Category Archives: Branding

Learning To Market My Book – Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

 

Learning To Market My Book

Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

I signed my book contract in March 2016. Since then, my professional life has been a crash course in marketing, a mix of constant research and the ongoing leap of faith that I knew how to reach my audience.

*A Marketing Primer

Marketing is how you tell your audience about your book. Because it’s a message, it can have creativity and artistry to it. Marketing is always a business act, however. It connects you with your audience so your audience wants to buy and share your book.

The huge changes brought by ebooks, independent publishing, social media, fan conventions, and giant corporate media mergers have completely upended the publishing business. Whatever business structure helps you get your work out to the world, you are your best marketer, and you will be for years to come.

*A Marketing Plan

When WordFire Press asked for the manuscript of The Demon in Business Class, they also asked for a marketing plan. I took it very seriously, examining my market, publisher, and novel, with an honest if enthusiastic eye. Never hide from the truth of your book. All lemons are potential lemonade.

Demon is a hybrid novel with corporate thriller and romance elements and a literary style. It has a forward-looking, niche audience, not in the mainstream of the fantasy genre, and aimed at mature readers. It’s also an outlier in the WordFire Press stable, which tends to more adventure and to an all-ages audience.

This gives a granular answer for where I find my audience: eager for novelty, happy with a relaxed approach to genre, wants good writing but also a plot. Comfortable with mature content, even pleased to have it. Interested in travel. It suggests their likes, their touchstones, how to reach them and with what kind of attitude. It’s clearly a market my publisher has yet to tap.

Plus, this audience spans genres. Romance readers, thriller readers, and people who care what the New Yorker reviews all have a subset with these same tastes. With a scenario that depends on magic, fantasy is my natural starting point, but modern shopping makes genre labels less prominent. You don’t browse Amazon aisles the way you browse bookstore aisles.

For all these reasons, it was clear Demon would depend even more than most books on word-of-mouth – a long process, but one where an author can help.

*Learning to Con

It took eight months from when I signed my contract to when my book could be bought by the greater public – on the most aggressive timetable possible, to get to fall conventions before shopping season. The WordFire Press staff pushed tremendously hard to make a stylish, bold product in double-time. I needed to be ready to be its author!

One major outlet where an author can make a personal impact is at fan conventions. If you don’t think your niche has them, you haven’t looked hard enough! It’s a good idea to attend them before you have a book to sell, to see what works for you as a con-goer and what you need to do to make being a con-guest worth your while.

In the science-fiction and fantasy genres, cons differ widely. Festival cons, or comic cons, have tens of thousands of fans celebrating all fantastic genres, but emphasizing the visual. Though these cons have discussion panels and interviews with artists, they are foremost a huge marketplace, with the added draw of the costumed shoppers themselves. You can find readers there – if you’re eye-catching and fast. They are budget-conscious and overwhelmed by sights, but they are eager for some new thing. If you have that thing, it’s a positive connection.

This inspired a banner and marketing materials narrowly tailored for my audience’s sensibility, with edge, wit, and maturity all quickly established. It helped to have an amazing cover!

dobranski-banner

 

So far it’s working. I see my title or cover or banner catch eyes and draw smiles, long enough at least for me to engage people. Readers with different tastes walk on by, which is just as good – better no sale than an angry bad review!

Literary cons are smaller, scholarly events, with a pronounced emphasis on readers and writers. Though the membership is only in the hundreds, these fans are deeply connected in the word-of-mouth fan communities, and eager to discuss their genre with creators and with other enthusiastic fans. The high writer-to-reader ratio makes for engaging discussions in hallways and at bars and suite parties. New writers will find both fellowship and validation.

You may get a reading slot or autograph table, but new writers get noticed on panels. Be courteous, especially when you disagree, and knowledgeable. Engage questions creatively, and as positively as you can. You and the other panelists are together an event for the audience. Look for creative ways to turn questions around.

Involve the crowd. Remember – in each audience are likely readers of your book.

*Social Media

Curated corners of social media still feature long-form writing, but blogs are passing. If you look at social media as a marketing channel, you’re competing with many other voices – sometimes, your own friends! Make your posts image-driven, eye-catching and quick to read.

For a book release, YA paranormal writer Shannon A Thompson makes single image “book teasers” with a character’s backstory and a clipart image. https://shannonathompson.com/2016/06/15/ww-how-to-create-book-teasers-on-a-small-budget/ I saw them as a great way to create interest in the story. Not only were they vastly less expensive than a video trailer, each one could be shared on its own.

