the book, that should mean they’re buying it.”

No, reviews — at least, on sites like Amazon — mean they already bought the book. Reviews, while nice to have, are not marketing. They’re not even word of mouth. They may help someone make a decision to buy the book, but they are not what draws readers to the book. Unless they’re already on the page, they will probably never see the review.

Take some of the reviews for the The Pack: Winter Kill trade paperback for example. This makes for a good blurb:

Mike Oliveri’s THE PACK: WINTER KILL hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. There’s enough tough guy attitude and swagger in these to satisfy even the most hard boiled of thriller readers, and horror readers looking for something new will be well pleased, too. And don’t let any preconceived notions of what a werewolf story might be derail you, Oliveri has upped the ante and this is a whole new game. WINTER KILL keeps you on your toes and turning pages, and that’s a hell of a good thing.

If you’ll allow me to brag a bit, that’s pretty damn cool, and it’s one of 17 five-star reviews. Does it mean I should be selling the hell out of my book? Not necessarily. If I didn’t just post it here, most of you would never have seen it. Even if we grabbed some of it for advertising copy, you’d only see a sentence or two, and even then might only pay attention if it had a recognizable writer’s name or publication attached to it.

It’s more of the same for the Kindle edition:

THE PACK: WINTER KILL grabbed me from the beginning and I literally could not put this one down. Oliveri’s writing is tight and fast-paced, hurling the reader along to the climatic ending. He masterfully blends crime and suspense with the supernatural. This is the first book in an on-going series, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next one.

One of four five-star reviews, yet we’re not burning up the Kindle bestseller list. Why? Because people aren’t looking for reviews, they’re looking for books and then maybe reading the reviews. It would be nice to get Publishers Weekly to review the book, but even then only a small percentage of all the readers out there are even going to read that.

Don’t get me wrong, reviews are wonderful and flattering and cool. I appreciate every single one of them.

But reviews do not make a bestseller. Think of how many people crap on Twilight, and then think about how many zeroes are on the checks Stephenie Meyer cashes.

Writers and publishers need to to build buzz first, get readers to the page. That’s where reviews take over.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Now I Feel Gullible AND Guilty

I just watched the following video called The Story of Bottled Water, discovered at Boing Boing:

I try to limit my bottled water consumption anyway. With rare exceptions, I only buy cases because I can get 24 bottles for less than $3.00 versus the $1.00-$1.50 gas stations and supermarkets charge for single bottles. We filter our tap water at home, but it’s more convenient to have bottles handy at work and at the karate dojo. Furthermore, I recycle every one of those bottles by taking the empties to the town recycling bin. I tried to refill a bigger bottle for a while, but it broke after three days.

Time to start rethinking my plan. If the video’s recycling comments are correct, recycling isn’t yet having near the impact we’re led to believe it is. And while I keep my bottle consumption to a minimum, I’m still going through many more bottles than I should be. I didn’t sweat it so much when I lived back up north and our town’s water was horrible with radon and the occasional bacteria spike, but my new home’s tap water is just fine, especially after it’s run through the filter we put on the faucet.

I’m not usually a big environmental nut, but it’s hard to argue that I’ve been sucked in by corporate marketing. Even if I’m not completely buying into the “I need bottled water!” message, I’ve at least become lazy about carrying my own water around.

I need to do some shopping after karate tonight. I think it’s time to look for a good, sturdy, refillable bottle. The little metal ones we bought our kids to carry to school are a good start, I’ll just need to look for something bigger. I’ll probably update this post with what I find, if anything.

UPDATE:

Some friends recommended the following bottles:

Klean Kanteen
WaterWeek

I may check those out. In the meantime I bought a simple, BPA-free, 32-ounce plastic bottle with a carrying loop. 32 ounces should get me through most karate classes, and worst case I just fill up from the dojo’s tap. I did see a nice metal bottle with a plastic screw top and a carabiner, but it only came in a nasty orange color. I can afford to be vain until I spot one in black or blue, right?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Advertising Kick-Off

Evileye is going to be launching their advertising campaign soon. I think this is the first time I’ve had an actual marketing campaign attached to anything I’ve done before. Here’s a look at one of our first ads:

HWA Pack Ad

Obviously I’ve done my own self promotions before, but this time there’s a budget beyond the moths flying out of my wallet. Exciting stuff.

