Know Your Audience, Know Yourself

The Mad Genius Club has expanded, and now you have more Mad Genii to choose from! I’m Dorothy Grant, the marketing half for Peter Grant’s books. You wanted more marketing, you’ve got it every other Sunday. On the Sundays between, Brad Torgersen, the Powder Blue Care Bear With a Flamethrower, will be joining our rolling conversation!

The quiz is first, and only you know the answers right now.

Where do you spend your social time, and who do you spend it with?
Who is your target audience?
What are you really putting out there?

I had occasion recently to go to a site that I rarely frequent, and skimmed the first three articles to get a feel for the place. The first was praising the gory dehumanizing of a show named Hannibal, which stars the eponymous serial killer. The second was a review of a season of Game of Thrones, lusting for more rape and murder. The third article was a book review praising a “dark fantasy” where a woman is traded by her people to a dark wizard.

I won’t be back, because the very tone was dreary and debased. No amount of top-end design or beautiful visuals can make up for content like that. This is what happens when people focus for too long on the darkness they strain to see in every human heart, so that they might declare themselves superior. There is no joy there, no sense of wonder, no hope, no celebration of mercy, charity, hard work, or moral principles. These people do not laugh, except to cover themselves in case someone attacks their attack as insufficient or overreaching: “It was just a joke!” is their defense as they scuttle away.

There can be no celebration of achievement, only open season to attack in the cleverest way upon its announcement. This is moral bankruptcy, and that the knives came out in comments is absolutely unsurprising. The knives are always out, and they’re always circling to see who’s got the best cut, and praise them while planning a more clever cut or backstab.

I had nothing to contribute there.

I prefer to stay upbeat and cheerful, personally, because it’s a lot better to be kind than clever. In the end, trying to live up to moral standards and taking full responsibility when I fail has made my life full of awesome people, and full of opportunities that those awesome people showed to me, or helped me achieve. It’s built a community that spans continents, and friends like family across thousands of miles. If I make the world a better place for others, it does come ’round again and make the world a better place for myself, too.

I also know that professionally, as part of the public face for Peter Grant, it’s important to be upbeat and cheerful in my internet interactions with his fans. As his marketer, everything I do and say reflects back on him. This then leaves the impression that his books will be upbeat and interesting. (This also happens to be true; even the darkest moment do not prevent the books from reflecting the belief that in the end, evil cannot prevail.)

This brings me around to the initial questions. Where do you hang out? What is celebrated in those circles? What is encouraged in word and deed? What do you bring to the table, when you comment or post? Social media is, by its very medium, interactive, and you can leave a comment thread brighter or snarkier for your presence. (Or in the case of ones with puns too near Sarah, leave it filled with the mock-disapproval of metaphorically thrown bacalhau.)

What does your target audience want? If they are following you because of your doom, gloom, and despair, I’m sorry. Make sure you get a separate public and private persona elsewhere that has the ability to enjoy life, before the baying for more grimdark drives you to grind all the joy out of your soul, and tearing yourself open and bleeding pain for the crowd becomes a habit instead of a performance. This has been the downfall of many a shock rocker, when they couldn’t separate the stage persona from the rest of their life.

If they are following you for your entertaining adventures where the heroes will win in the end, that’s awesome! Don’t be afraid to try something new, and stretch and grow. It is important to continue trying new things, because getting stuck in a rut will lead to your old fans growing bored and leaving for something new faster than you can attract new fans.

What if neither applies to you, or you don’t know? Look at your fans, since it’s hard to see your own work clearly. Do they like to treat people as things? Do they reward sarcasm and cutting remarks above thoughtful replies, and have no interest in seeing things from another view? Danger, Will Robinson!

And no, this does not confine itself to any political or religious, tribal or cultural group. It’s a human failing, and we’re all human here in the heart and the soul. What you reward, you get more of – whether it’s good behaviour or bad. Unchecked bad behaviour drives out good, because people who don’t want to put up with it will leave. Thus, groups left unchecked will tend to spiral inward and downward, more extreme and more vicious over time. If you let your fans do this, or worse, you yourself fall prey to this tendency, your sales will also follow.

On the flip side, if you reach out to others, and are optimistic and entertaining, people will like you, and your stories. They’ll tell other folks about the things they like, and more people will come to enjoy some time along with you. People like to share the things they love, with friends and strangers.

