Update 03: Okay, I can boil the emotional imperative for me here into two little words.
A strategy from the courses I have been taking:
"If you feel a loss of power, it is because somewhere you are not being authentic... what are you hiding?"
So I realize my marketing--taglines, language, images, etc.--has to come out of authenticity (whether it's mine... or yours!) What do I really want to tell the world in, and about, my writing? (That's my part.) What does the world want to know about it? (That's yours!) Here the complexity is something of a handicap. There is no simple message. The core attractions are a pathway into that, a means of breaking it down.
I've got another tag-line, totally stolen from a review written a while back by GreenGlass (aka G. Veravenga) and using the core attractions "Chevenga/character-driven" & "heroism":
Looking for a hero? You've found one.
(BTW I am trying to build up a big enough stock of taglines to begin testing them by rotating them in Project Wonderful ad venues.)
Other heroism taglines are rattling around in my mind.
A thought about how to put across the message that my work is elaborate, complex and realistic: get elaborate, complex and realistic images. Works way better than the words "This work is elaborate, complex and realistic!" doesn't it?
The core attractions list has been revised, based on input below... current version:
Update 01: I'm already using one comment and one suggestion provided by readers below, to enhance the landing page. THANK YOU!
Now I'm thinking taglines... one in particular came to mind, working off the core attraction "Chevenga/character-driven," viz:
Love him... hate him... you will never forget him...
The Philosopher in Arms
What do you think?
The overriding thought I have is that six months ago, I would never have even conceived such a line, let alone posted it on the site or considered using it in advertising.
Update 02, following on that, I quote myself from a comment below:
This was an effect I always intended, always aspired to, and yet it still seems surprising to part of me at least that I succeed. This exercise has already taught me things not just about my writing and what people like about it, but my own psychology. Like all good exercises, it has been confronting. Have I always had blind spots when it comes to self-promotion? Ohhhhhh, yes. My aim here is to slay them all.
To elaborate: I grew up in an atmosphere in which it was dangerous to be at all proud of myself, except in the case of certain select parentally-approved behaviours and creations, so then in adulthood I wasn't psychologically equipped to appropriately jettison or at least ignore people who considered it their bounden duty to, to quote one, "prove to you you're not as good as you think you are," until relatively recently.
Thus, when I get praise, part of me (with which I answer praiseful comments) is appropriately happy, while another part of me shrivels in dread and shame. (This entire post and thread, actually, is making that part of me shrivel in dread and shame. I keep thinking that I'll be accused of having written it purely to fish for praise.) I have gotten over this a lot, especially in the past few months, but it's not completely gone. This exercise is really making me see that. To do effective self-promotion, I have to overcome the problem enough that the ideas have full freedom to flow.
So a few days ago I was mentioning that my healing work will, with any luck, make me a better businessperson with respect to my writing, and it seems like I am feeling the first pull of that now. I am thinking about how to better promote my work, and so there are some things I want to focus-group with you, my readers, insofar as you’re willing to help!
What makes you all so special that I should ask you? Simple—you are a perfectly precisely self-selected bunch: those who like my work enough to stick with it despite the effort and time required to read a thousand or two words every day off a screen that aren’t in e-book form, which a lot of people won’t do. You are the kind of people who, for whatever reason, my work both attracts and retains. Thus my target audience, when I promote, is more of the same, others who have similar tastes in reading to yours. You times ten or a hundred or a thousand or however many there are out there are the people who can make this work for me career-wise. Thus your input, to me, is gold. Got it? I love you.
The start of my marketing strategy is: core attractions. What do I mean by that? Well, I wrote most of a post for weblit.us, but then didn’t feel qualified to post it until I tried out the concept in the real world and made it work. But here’s the crucial part:
What I’m writing about here was triggered in part by a conversation with MeiLin [Miranda] about why Scryer’s Gulch didn’t do as well online as Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom. As is natural with writers, she’s inclined to wonder whether it’s simply that her writing in SG sucks. I contended no, because a writer doesn’t suddenly lose talent or skill when starting a new book. What I think it is is simply that she departed. There’s less sex in SG, and it’s a totally different subgenre of fantasy, western rather than Victorianesque, which alters not only the settings but the style of writing. The readers MeiLin found for the History were attracted and retained by the type of satisfaction it gave them, and the sex and Victorianesque feel are integral parts—which they didn’t find so much in SG.
So this got me thinking… does that mean that once you’ve built up a readership, you can never depart and thus never explore? Or, more exactly, how to build up your readership in the first place in such a way that you’ll be able to make the sorts of departures you are likely to make in the future without losing them? The way, it seemed to me, would be to look very carefully at what you write, what you like to write and what your strengths are as a writer, then identify the very essence of its attractiveness to you and to readers both—because these things will likely coincide, you will naturally continue to write from that essence and motivation, and those readers will continue to come back to you in their search for it. That essence can be broken down into several items. We’ve already identified two for Meilin’s History, for example: sex and the Victorianesque feel, but you could also count the structure of bildungsroman, the story-within-a-story aspect, the theme of power, and more.