Fire-and-forget is a combat system, not a marketing campaign. Many small presses are content to post their work to genre bookstores or direct market catalogs and hope for the best, but the problem with that is they’re only selling to the same small base of customers over and over. Sure, landing an Amazon listing gets you widely available, but now the people have to find you on Amazon, and a link from your own website just isn’t going to cut it. A direct market catalog may hit every store in the country, but when that catalog is an inch thick and you’re on a tiny fraction of a page for one month, it’s hard to stand out.

Hell, I’ve even heard stories about hardcore fans of certain properties who had no idea some books or comics about said properties existed. If your biggest fans aren’t finding you, something is seriously wrong with the way you’re doing business. (It also doesn’t help when the direct market is letting you down by not filling your fans’ orders, but that’s a rant for another post.)

So yeah, I’m thrilled Winter Kill will be available on the Kindle, in trade paperback on Amazon, and even in bookstores (we’re working on it). The book is written and Evileye has their distribution ducks in a row. Now the hard work of selling it begins.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Hellboy Model for World Domination

I’ve never been a fan of what I call the shotgun method of marketing: fire a property at the market and see if it hits anything. This is most often seen in the small presses, but it’s not unheard of from larger publishers.

In the horror small press, this typically involves getting a book listed on Shocklines or the Horror Mall and calling it a day. In the comics direct market, the publisher gets their placement in Diamond’s Previews catalog and hopes the cover and/or title description will attract retailers’ attention. In the mass market, this means the publisher drops a title into their distribution chain and then kicks backs and waits for the numbers.

This is a bit simplistic, of course. In all cases, I’m sure review copies are being distributed and maybe a title shows up in an advertisement or book club here and there. However, nobody’s doing any real legwork; for the most part they’re crossing their fingers that the readers, retailers, and media will find them. If the book does well, the publisher claims they’ve found the next Brian Keene, Frank Miller, or Stephen King. If the book doesn’t, they declare it a failure, cancel the title (or decline to purchase another book from the author), and move on to the next guy.

To be fair, this is part of an economic reality. Small presses — both prose and comics — run on a tight budget, and they have to sell through most of their print run before they make a profit. Mass markets and the larger comic companies pump a lot of advertising and marketing dollars (not to mention royalties and advances) into their larger titles, making slim pickings for the guys in the mid-list arena. They’re not picking on anyone or playing favorites, this is just how their business operates.

Unfortunately it’s not doing either side any favors: the publishers absorb their loss or shut their doors, and the creators either pray that poor performance doesn’t harm their chances with the next publisher or they scan the classified ads and wish they finished their degree when they had the chance. Nor is it doing the property any favors, as this one-time performance is not in itself an indication of whether the product is any good or not. If the property was good enough for publishing in the first place (a subject for another day), then there’s bound to be an audience out there somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding that audience and making sure they can get their hands on it.

In short, it takes patience, and for that I like to look at Mike Mignola and Hellboy as the model.

Hellboy first appeared in a short in ’93, and Seed of Destruction came out in ’94. Seed had a few more things going for it than many small press projects, mainly a John Byrne script, the Dark Horse logo, and Mignola himself already had a modest career established in comics. Yet by his own admission, shifting over to Hellboy was a big step, and a big risk. I don’t know how the sales were on that book, but I’m sure it wasn’t equal to those of the mainstream titles he’d been doing covers and backups for.

Yet Mignola kept plugging away. With each subsequent release he built upon his audience. Here we are in 2009, and in addition to the main series he’s got spin-off comics, novels, anthologies, two animated movies, two feature films, and countless toys, posters, and other products. Hellboy himself (as portrayed by Ron Perlman, of course) appears in DirecTV commercials, effectively making him a household name. The takeaway?

Patience.

Instant hits happen, but they’re rare. You can’t predict them, and you definitely can’t bank on them. If you believe in a product, you have to keep plugging away. You have to have the patience to develop it, to let it find it’s audience.

And there’s never been a time there were more tools to reach that audience than now.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.