Make the bystanders laugh, and you win at life and at storytelling. Play for the crowd out there, not just the crowd you can see. It’s always fun to be clever, but if it’s one or the other, be kind.

And if you want a good story where people do their best despite all the odds against them, check out the Laredo War trilogy by Peter Grant, starting with War To The Knife.

WttK Cover

25 Comments

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25 responses to “Know Your Audience, Know Yourself

  1. Laura M

    Hang out in the human wave!

    • Interesting take on situation. Won’t disagree. I have switched to almost all ebooks and get my favorite authors that way. Publishers have always held a certain viewpoint in books and I find certain ones more to my liking, BAIN being a strong favorite. I am not an author but I know what I like and the Drones / Robots don’t get it. Therefore, they will eventually fail, life will go on. As to where I hang out? Train Club, where we run model (toy) trains for pleasure of ourselves and the audience, Model Rocketry Club where I fly oddball rockets for the same reasons, and hang with a small group of self proclaimed geeks, where we play games (mostly board games, but nothing boring), shoot guns (at targets) and generally have a good time mildly insulting one another.
      Target audience? Varies, Recently we took the trains to a Veterans home. I ran my WW2 train, Tanks and trucks on flatcars, Boxcars of ammo, Tank cars of fuel for the tanks and trucks, and at the end 2 cars with soldiers in them. It was a big hit, one fellow slid over and told me about how he drove a Sherman tank in “The War” (WW2). He was very old vet fully conversant and a lot of fun. Others just sat and watched, some got a tear in the eye, some just got somber, but they all thanked us for running the trains. Other days we go to Libraries and run trains for kids, they Love Thomas and we have worn out 3 of that one.
      What am I putting out? Entertainment, for myself and others.
      Note, my website is far from current, I’ve been doing other things.

  2. I for one would like to say Hi! to Dorothy, and I am so glad to welcome a new club member.

    As for the online hang-out spaces, a few years… ok, better than a decade and a half ago when I first started hanging out in forums, I had a couple of places I was in making friends, a SF publisher’s forum, a gardening forum, and a homeschooling mom forum. Fast forward a while to just a couple of years ago, and I had learned that there is no point in reading comments. On anything, anywhere. But there were two exceptions, Sarah Hoyt’s blog, and here. I love that we can be community without constantly bashing *everything*

    • I also read the comments (and sometimes comment) at the Passive Voice blog, because the comments are far closer than the articles to keeping a pulse on the publishing industry.

      I fully agree that building a positive community is an awesome thing. Positive people can be motivated to do awesome things: some authors have organized street teams from their fans by simply asking if anyone wants to spread the love, and then showing them how. Others – well, Larry’s book bombs, and all kickstarters work on the principle of getting people excited about helping someone and making a change to the world.

      • PG specifically talks about why he runs his site the way he does somewhere, I will have to see if I can find it. Yes, that’s another place where I can and do read comments and even find new authors or folks to follow.

    • I want to say ditto on welcoming new member. AND we get another half-time guy around here. About time. I was running out of help opening jars and stuff. Also, someone needs to walk the dragon.

  3. Timid1

    In other words, always remember you’re dealing with those who sign your paycheck. Isaac Asimov was always upbeat when meeting fans, and this came across that the fan was the most important person there at the moment. Since an author’s livelihood depends on them, they are. Drive away your fans and you drive away your income. It’s as simple as that.

    In my job I deal with the public a good bit, and take a page from a banker I knew. When I went to his office with my father, he always treated as though I was the wealthiest man in the county instead of an annoying preschooler. This works well even with most irate customers (I don’t usually meet the public under the best of circumstances). Am I bubbly? No: that would be like a smiling Wednesday Addams. But I do act as though the customer is the most important person there, because ultimately they are, and that I’m happy to see them, keeping in mind that ultimately they are the ones who sign my pay checks.

    That’s a public persona. Inside I’m a “Son of Martha,” so wrapped up in the crises of the moment that I seldom have time to look for the brighter things. Add to that I’m not a “happy” person – even the Bible says if you give your neighbor a cheerful greeting too early in the morning, they will count it as a curse. – and, well, you can see the dark picture. Not someone you’d want to be around if you were a customer; really, not someone you’d want to be around as a coworker. So the customer never sees this side, and for others I temper my grouchiness with humor. Which works.

