Tourism of the mind UPDATE 3


Update 03: Okay, I can boil the emotional imperative for me here into two little words.

Quit! Hiding!

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.

Ponder ponder...

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:

Chevenga/character-driven
Post-apocalypse sff/literary
Destined death/survival
Power/intrigue/world-changing/politics
War/strategy
Combat/heroism
Relationships/romance/sex
Suffering/healing/transformation
Philosophy/spirituality/insight
Style (realistic/vivid/intense/immersive/humour)

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.

[Original post]
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:

Chevenga/character-driven
Realistic post-apocalypse sff/literary fusion
Destined death/survival
Power/intrigue/world-changing/politics
Combat/ heroism/war/strategy
Relationships/romance/sex
Suffering/healing/transformation
Philosophy/spirituality/insight
Style

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,

Destined death/survival
Power/intrigue/world-changing/politics
Combat/ heroism/war/strategy
Relationships/romance/sex
Suffering/healing/transformation

…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!





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Comments

Inexpressible

Oh, ten. I have not had the mental energy or eloquence to describe and deconstruct why I love Chevenga for a long time... I'll try to spend some effort chipping away at it, as it is one of the great questions in my world.

You've answered one question, GV

...because part of what I'm asking people is, which, if any, of the core attractions I've named are core attractions for them? Here you have expressed a solid vote for "Chevenga/character-driven."

Obviously something about the character touches something deep in you, and aside from my natural curiosity as a writer and as a friend, I have the more crass curiosity as a marketer Eye-wink So whatever you can tell me, I appreciate. If it's too personal for on-site dissection, please skype or email me.

Oh by the way... you're not the only one trying to figure out exactly what Chevenga is to you. I have been for years.

Hmmm

What hooked me from the start and keeps me coming back for more time and time again is the pure emotion. Your writing evokes deep imagery and makes a person believe that Chevenga is really there talking to them-- that you can /hear/ the emotion in his voice as he speaks in whispers and shouts as he recounts his tail.

Fan

Thanks Fan

Now that I've recovered from the giggles due to the typo (<chevenga>I haven't recounted that much of my tail! I barely scratched the surface of how many campfires I actually went to.</chevenga>) I'm thinking, yes, that's a core attraction... how to represent it? Hmm... I've always liked the word "intensity", so that's one. (9 times out of 10 when I look at a beginning writer's manuscript, I'm saying, "Make it more intense!") "Makes a person believe that Chevenga is really there talking to them" I've heard other people say in other ways, too, so I've got to craft that into marketing language... thanks again.

*facepalm*

Can. not. /believe/ I did that! *hides*

Yes intense is the right word (and tale is the right word for the typo) Your writing whisks a person away and drops them in Chevengas' lap... mostly so you can cuddle him to make him feel better... Very tired being quiet now

No don't *facepalm* or *hide*!

It was a great typo. Everybody does 'em. In the writing/publishing/journalism world we learn that there's nothing to do but celebrate them, especially ones of this quality. Else everyone who's ever typed "pubic relations director" (it happens all the time) would be curled up in a ball.

When I was in journalism school, we managed to put into the university paper a headline that was supposed to read "Veteran professor laid off" but somehow lost the "off." We had conniptions, and grovellingly apologized to the guy. He just thought it was funny. Point being: no worries! It's just a typo.

Re intensity... whisks a person away and drops them in Chevenga's lap... or like he's talking right to you... I'm turning these ideas over in my mind, waiting for the marketing words/concepts to start dropping out. 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.

hmm

Something that'll take some mulling, but first thoughts. Of the things you listed, the ones that I think are hooks for myself are:

Chevenga/character-driven
Combat/heroism/war/strategy*
Relationships/romance/sex
Suffering/healing/transformation

The way I'd describe your story in the most simplified way is a first person, coming-of-age/personal journey story, in a low-tech post-apoc setting, that focuses on the psychology of the characters.

Realistic post-apocalypse sff/literary fusion - while accurate, not a draw for me.

Destined death/survival - I'd lump this all in under "suffering"

Power/intrigue/world-changing/politics - to me, this is part and parcel of the war/strategy. My not-an-expert opinion would be to merge war/strategy with the world-changing politics, and think of the personal combat/heroism stuff as by itself.

Style - I always just think of this one as "she had decades of writing experience and it shows" (same with MeiLin, altho Mei's was mostly in non-fiction before the History, the skill-with-text still shows). I'm not sure how you market that, though. "Hey, she writes a really interesting story, publishes it online, AND it's not a novice's first stab at storytelling so it's really well-written"? That might be something to include by way of a by-line about yourself. "PiA, by journalist and multi-book author Karen!"

Just some raw, initial reactions.