Keeping in mind my core audience, I wanted to share my style and my hybrid setting. One night, while drifting off to sleep, I remembered my old Star Wars trading cards. Perhaps it was my dreamy state, but I imagined them as a kind of shattered and reassembled movie trailer, with important moments in random order, something familiar yet offbeat. Perhaps I could make the offbeat a path to the familiar.

I developed my own trading cards, online images with sly quotes from the book, and clip-art lookalikes of my characters that I made more expressive using the online Prisma app:

dobranski-cards

I made fifty-six, to release daily on social media in the two months spanning my release, my first readings and my four fall cons.

They were popular, and easier to share across multiple platforms. People told me the quotes and visuals gave a much better sense of my book than the title alone. You can still see them on my Instagram! www.instagram.com/adobranski

People crave original content, even if it’s commercial. If you can express your sensibility in small, steady streams of content, social media can send it far and wide.

* Check Your Tech

Tablets and smartphones are tough for long-form writing, but they are essential for social media. Remember the Prisma app for modifying stock photos to use on Instagram? Prisma is ONLY made for iOS and Android, not for computer desktops. While you can view an Instagram feed on a computer, you can’t post to it – handhelds only.

I hope my approaches inspire you to take a fresh look at how you can find your audience, creatively and entertainingly. Each book has a different main and secondary audience, and a different publication path – giving a unique set of marketing opportunities. Maybe next year will be your year of marketing!

Isn’t it Time to Re-brand Space Opera?

2016 phoenix comicon boothI’ve harped on this before. Where in the middle ages did we come up with the term “space opera” to refer to soft science fiction? Is it a derogatory term? Did it make sense at the time? What were they thinking?

Space opera. It sounds like soap opera, so what are readers going to think when they hear the term? I know what I thought; Days of our Lives aboard the USS Enterprise. Now, I admit, that would fit a fair number of Star Trek episodes, but it definitely does NOT define the genre. So, what should we call it instead? What term would fit a genre that incorporates adventure, romance, horror, and/or mystery in a futuristic setting that has scientific elements but does not strictly adhere to known scientific fact? My vote? Galactic Fantasy.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term before. I’ve heard it here and there, though not consistently, and it’s rarely used by the die-hard sci-fi gurus. And maybe I’m wrong. If the experts are okay with the term then why change an established genre.?

Why? Fans. Space opera may be established in the writing community, but it is not widely established among the fandom. And I have proof.

I shared tables at the 2016 Phoenix Comicon with a group of writers called AWW (Amazing Wycked Writers), which is a group of local Arizona sci-fi/fantasy authors who band together on occasion for conventions and such. I ran my section of the tables, showing my books to passing fans and talking about them. When describing the genre of my “Mankind’s Redemption” series, I used the proper term, space opera. Some fans knew what that meant, the avid readers and those who knew their sci-fi stuff, but most just smiled and nodded. You know the look. Sure, I’m going to pretend like I know what that means so you don’t try to explain it and so I don’t have to show my ignorance. A few people just admitted that they had no clue, and a few were familiar with the term, but not many. About halfway through the convention, I switched my genre label to Galactic Fantasy.

Now, did the readers recognize the term galactic fantasy any better than space opera? No, but I saw their eyes light up as their interest sparked. Maybe they thought the same thing I did when I first heard the term; a fantastical adventure in an outer space setting. Now, being a fantasy and soft science fiction fan, that idea appeals to me a lot more than a soap opera in space. And it appealed to the fans at Comicon, too. I garnered more interest, sold more books, and spent more time explaining my stories rather than defining the genre in which they take place.

If Galactic Fantasy makes more sense to the fans then that’s the road I’m going to travel, even if it is less worn. (Reference to famous poem intended). I hope you’ll join me and we can all be part of the Galactic Fantasy revolution. Isn’t it about time…and occasionally, time travel?

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Genre As Immersive Metaphor

A guest post by Martin L. Shoemaker.

“Listen, now. Read this carefully, because I am going to tell you something important. More than that: I am about to tell you one of the secrets of the trade. I mean it. This is the magic trick upon which all good fiction depends: it’s the angled mirror in the box behind which the doves are hidden, the hidden compartment beneath the table. It’s this: There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean. That was it.”

— Neil Gaiman, “Confessions: On Astro City and Kurt Busiek”

What is genre? That’s our topic this month, and you’re getting many answers from many authors, because genre has many aspects. It’s part setting, part conventions and tropes, and more. At a meta level, it’s reader expectations – and to a degree, non-reader expectations: many people have said of my story Today I Am Paul, “Oh, that doesn’t sound like science fiction!” Excuse me? An android caring for an Alzheimer’s patient isn’t science fiction? But every person who said that also said first, “Oh, I don’t read science fiction.” These aren’t SF readers, because they “know” what the genre’s about: spaceships and phasers and light sabers and such.