    However, when I read this:
    Make the bystanders laugh, and you win at life and at storytelling.
    I immediately thought of Robin Williams. Unfortunately, no matter how we might bring delight to our readers, there’s a lurking darkness that’s claimed more than a few writers. Regardless of our public persona, what’s inside may find no real solace in fans. How you “win at life” is found elsewhere.

    • Sounds like you have your public persona down pat. 🙂
      Not everyone needs to be bubbly, that’s for certain! Positive interaction is important, but pollyana isn’t required. I think you got what I’m driving at perfectly there, because it sounds like you already do it every day.

      As for Robin Williams, it’s very true that he didn’t find his own peace away from the public persona, and that’s a tragedy. On the other hand, you know who he was; he had a very successful career built on making people have a good time. There are a lot more comics doing well out there by making people’s day better; there are very, very few who can successfully elevate sarcasm to being an entire routine’s entertainment. Even when Jeff Dunham does it, half the comedy comes from pointing out the ridiculousness of the sarcastic character. The only person who I can think of who did well with pure sarcasm was George Carlin.

      On the other paw, while we do have a balloon twister here, I don’t know of any standup comics in the crowd. From the perspective of dealing with people in public as a writer, it’s very important to keep the attitude of entertaining the watching crowd as opposed to demonstrating your superiority or winning an argument at all costs with the single person right there in front of you. Even if the person in front of you (or in your comments, or on facebook) is annoying and obnoxious, if you entertain the bystanders, you’ve won over the bystanders… and that’s a lot more important than winning the argument at hand.

      • B. Durbin

        I did one (precisely one) excursion into standup. It was, unfortunately, the day Robin Williams was in the news, but as you can see if you click on the link, I pretty much had to do it that day. One thing which did not much surprise me was that I was the only comic with a “clean” routine; all but two of the other routines used profanity as ill-considered punctuation (and those two did use adult language; they just employed it better.) It was fairly obvious that this group had no idea that they could be funny without profanity, because that was “subversive.”

        Honestly, most of the presentations weren’t funny or even edgy. And it was a pity. I was one of the best-prepared, even though I screwed up the order of things and lost my calm…

      • Reality Observer

        No contrast nearly as stark as Robin Williams here, but – people that don’t live with me find me quite pleasant and easy to get along with.

        One of my daughters, though, told me some time back that if I were a cat, I’d be an Internet superstar…

  4. The moral is, if you’re going to hang out in a dark and dreary place, don’t base your main character on Brad Torgersen. If you do, the Dark Side will laugh and point.

    😉

  5. Jeff Duntemann

    What Laura M. said: We need to rally around Sarah’s concept of the Human Wave. I was ridiculed at the Clarion workshop for arguing that SF should at least recognize the existence of a level of basic human decency (as I put it at the time, which was a long time ago) beneath which civilization exists in name only. I call myself a gonzo optimist, and for gonzo optimists, SF and fantasy can be a lonely business.

    I have a peculiar fan problem. I’m retiring from technical writing and publishing, and over the coming year will be re-launching my SF career, which I mostly dropped when I began writing computer books in the 1980s. I have a fan base for my technical books and I’m trying to bring them over to my fiction. Tech books rarely touch on culture or politics, but fiction almost invariably does. People who’ve been reading my tech books and articles for 30+ years are discovering that I lean libertarian, and a few of them have gone batshit ballistic. Overnight, people who were my avid fans have become raving attackers. (One recently declared me a moral coward for refusing to call Vox Day every dirty name in the book.) I don’t think that there’s any general solution to this problem, but it should be kept in mind: There is a class of people who will judge you first on your politics, and only after you pass those tests will they judge your work on its own merits. I’ve found this the single most depressing thing about writing fiction in the current day. The knives are always out, and dodging them may mean doing without fans whom you’ve gathered in other contexts.

