Tuesday, March 09, 2010

You'll LOVE This Post

I think I've figured out the writing-related insomnia situation. I don't think my muse is necessarily working the night shift. The problem only comes up when I reach a logical stopping place in the book and don't know what happens next. Even if I do some brainstorming and have a rough idea, I'll still find myself dwelling on that scene and seeing the movie of it in my head as I drift very slowly toward sleep. Quite often, that thinking will lead me off onto all kinds of random tangents, and eventually I'll get to sleep.

I'm not sure there's a resolution to the issue. Even if I got up and wrote the scene that was coming to me, I'd be left with not knowing what happens next, which would set the whole thing off again. Even if I know what happens next, in great detail, I'll find myself reliving the scene until I write it. Even after I write it, if it's not quite right, I'll worry over it until I figure out how to fix it.

It did seem to help to switch gears and read my epic reference book before I went to bed, so it only took about an hour for me to fall asleep last night. I hope I've got the next scene figured out. I guess I'll find out when I get there. After I fix the things I realized were wrong in the scene I just wrote. Though I don't think the polar bear actually has anything to do with it (just a strange dream that came from a weird chain of thought tangents. And no, it had nothing to do with Lost.).

In other news, I continue to be baffled at what passes for publicity and marketing in the book world. I've already commented at length on the silliness of the Borders "hand selling" initiative, in which booksellers are forced to push particular books on all customers, regardless of the customers' interests. I still do most of my book buying at Borders, and I'm in their loyalty program, since you don't have to pay to join and they give good coupons. But that means I'm also on their e-mail list, and while that's very targeted marketing, which is good because they can notify me of new books by authors whose books I've bought previously, there's a certain amount of tone deafness in the way they do it. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it a "blunder." Maybe it's more of a "gaffe."

I got an e-mail proclaiming "A new release you'll love by (author whose previous book I bought)." Except, although I bought that author's previous book, I didn't actually like it all that much. I'd heard about it and thought I might like it, but ultimately I was disappointed in it and had decided I didn't want the next one. I'm hearing that the new book is better, but I may wait to see if the library gets it. I'm certainly not rushing out in release week to buy it. Borders telling me I'd love it got my hackles up. It struck me as presumptuous -- I guess about as presumptuous as their employees sticking books in my hands and telling me I'll love them.

Amazon does a similar thing, but they strike a better tone without presuming what I'll think or feel about something. They go more along the lines of "as someone who has purchased (or browsed) this item, you may be interested in this new release." They leave it up to me to decide if I'll love it. It's especially important for them to be careful about this because they do include browsing and searching, and I use Amazon as a reference, so I look up all kinds of things that I'd never be interested in buying.

Having worked in marketing, I bet I know how Borders could have implemented something like this without it occurring to anyone that it might rub people the wrong way. In brainstorming sessions, there's a rule that you aren't allowed to criticize any idea that's thrown out there, which is good because you don't want to stifle creativity at that point. But once you take the brainstorming output and put it into real planning, you need a realist, and there's something about the culture of marketing firms where realists aren't valued. I don't know if it's the self-esteem culture that makes it seem like anyone who criticizes something isn't contributing to the team or just an overall cheerleading, team-building corporate environment, but the person who can find the possible pitfalls, play devil's advocate or insert reality into the proceedings gets labeled "negative" and will even be criticized for this in performance reviews. Never mind that the person turns out to be right and the customers point out the same things, it's still seen as negative and not team-spirited to criticize or find flaws. It should be better for someone inside the team to find those flaws so they can be corrected than to have customers complaining (or blogging) about them, but that doesn't matter when it comes to reviews that affect promotions or raises. So the realist in the group, if there is one, learns to keep his/her mouth shut and not say in the meeting, "But what if the customer didn't like the previous book she bought by that author? How can we guarantee she'll love the next one?"

Usually, focus groups catch this kind of thing, but the book/publishing industry seems to still be operating on instinct. And then they wonder why sales are down and why they're having trouble competing in the current entertainment realm.

But hey, at least I'm not working in a marketing firm anymore.

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