Professionals and experience

There's no doubt that there's good webserials out there
But on the whole, those who've done it for longer are better at it
More so if they did it for money

You need to say it. It will draw readers. Even if it's just on your intro/about page

"From the author of x, y and z, another epic series following the life of.."
Ok that sucks, but you get the idea. You wrote all those praises for Chevenga, you'll think of something for yourself Sticking out tongue

Intro/about page... never thought of that

I just did it. Check it out... Thanks for the suggestion, kere Ano!

It's a nice little summary

"A first person, coming-of-age/personal journey story, in a low-tech post-apoc setting, that focuses on the psychology of the characters." I think I'd want to add "yet with lots of swordfights and politics." Seems like lying by omission not to mention those.

Interesting

...how different people want to section something up different ways.

Yeah, how to say I am pro, not a newb... I have to think about that one. Three times published traditionally and working over 20 years in journalism, maybe, something like that.

I'm interested if you have any more thoughts, of course, cap, since you are generally so thoughtful.

By inference

Karen wrote:
Yeah, how to say I am pro, not a newb...

Don't brag. You already talk about your Baen books in a paragraph, and that's great, but it should also be boiled down to a punch line just like your other key points, and made prominent. "Way different and better than the Baen version"...but catchy, not lame like that. That's your job Eye-wink

The key here is "Baen" which tells the reader so much more than a list of titles ("Oh, someone dumped MANY crappy ebooks on the web?") and is more specific / higher value / potentially more subtle than "published". Journalism is great for some types of writing skills but selling points are about impressions, not realities.

V, go on the landing page

...see what's right under the pic and tell me what you think.

Probably you don't realize that any time anyone says to me, "Don't brag" I get a horrible shot of ick all through me and I'm frantically looking around thinking "Where? Where? Where did I brag? I didn't think I did noooooooooo!" And wanting to kind of curl in on myself and hide. It's a childhood trauma thing.

You cannot self-promote without bragging. If I am not telling people, however I do it, that I am a good enough writer and my work is good enough that it's worth their time and money to read, I might as well pack up and go home.

Yeah, nuance

Without going too much further into an analogy about artistic nude photography vs bad porn, I'll say that sure you have to show it - but you don't have to act like you're trying to show it.

Some words or phrases like "acclaimed", "has traditionally published multiple books", etc all parse as "The person who was writing this wants me to think highly of them". That's not the goal.

You are a pro, not a newb, but the key is to make this clear without making it obvious that you're trying to make it clear. Pros tend to accumulate things that newbs probably don't, like a track record of publishing with major houses. Make sure the reader knows about some of those without rubbing their nose in it and you'll be fine. There's a nuance between telling someone your work is worth their time, and showing them that it's quite likely to be worth their time. The indirect method is much more compelling - the direct can come off as overreaching or fake.

I understand this is challenging for you on a personal level, so think about it internally however you need to think about it - just frame it carefully when you're actually composing. Bragging ain't bad, but if it shows it's less effective at drawing in readers.

Your blurb under the picture does a good job of identifying yourself to old readers and flashing some bling for new ones. If you're looking to condense it further...did writing the short stories teach you significant things that writing several novels didn't? Is there a difference between someone who writes news articles and someone who writes feature articles? Are either of those differences obvious to the layperson? (they aren't to this one)

Good thoughts for the blurb, V

...and I'll use I've used one of them (yes, absolutely, writing short stories teaches a writer something that writing novels does not) but holy crap, you write all the rest as if I don't know it. Perhaps the problem here is that when I wrote "you have to brag" I was using a broader definition of bragging than you are?

Either way, the problem is not rational, i.e. not knowing what "nuance" is. The problem is emotional. Thanks, but all the advice in the world will not touch it.

There's just a lot going on.

There's just a lot going on.

There are so many multi-dimensional characters, who are very different from each other. Even if a reader is not interested in- or can't relate to- all of them, there will certainly be some.

Ditto the subject matter. Lots of variety. People who aren't interested in the relationship stuff may be interested in the politics, or vice versa.

One of the things I like best is that there are many different interesting cultures. Even the best fantasy/sci fi fiction often features just one or two.

Thanks... "A lot going on"

...is a selling point in and of itself. I got a review once (for the dead-tree version) that said "there's something for everyone," or words to that effect, so that's a good line. What's a more positive-sounding way of saying "sprawling epic"?

Not always....

Karen wrote:
...is a selling point in and of itself.

Not always. It can be done badly. I have seen some people just try to cram too much in- and you can't follow, and can't keep the cast straight, and sometimes plots/characters are not fleshed out enough. Having this much going on, with depth and richness, and still being easy for the reader to follow- that is something that is very hard to do well. Few authors do it well.