    • Uncle Lar

      Jeff, sorry if no surprised at the actions of some of your former fans. You have to understand that for those types it’s not beliefs developed with logic and reason, it’s a religion based on feelz and far too often hate. And unless you can feed them exactly the twisted imaginary reality they have created in their own minds eventually you will fail them. So better to get it over with up front and kiss them off before you get too invested.
      Best to ignore the judgmental gits, but if you must engage keep in mind the salient point Dorothy brought up earlier in this discussion. It’s not about winning an argument with the vocal critics, it’s about making the right impression on the majority watching on the sidelines. So, meet their invective with calm reason and logic, refuse to be drawn into a mud slinging match. Nothing you could possibly do or say will change your opponent’s position in the slightest, remember to them it’s their religion, but by taking and keeping the high ground you win the respect of the vast majority. And, bless their pea picking hearts, (old southern expression) because it’s religion to them sooner or later they step over the line and destroy their argument while making yours.

  6. Martin L. Shoemaker

    FYI: Once again, the Forces of Tolerance have reported MGC as a virus site. WebRoot Security is blocking you.

  7. Dorothy, I agree with you. You have to be respectful to your audience, and you have to at least try to show some positive things even if life all around you seems to get more depressing every day.

    My blog is a catchall blog. I talk about anything I feel like. But I try to post a few inspirational things, or some interesting sports anecdotes, or my take on ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries (something I tend to watch when I’m not feeling up to snuff, as it nearly always inspires me), amidst my sometimes trenchant takes on life in the 21st Century.

    My own “brand,” if you will, is authenticity. I can’t be fake to save my life and I won’t even try. While I do like some “puppies, kittens and rainbows” types of posts, I’d rather talk about things that matter. But I love to laugh, which is why half of what I write is comic fantasy…and I enjoy romance, which is why everything I’ve written (with the exception of trying to finish up my husband’s military SF series) has some element of romance to it.

    I seriously wish we hadn’t fractured so much online. Fifteen years ago, there was more of a sense of shared community than there is now. It seems to me that people in general have forgotten that we have more in common with one another than not.

    I know that occasionally I have been guilty of this myself. I got into an argument a few years back regarding politics with a fellow author. (On my own Facebook page, mind. I didn’t go to his page and argue with him.) Eventually, we both figured out we actually agreed in 90% of cases…it was what to do about the remaining 10% that we didn’t agree on.

    I’ve tried to keep that in mind ever since.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post, and I hope that eventually we’re going to get back to the mindset we had ten or fifteen years ago. Because I liked it a lot better when people read books by all sorts of authors and didn’t demand that all authors must be X (Libertarian, _not_ Libertarian, Martian, fill-in-the-blank).

  8. Reality Observer

    For what I consider a very good example of keeping a blog “balanced,” I would recommend studying Cedar Sanderson’s (she’s linked from here).

    I would recommend Sarah’s also – except that she is too often ill these days. NO, don’t think you need to make changes, Sarah – we want to know what’s going on with you. We just wish that so much of it wasn’t what we would have for you.

  9. Pingback: By Angels For Angels | According To Hoyt

  10. Bob

    Could you share a link to that site? I’d like to have a look for myself and see what it’s all about. Sometimes it’s easy to get the wrong impression of a work or a site if you only look at a few pieces out of context. You sure they were saying what you think they were?

  11. And if you want a good story where people do their best despite all the odds against them, check out the Laredo War trilogy by Peter Grant, starting with War To The Knife.

    I see what you did there. Smooth segue, hitting the right notes on time, well played. Very well played.

    Moving beyond, or more accurately, back into what you wrote further up, What you said about the phenomena you characterize as “grimdark”, a wondrously appropriate term, is spot on. Grimdark is, I believe, a toxic miasma inflicting the whole of our arts and letters. From Game of Thrones to 50 Shades of Grey to inane declarations that “great comedy comes from pain”, gangster rap and the nearby music genres it influences, it seems that grimdark is everywhere.

    As a reader, not a writer, I understand that there will always be a certain segment of the market that wants to look on with morbid fascination as the train wreck unfolds before them. I will grudge them their trainwrecks, but please, dear writers, give those of us more interested in life than in nihilistic wallowing, something to read. The ghouls, SJWs (do I repeat myself? perhaps) and their ilk are only a fraction of the market.

    Every morning (or evening for you nightshift folks), before you embark upon your day, ask yourself the same question that Ben Franklin did:

    “What good shall I do this day?”

  12. I can’t thrive in the miasma of negativity for a protracted amount of time and don’t understand those who willingly subject themselves–not only endure it but welcome and wallow in it.

    I recall reading about Renoir being criticized for painting colorful, beautiful scenes. He replied to his detractors that “there are enough ugly things in life for us not to add to them.”