Saturday, July 02, 2005

Battleplan Part II...

The guy to my left is Dale Carnegie and he wrote a little book called "How to Win Friends and Influence People". It's sold millions and millions since it was published in 1936. It's one of the first self-help books and is full of wit and clever phrases. At some point, everyone reads it. I read it back in high school and one thing always stuck with me. He had a little story where he talks about how he is a fisherman. And he also loves strawberries and cream. However, when he goes fishing, he doesn't try to catch fish with strawberries and cream. The point to this is that you have to understand your audience, hone in on your audience, and give them what they want.

That said, when I go about marketing Friends With Benefits, I must make sure that my efforts are narrow and my demographic is well defined. It isn't simply about marketing to black folks. That's too wide a net. It's not just about marketing to black women or black men. That's still too wide. I need to know the exact demographic I'm going after, and then hit that market HARD with marketing. And that means I need to create what I call a "network matrix". I'll talk about that later...

6 comments:

Dave said...

Isn't there some danger in being narrow? How do you keep from alienating people outside your target demo, who might otherwise have picked up your book?

There was a woman author who wrote a book -- the title started "A Busy Woman's Guide To..." Right, then, I didn't bother looking past the cover and moved on. I'm not a woman, and though I was sometimes busy, I wasn't the harried executive type portrayed in the cover art. Come to find out, the title was a marketing ploy by her publisher to appeal to a certain demographic...and they lost out on all the men who might have read her book.

Lawrence said...

Unfortunately, most books are designed, from the subject matter to the type of cover, to hit a narrow audience. If you look at the cover of FWB, you'll notice that it is like a painting. That's not by chance. A lot of books in my particular genre have this type of cover, and it lets the reader instantly understand what my book is about, and also associate it with other books they enjoyed.

The nature of the beast is that there are so many book published each month, that you can't have a book out there that doesn't have a distinct target market. An editor won't even consider buying it if it doesn't. That target market is what allows the books to sink or swim, and if they get any crossover from the general reading public, that's a bonus.

In some ways, there is a conspiracy between the reader and the publisher. When a reader enters a Barnes & Noble, they rarely wander around without an idea of which section they really want to check out. Many of us will go into the bookstore, pick up a few books, flip through them, and then put them right back on the shelf. But when we get to the section we have high interest, mystery, non-fiction, etc. that's where we are more tempted to make the purchase. If the publisher and author spend time trying to capture the person who is picking up books randomly, then they are wasting resources. The odds of getting that sale are very low. However, that person going to your section raises the odds tremendously.

Now, the secondary part of marketing books happens when your target market is saturated and there is now momentum outside of your subject matter. You now have a chance to get those random folks. But even that is hard. Some of the top black bestselling writers like Eric Jerome Dickey, E. Lynn Harris, and many others, can stay on the NY Times list, but they're work may never interest those outside the black reading demo. So while they may have lost your sale, they probably gained five sales by women. If they hadn't targeted either groups, then they would have probably missed the sale from either group.

Dave said...

All very interesting. I think it's especially notable that, rather than become a victim of demos and marketing and blaming publishers and the big bad world for crushing your artistic sensibilities, you are taking charge and using the whole system to your advantage. It's like you pulled some kind of amazing judo move on the whole publishing world. That's nice to see.

Lawrence said...

One of the fortunate things is that I started a business while at Berkeley in order to pay for school. So I bring that experience to my writing. I tend to look at my work as art right until it gets sold. Then I look at it as a commodity. A widget that needs to be marketed.

There's a notion among some authors that if you emphasize the marketing of your book, beyond the polite booksigning here or there, that it is somehow distateful. I disagree. I don't slog through the process of writing, pitching, getting it sold, and editing, in order for it to sell ten books total. I want to sell tens of thousands. The only way to do that is to figure out who wants your book, and then make them feel damn bad if they don't have it in their hands.

I think the key is that as an author, you have to assume that the publisher is going to do nothing. If they do something, then fine. But it is up to you to get it done. That's pretty much the same attitude I have for screenwriting program. UCLA will gives the tools, but I've got to figure out how to make it work for what I want to do.

Dave said...

You know, this conversation makes me think that I should wonder over to other aisles in the bookstore more often, and look past a few more covers.

And, man oh man, UCLA just isn't going to know what hit them...

Lawrence said...

LOL! Nah, UCLA doesn't have anything to worry about. I just need them to teach me how to make my scripts the best they can be. If they can do that, then we'll be cool.