The term that came to my mind for these essential items—core attractions—is borrowed, in all honesty, from the tourism industry. I know it because I live in a tourist area—Muskoka, the region to which people from Toronto flee to their cottages—and I am a journalist who has written a fair amount about the thoughts and initiatives of the local powers that be with respect to our region’s main economic driver. About three years ago, they identified four core attractions of Muskoka, and built a tourism promotion strategy around them, to good effect.
What does this have to do with writing? Simple: as storytellers, we are in effect doing tourism of the mind. What do we say to prospective readers? “Come visit my world! Have an adventure! Check out the sights and sounds and sensations! Meet the people! Enjoy the ride!” And then, if we are worth our salt, we deliver the promised goods as best we can. Same as the tourism business, we are selling an experience. We hope it will add something to their lives, and they’ll want to revisit again and again.
So: I asked myself, what are the core attractions of The Philosopher in Arms and asa kraiya? More than a year ago, with the help of Shirley, Cat, Blue and Ravenrux, I assembled a list. But then I got more caught up in other things, including a lingering case of writa-selfa-promota-chickenitis. Two days ago, I revisited that list, and felt immediately that it was too long. If Muskoka’s attractiveness could be boiled down to four main things, twenty-odd was too many for even a really long book. So, by trimming and in some cases combining, I came up with a list of nine major core attractions that apply to the entire series (PA & ak combined). Viz:
Realistic post-apocalypse sff/literary fusion
Let’s clarify what is not obvious here by going through them, starting with Chevenga/character-driven. What this means is that the series is so driven by its main character and his way of thinking that he had better be a core attraction… readers for whom he isn’t a core attraction aren’t going to be interested. But a second aspect of this is the character-driven nature of the book in general, which brings in the other characters and all their interactions with each other. Here I am postulating that people who appreciate how much I concentrate on characterizing Chevenga will also appreciate how much I concentrate on characterizing everybody else.
Second is Realistic post-apocalypse sff/literary. I think a work’s genre is always a core attraction. Why? Because readers look specifically for genre works. They’re hooked on sff or mysteries or romances, whatever scratches their particular itch. Thus your marketing has to signal to them what they’re going to find. Because of that, I’ve defined the core attraction not just as science fiction/fantasy, but added in subgenres of sff in which I work.
Next we have five core attractions,
…which are all themes. Themes are crucial core attractions too, the essence of the work’s content distilled into single concepts. They answer the question of “What’s this book about?” at its core, because even if the ostensible answer to that is a good summary of the plot (e.g., “It’s about this guy in this post-apoc world who’s this great warrior/general, very passionate type, trying to take over this huge empire, but knows he’s going to die young so he’s messed up personally”), it will identify all the major themes.
The thematic core attractions have to be changed around and added to for different books in the series (there are going to be twelve books, it looks like). For instance, the one about Chevenga’s time in the Mezem has “survival” and "suffering" without “healing/transformation” as well as “gladiatorial combat” (the success of the movie Gladiator should tell you how strong a core attraction that is… while survival arguably is and always has been the main theme/core attraction driving Canadian literature—see Survival by Margaret Atwood for a full treatise on this—so no surprise it’s a big one for me.)
We’ll skip over the next one, Philosophy/spirituality/insight for a bit and jump straight to Style. It may be conceit on my part (as focus-group members, you can tell me), but I think my writing style is a core attraction. Under this item I place my ability to do different points of view with different writing styles—Kaninjer, Niku, the journalistic pieces, etc.—as well as humour, vividness, clarity, emotional verisimilitude, the pulling in of other’s contributions in role-plays for greater range, etc. I put it at the bottom of the list because I think that writing style is the hardest core attraction to convince people of. In other words, for the most part, readers can be certain from a book’s marketing and presentation that the genre and thematic core attractions are there, especially if there is an accurate plot summary, as there should be. But if the blurb reads “Vivid… lucid… full of humour… wonderfully written,” etc., what do you tend to think? “Yeah, right… I’ll judge that for myself.” (Thus quite possibly in my advertising forays, I’ve erred by using testimonials that focus on this.)
Now getting back to Philosophy/spirituality/insight, I place it somewhere between theme and style because it’s almost more like an approach than a theme or a style. So I've given it its own category. But whatever it is, it’s a core attraction.
So there it is—the starting-point of a marketing strategy.
And now here comes the ask… what I’d like is some constructive critique on the above, and suggestions if you have them. Am I more or less right about what people get out of my work? Am I emphasizing something too much or too little? Am I missing something obvious? (I actually caught myself missing a very obvious one in the course of writing this blogpost... actually, no, two... so I know it’s possible. Like every author, I’m too close to my work to see it totally clearly that way.) Am I missing something not so obvious but still important?
Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks in advance!