Truth in advertizing
Now there’s lies, damned lies, and statistics… and as far as most of us are concerned, beyond that, advertizing. Especially if it comes with ‘But wait, there’s more…”
Of course there always IS more. Usually the parts you find out later, when it is too late and you’ve parted with your money for handy-dandy gutter-swizzle, sexbot and cocktail shaker.*
It doesn’t leave you pleased – but they have your money and they weren’t planning to sell to you again. Their customers don’t communicate with each other and anyway, there’s one born every minute…
Of course there are some trivial differences between the writing world and selling junk on TV. The pay-rates for a start.
The other relevant aspect is you shouldn’t be just selling once. The key to success as an author is building a customer base, building a name. Now over on Tor.com they were busy displaying how not to understand this. You see –according to the genius on Tor.com (I hope he runs marketing for the company) – Paul Verhoeven’s STARSHIP TROOPERS was a work of genius satirically parodying that nasty evil Robert A Heinlein that the modern literati of sf love to hate.
(shrug) I don’t care if you agree, or disagree, adore the movie or hate it… the problem is one the writer of the article seems blind to, and yet, when you think about it, is behind almost all the adverse reaction the movie received.
If you’re hungry, looking for somewhere to eat, and are really in the mood for a huge steak and fries… and you see a diner offering a special on a 16 ounce rib-eye with fries, well, your stomach and mind start eating that, and full of anticipation you’re in the door. Oddly they ask you for payment up front, but it’s a good price for steak and fries, so you pay up and sit down.
And the waiter brings you a four ounce piece of tofu, vaguely steak shaped with some mung bean sprouts.
It could be the best tofu in town, it could be a far healthier choice than steak and fries – you came in and paid your money because you WANTED steak and fries.
If the diner-owner had put ‘4oz Tofu and mung bean sprouts’ on the specials board, you would have walked past. No hard feelings. If it had been the only place in town open, you’d have eaten it and been glad to have it. If you were looking for tofu and mung bean sprouts you would have loved the meal.
But when you’d been told it was steak and you could and would have gone elsewhere – I hope they have big waiters. You won’t be back. And you won’t be kind either, when talking about it.
If Paul Verhoeven had called the movie I HATE HEINLEIN, or HUMAN FASCISTS KILL INNOCENT BUGS the same people now calling it ‘brilliant satire’ would still have loved it (possibly less, because they enjoyed watching the Heinlein fans get furious), but it would have engendered almost no disparagement. It would also have lost a huge volume of sales to the suckers who believed the advertised name.
The issue for writers – or at least writers who want a career, is you are heavily dependent on return customers. And to make the situation worse, word of mouth by readers, personal recommendation (or condemnation) of a book are for many of us as near as we come to promotion. Yes, I know, the John Scalzis of traditional publishing get marketed. To be fair he promotes himself a lot. But that’s not a starter for most of us: we rely on having written a book readers could enjoy and tell their friends. Which is why truth in advertising is so vital to us: We want the reader to bond to the book – the trivial amount one earns from a purchaser who hates the book (because it was tofu when he wanted steak) especially the share that comes to an author, is not worth the damage they do.
If you’re relying on a publisher for covers, titles and whatever advertising and promotion you may get, there is fairly little you can do, besides add caveats to your own social media promotions “Love the cover of Space Mercenary from my editor at Bor Books – great cover but it doesn’t really reflect that it’s Arthurian fantasy romance. I originally called Kissing Excalibur. If you’re a fan of Arthurian Romance you’ll love it.” You can at least protect your ‘name’ as much as possible.
It’s whole different ball-game if you’re indy and the key here is honesty. Honesty from cover to content. Don’t package a lecture on cis-hetero-masculine privilege as Arthurian Romance, and vice versa: there are people who want either or both, but they don’t want to buy steak when they wanted tofu. If you’re going to steak flavor your tofu, make it convincing. Your chances that they bought something labeled ‘steak’ when they wanted tofu are not good. Trust me on this one!
On a somewhat different track I see discrimination continues to be alive and well, and still is joyously practiced by some supporters of the party that gave us the KKK. David Gerrold told them how to kick puppies (in case anyone didn’t think of excluding and damaging careers of those that dared not sing along with the party line) and now I see it being well applied, by the usual suspects. Voting for different candidates is, oddly, a celebration of democracy, a right pertaining to it, and only totalitarians wish to suppress and punish that. You can read all about Baycon and their shenanigans here. You might want to consider buying Jon Del Arroz’s book to show them how well that worked.
Sooner or later, the sf establishment needs to come to terms with the concept of diversity being more than skin deep, and need to reflect opinion, and the demographics of the potential readership.
Or find out what tit-for-tat means. When the demographics are dead against you, it’s a stupid thing to invite.
*I know. Things could be worse. You could have been one of the first 99 customers and got two.