Well, that's why I need a *positive*

...wording for "huge massive sprawling epic".

I can never get through a book like you describe. Too much work for too little payoff. Thanks for the compliment.

Well-developed or fully-developed

It sounds like you want to talk more about the world your story is set in. One of MLM's strengths is how many questions Manoki and other readers have asked, plus MeiLin's imagination, which make that world *real* with expected interactions, consequences, and trivia that turns a plain (if beautiful) carving into an intricate one with minute hand-carved detail. It's not thrust in the reader's face but that web ties the world and the story together. The Fifth Mil universe is similar in some respects.

On that note...if telekinetically-formed nanoscale wire, a wide variety of psi powers, and mutant man-capturing plants are the realistic post-apoc genre, what would you consider unrealistic? The core theme may be just "post-apoc". I'm also tempted to poke at some of the world-building stuff if I was to ever give it serious scrutiny (e.g. I get the supposition that "all the easy metal deposits are gone" but tend not believe it would be totally missing from civilization's development). There's 2 f's in sff Smiling

ETA: Wall of text about that world-building theme. I was reading...dunno, maybe it was an anthrology of Clarke or Asimov. They were talking about how the first few paragraphs in a sci-fi book contain key words and phrases that swiftly set a LOT of expectations for readers experienced in the genre - it's a code readable by the in-crowd.

"Bob just got back to Luna from a delivery run to the mines on Deimos. Apparently, a lot can change in two months"
* Civ has space travel and it's widespread / commercially profitable
* However, it has some kind of starship drive that's significantly more powerful than any currently known technologies
* We're still using natural resources like metals. No full-on molecular synthesis
* Colonization / possibly terraforming is going on
* Plenty more if you really picked it apart

Fantasy works the same way...you can build an entire world with almost no effort that relies on "Uhm...swords and stuff. Magic and stuff. Castles and kings and wheehaherewego" but those worlds are very shallow unless you invest a lot of sweat figuring out boring, practical technological, economic, geologic, and sociological implications. Those are what set a developed world apart from just "I wanna be a BATTLEMAGE!"

The world

>It sounds like you want to talk more about the world your story is set in.

Not necessarily. Down here in the comments I'm riffing off what people are asking, and I also think that genre is always a core attraction. Some comments here suggest that I might be wrong.

>On that note...if telekinetically-formed nanoscale wire, a wide variety of psi powers, and mutant man-capturing plants are the realistic post-apoc genre, what would you consider unrealistic?

Well, you answered your own question in the last paragraph, really. ("I wanna be a BATTLEMAGE!") But I see your point, as in that graf you were talking about fantasy. Post-apoc usually doesn't go so much the fantasy route. Possibly Ysabet described it best - "The story reads like fantasy; technology is mostly archaic, and there are hints of magic in places. But the background is actually science fiction: the far-future attempt of a world to rebuild itself after a devastating apocalypse."

Your ability to hit my sensitive spots is uncanny as usual, V. You have probably gathered I am not 100% comfortable with certain technological aspects, they being compromises I accepted so as to work with other writers (though the metal-poor aspect is not one of them--I thought we said the easy-to-get ores were just depleted, not entirely gone. I'm just writing about a slave uprising that starts in an ironworks.) But for marketing purposes I have to make the genre-bending into a strength, so I cannot be clutching my forelock in shame. Effective self-promotional ideas simply do not come to a mind in that state. Ysabet possibly has pointed the way.

When I say "realistic" I essentially mean the same thing as your "well-developed" plus the slice-of-life/emotional verisimilitude aspect. I think the take-home point for me here is on how and where to use the term "realistic" in the core attractions... maybe it belongs more under "style." (Noting however that the target audience is never actually going to see the core attractions listed any more than people who walk into a public building will ever see the blueprint for it. Unless they happen upon this blogpost, of course. Emm... move along, target audience. Nothing to see here.)

Having said all that, I look forward to the wallotext. Though it sounds like it's less about the nature of the world than about how information about the nature of the world is divulged--always a challenge for the sff writer. Part of me sniffs at codes in general as it does at formulae.

How about . . .

"Meticulous, engaging, immersive tale that balances the epic with the slice-of-life with uncanny skill," then?

Okay Toast, this is now

...your testimonial on the landing page. Thanks!

Woo-hoo! I'm already using input y'all are giving me here!

Oh, I like. That's a good

Oh, I like. That's a good place to start.

My ego is all orgasmic

...from that... my writer sense says it might be too Latinate for the general audience. But then the kind of people who like my work are wordy, so it's a bit of a screening device... I assume I have your permission to steal.

Update: It's growing on me. Each word is so precisely chosen.

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