Friday, September 18, 2015

Telling Stories

I had all kinds of grand plans to write yesterday, and then a high ragweed count hit with a vengeance. Ah, it's that time of year. It's not as bad since I discovered Allegra, but I've only just started taking it daily, so it's taking a while to kick in, and then I forgot to take it for a day. I've definitely felt worse during early ragweed season, but it's just enough to mess with my head. I can think, but I have a hard time translating my thoughts into language. (So be warned that there may be odd flubs in this post that I haven't caught because that was what came out of my head and it made sense to me even when I was editing.)

So instead of writing, I read some of those books on marketing I got from the library. One had a very interesting premise that marketing is essentially the story you build around something, and the story is what often adds the perceived value. The audience already has a built-in worldview, and the trick is to suggest a story that they want to tell themselves that fits their worldview. The real marketing comes from people who are telling themselves a story, and then they spread that story to other people. So, for example, when it comes to a car, they all pretty much get you from point A to point B, and when you look at reliability ratings, the more moderately priced car is actually more likely to get you to point B. So why is a car that's more likely to break down worth so much more money? It's mostly about the story we can tell ourselves about a car like that. There's luxury in the details and the experience that makes people feel better about themselves -- if they're the kind of people who feel better about that sort of thing. If they're not, it's not going to work on them. If they are, then the more expensive car may be worth it to them because it matches the story they tell themselves about success or the kind of person they want to be. So the way to sell a car to them is to weave that story around it.

I'm still trying to figure out how this might apply to marketing books or an author. Can you spin a story around a story? I think the trick might be to capitalize on the sense of "I'm the kind of person who reads this kind of book, and that makes me better/smarter/more in-the-know than people who haven't read it." But then you have to figure out what "this kind of book" really is. In my case, I'm not sure there's really an established niche because I blur a lot of lines. For the most part, maybe what makes my books different is the lack of edge -- so much else these days is dark and edgy, but here's something for those of us who are tired of it and just want to have some good, clean fun.

There's some built-in "tribe" stuff with Rebel Mechanics that probably resonates with society today -- the makers and innovators who may be a threat to the status quo. It's also a steampunk book that's actually about steampunks -- people starting a rebellion with their technology, an actual counter-cultural movement that looks a lot like the cultural group we have now.

The trick may be to find a way to communicate these stories to these groups. Once you find some people within these groups, they tend to spread the idea to others and word of mouth spreads. The down side of that is that word of mouth spreads slowly from person to person, so you don't get that huge spike that gets you noticed in the publishing world. The up side is that it does tend to be more "sticky" that way because it's not about the latest trend but rather is about something that resonates with these people, regardless of the trend, which is why Enchanted, Inc. is still selling relatively well ten years after publication, when most of the books that were published around that time are now either out of print or went out of print and are now being brought back as self-published books. The idea didn't spread fast enough for the publisher to take notice, but it's still hanging on.

But actually coming up with a plan to do something about all this is more than my ragweed-addled brain can deal with at the moment.

I did reread a short story I wrote a couple of years ago (I think), and I was surprised by how much I liked it. I'm not entirely crazy about the ending, but I think it works. I'm not sure what to do with it, though. On the one hand, I think it could be fleshed out into a decent novella or novel that scraps the current ending and develops the middle a lot better before coming to a more satisfying ending (the current one seems abrupt, but I can't make it much longer and have it be a short story), but then again, in its current form it's short enough to read in a convention reading and it's easier to sell either a short story or a full-length novel. If I decide on a form, then what do I do with it? I'd probably make more money self publishing it, but then selling it to a good market would turn it into advertising, in a way, helping me reach a different group of readers who wouldn't find a self-published novella/short story.

I'm planning to use this story for my FenCon reading, and then maybe get some feedback from the audience, kind of like a focus group.

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