And that’s, unfortunately, another aspect of genre: it’s a wall people use to divide the world into “books I might like” and “those other books”. Without even understanding the range of a given genre, they decide it’s not for them.

One of the complaints non-genre readers often have is that genre is too clichéd, that the worlds of genre are ridiculous. They like to mock the tropes of fantasy and science fiction, in particular, finding and exaggerating the worst tropes. And let’s be honest: there are plenty of bad examples out there (even if we can’t all agree which ones they are). So they come to associate these bad examples with the very concept of fantastic worlds.

And there I think they’ve missed the mark entirely. By focusing on the worst, they miss the best, and the incredible literary power of worldbuilding, of genre.

What power is that? Let’s start with metaphor.

The Moon hung in the sky, its icy eye glaring down at us and demanding to know: When would we return?

The Moon doesn’t hang. It doesn’t have an eye, nor is it icy. It makes no demands. But as Gaiman tells us: There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean. By momentarily writing statements that are literally false, I conveyed a feeling and an effect that a more literal statement would lack:

The Moon in its orbit remained unoccupied since our last visit.

The same facts are conveyed, but the facts are – like the Moon – dead. In the metaphor, however, the Moon seems alive. Mysterious. Beckoning.

From metaphor, we move to the extended metaphor, or conceit. As the name implies, it’s a metaphor that builds over a longer passage, allowing you to build and explore similarities and contrasts.

He longed to return to the distant fortresses of the Moon: the palace walls of craters, with their mountainous turrets in their centers and their chambers and dungeons mined below. There a man might establish his quiet, airless kingdom, and no barbarians could storm the castle. Not without a space program of their own.

By describing the Lunar craters and central peaks in terms of castles and fortresses, I conveyed (I hope) the POV character’s militarized and somewhat romanticized view of life on the Moon. He’s not an explorer, he’s looking to build a kingdom.

Metaphor and conceit are powerful literary techniques, but I think genre gives us one even more powerful. In a good genre story, the entire world can be what I call an immersive metaphor. The world you build conveys the feelings, moods, and themes you wish the reader to experience.

For one recent example, look to Nnedi Okorafor’s novella “Binti” (excerpted here), winner of the Nebula. It was Okorafor’s first space story; and I heard (secondhand – I’m still trying to get an exact quote) that she said that prior to this story, space intimidated her. It was so isolated.

And when I heard that, I wanted to shout, “YES!”

Of course space is isolated. That’s one reason to tell a story in space: to put a character or characters in isolation and then explore the effects on them, in a story where you can pick and choose the environment to highlight your theme.

In The Lord of the Rings, forests are metaphors for both deep age (old forests with hidden secrets) and yet also spring and youth (the timeless forests of Lothlorien, where the past still lives). In Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, the forest is a metaphor for unspoiled nature before man mars it for his purposes. In both, though, forests are essential elements of the worldbuilding, both as locations and also as challenges. There is room for them to be forests and to mean more.

In a typical cyberpunk story, the crowded megacity is a metaphor for the massive power structures that dwarf the individual, mocking their powerlessness; and the small but stubborn ways the protagonists find to pursue their own goals represent rebellion against that power. Cyberspace represents a frontier right inside the existing power structure, a place where knowledge literally is power. Yet at the same time, these elements drive plot and shape character. They are both world and metaphor, a metaphor that is all around the characters, wherever they look. A metaphor so pervasive, so immersive, that the characters don’t see it. But the readers can, if we as writers craft it into our worlds.

In my own work, I have two recurring metaphors that are also critical elements of my worlds. The first is simple: a character leaping from an airlock. The airlock is a boundary, and a metaphor for decision: Behind you is safety and the known; before you is danger and the unknown; and at some moment, you have to decide to cross that boundary. How a character crosses tells you something about their approach to challenges. Some people might do so timidly, but my characters almost always leap. They trained and fought to explore the unknown, and they’re not going to hold back now.

My other recurring metaphor is microgravity (sometimes called zero gravity, but microgravity is the more accurate term). In microgravity, you can’t walk or stand, you can’t sit, you can’t even lay down. Unless you strap yourself in place, you float; and the slightest force, even air currents, can set you onto a different course. Microgravity is a metaphor for uncertainty and change. How a character manages it can represent either watchfulness and skill or careless naiveté. Nothing is fixed, and you can’t just stand still. If you don’t consciously set your course, forces around you will set it for you. Yet at the same time that it serves as this metaphor, it also presents a physical challenge for the characters, one they cannot ignore.

And this worldbuilding can be a challenge for the writer as well. If you strive to get it right, you become keenly aware of how many ways there are to get it wrong. I write a lot of microgravity stories, and I have to go over every scene in my head. Have I implied that the character is standing or walking? When they swung their arm or shook their head, did I note how their whole body moved in response? If the engines fired, did I portray which direction suddenly became down?

But I like to think that it’s worth the effort. I want the reader to feel the weightlessness, to sense that nothing is fixed and the characters must control their own course. I want the world to be immersive – and the metaphor as well. I want the reader to live briefly in my world – and I want that to mean more than it literally means.

GUEST BIO: Martin L. Shoemaker is a programmer who writes on the side… or maybe it’s the other way around. Programming pays the bills, but a second place story in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest earned him lunch with Buzz Aldrin. Programming never did that! His Clarkesworld short story “Today I Am Paul” was nominated for a 2015 Nebula and will appear in four year’s best anthologies and eight international translations. His work has appeared in Analog, Galaxy’s Edge, Digital Science Fiction, Forever Magazine, and Writers of the Future Volume 31.

Lex Talk About Lex, Baby

A guest post by Matt Becket.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of JusticeLex Luthor goes up against quite a lot more than just virtual demigods in Batman v Superman. He goes up against us. We, in fact, are his greatest challenge.

I imagine that DC’s goal in presenting an archvillain is to create a feeling of disgust, hatred, or sympathy for the character. Without it, they are unsuccessful. Lex needs to hook us. We need to want to be hooked.

I love movies. I even enjoy bad films if only because my butt is planted in the seat of a movie theater. It’s all magic to me. With a PG-13 superhero movie I become a ten year old boy. My youthful eyes don’t go to judge – but if they get side-tracked, they age into the critical eyes of a college freshman (some of the world’s harshest judges). When this happens the popcorn isn’t as savory and the soda loses its bubbles. It’s still magic, but flat magic propelled by other factors my eyes latch onto such as special effects or cinematography.

I personally appreciate the Warner Brothers’ attempt in making a new Lex, but something did not work. People have blamed casting. Casting is usually the first thing to be blamed. The second thing to be blamed is direction. These two are contributors, but I think the writing and pacing in this movie hurt the new incarnations of these characters the most.

Good characters usually have clear motives with stakes involved. Reintroduced characters shouldn’t rely too much on a savvy audience already familiar with the brand. Lex Luthor wasn’t given a good platform this round. I wanted to know how this particular Lex got to this point. I do admit you can fit the pieces together, kinda, but his motive didn’t hit home and wobbled. Was there a movie between this one and the last that I missed?

Let’s break Lex down. What do we know about Lex Luthor? He’s rich. He’s smarter than Superman. His inventiveness is up there with Batman. He’s power-mad, but he’s able to hold himself together. These are fantastic qualities in a Super-villain (it’s what gives him that “super” bit.) What can mess this up? I think the answer is overincarnation. Yes, I made up this word just now. I think I made it up. No idea, I’ll Google it later.

Where were we? Right! Overincarnation. We have the comics, the old black and white TV serial, more comics, video games, Smallville, Lois and Clark, bald Kevin Spacey, bald Gene Hackman, the Super Friends cartoon. That’s a stable of Lex Luthor! Having been exposed to this, we have Lex Luthor expectations and have all formed some sort of Lex Luthor in our head. Can Hollywood find that least common denominator Lex Luthor that our moms, brothers, and Grandpa will appreciate? Sadly, I feel that this time they did not.

The world knows who Lex Luthor is. He’s been fighting Superman since 1940. He’s very recognizable.

It would have been really cool if he had made an appearance in Batman v Superman. We kept waiting, but he never showed.

 

About the Author:
111814LargeSquareCrop (1)Matthew started lying as soon as he could talk. Thrilled with the reaction he received, he started making the lies bigger. Some of the lies he had kicked around for years became commodiously appropriate for the written word. Matthew has fun lying in the Middle Grade genre, but lately has been taking on the Adult Dark Humor Crime Thriller genre. He is currently working on his novel – The Sommelier.

When not lying, he is usually traveling, or hanging out with his wife and three cats in Celebration, Florida while looking up words like “commodious” on thesaurus.com .

Where do I find this guy?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/matthewdavidbecketauthor/?ref=hl
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewBecket
Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/MatthewBecket