Friday, May 21, 2010

Taking a Whiz on Book Marketing . . .

By Shane

I always liked Cheez Whiz.

It's just that we call it "book marketing" now.

You remember Cheez Whiz. The sorta-food that looks suspiciously like cheese but you know it can't be cause it's yellow as a plastic banana?

Yeah. That stuff. What Wikipedia calls, "a thick processed cheese sauce or spread sold by Kraft Foods. It was first marketed in 1953. The bright yellow, viscous paste usually comes in a glass jar."

Yummy! And about as nutritious as eating your own hair clippings.

That's how I think of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, author polls, games, and all the other fangle-dangly stuff we loosely describe as book marketing. (As opposed to Facebooking and Twittering to keep up with family and friends, which is a noble pursuit worth doing and well, as you can't have too many real bonds.) That "please be my friend" stuff is the writer's equivalent of eating Cheez Whiz. It's fun, it's tasty in a slightly off sort of way, and you can pretend you're eating real food. But eat too much of it for too long to the exclusion of meat, grains and vegetables, and you die fat, lonely and occluded.

Here's why you need to eat Book Whiz in small doses: because nobody really knows what works in selling books. We speculate and guess and conjecture and hope and burn tons of money and brain cells and then rain-dance to the gods of Sweet Jesus, No Returns This Time, but we don't know. If we did, we'd all have James Patterson sales. We don't. So, to spend a buncha time, effort and money on flashin' and grabbin' for eyeballs in hopes of sorta-maybe sellin' a book to some nice old lady you don't know in Webville is a fool's errand. We need to write. We need to tell stories. We need to create memorable characters and give them fascinating things to do. That's what gets us noticed, cause that's what readers want. And cherish. And love.

As do we.

So Facebook/Twitter/Social Networking/Who's Your Favorite Beatle? with the sole purpose of selling books? Sure, go ahead. It's fun and occasionally interesting. (Ringo Starr!) But just a few bites, please; leave the rest on your plate. Mom lied when she told you about the Poor Starving Children in China. They won't eat that stuff either.


I know, Debbie Downer. If I'm so smart, how come I'm not telling you what does sell books?

See above: Nobody knows. And I know less than that. But I do have marketing-related loves that aren't Butt In Chair Typing Manuscript. They are:

Book videos.

I love them, and find them utterly important to my success. Cause they pour gasoline on my creativity. They're kindling for the logs that become my real fire: novels.

I adore conversing with people through essays. (Blogs are just essays with designer clothes.) These little CM ditties, for instance. Once a week I get to tell you about something I find important and/or interesting, hopefully with a bit of grace and humor and style. (And the occasional cheesy video.) I like writing these essays, and I try very hard not to blow them off. They do take time, no question. I don't care, it's worth the investment. Why?

Because they're go-potion for my brain.

For me, writing begats writing begats brain stimulation begats more writing. I think with my fingers. Honest to God, if I sit quietly and pontificate about Something, my butt in a lounger and index finger on my temple, I can't think of anything. I'm bored. Start typing an essay, though--like this one--and immediately I'm dreaming up three dozen story ideas, visuals, characters, names, and what do I want for lunch tomorrow. It all bubbles into a rich un-whizzy gravy that bathes my creative side.

Which turns into real books.

I like book videos for the same reason. Not watching them--after awhile they all start to look and sound alike--but producing them. I don't have the technical skills to actually put them together; I leave that to folks who do it well. (The other day I tried burning a paperback in front of my videocam to illustrate the concept "hot writing." Good concept, but deep-fried-UGLY as a video. Plus the driveway smells all gasoline-y now . . .) But I love thinking them out. Writing the scripts. Deciding which voice will do the audio--male, female, child? Old, young, middle-age? Humorous, serious, nasal?

Most of all, I enjoy figuring out how to say it all in 30 seconds or less.

People don't like having their time wasted. Whether I'm providing just the facts, ma'am, riffing on music, poetry, books or politics, or discussing how "fuck" can be used as noun, verb, adverb, adjective and maybe even a gerund if I knew what the fuck that was--people want me to get to the damn point. They want to be entertained and amazed along the way, certainly, but they don't want me taking forty-eight miles of bad mountain road getting there. They want me to figure out the heart of my story, put it up there, and let them have at it.

So they can fall in love.

Coalescing a 400-page manuscript into 30 shining seconds of air time forces me to find the real heart of my story: the emotion. The real reason readers will care so much about my characters that they'll forget to breathe for just a moment. The real reason all of us write: to make that magical connection.

Something that Cheez Whiz will never, ever do.

Even if it's atomic yellow.

Oh, and that fuck-stuff I mentioned?

Best scene EVER using only the f-bomb. Here it is in all its naughty glory, from the television show The Wire:

Happy Friday from me.


Bill Cameron said...

The Cheez Whiz analogy is brilliant.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Ha ha! I think you're hair clippings may be more nutritious.

That "hot writing" video sounded so good. Too bad it didn't quite translate to film properly.

The more I'm thinking about marketing, this week, the more I think you're right. No one knows what sells. This whole rush to blog, Twitter and whatnot, may be a knee-jerk reaction by agents and others, who see book sales dropping and see the Internet as a curse but maybe also a cure. A hair of the dog? Therefore get all those authors and wannabes online blathering their little hearts out.

Enjoyed the fuck video too.

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks, Bill. I dunno what inspired the Cheez Whiz comparison. Some overly caffeinated brain fragment, I guess.

It should have been cool, Terry, that light-my-fire video. But, I don't have the studio, lighting and other high-end equipment necessary to make these things pop. Just me 'n' my Canon point-and-shoot w/video capability. There's a reason production houses charge big bucks to make broadcast-grade video sequences. I have good ideas, but not the technical talent to translate them to video ... and no time for the steep learning curve such expertise involves. Ah, to be 17 again with all this great digital stuff we have ...

Of course you liked the fuck video. It was classic! One of the funniest scenes ever on television. Thank God for HBO.

Shane Gericke said...

I fear this stuff is yet another way to blame the author for the publisher's failure to sufficiently invest in its own product. "I'm sorry we have to cancel your contract. Maybe if you'd Tweeted more, your numbers would be better. Never mind we cut your promotion budget 70%. You should have worked harder ..."

Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful post as always, buddy!!

Made me miss that Kraft cheese with pimentos, though. The kind that came in little glass jars ...


Anonymous said...

Something interesting to think about and an interesting analogy (though I had never actually heard of Cheez Whiz before you description brought it to life for me and now I'm glad I've never heard about it). Thanks for sharing this post.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Spoken like a true jounalist, Shane. *smile, wink*

Shane Gericke said...

Ooh! Kraft cheese with pimentos in a jar! That's the plastic banana's cousin, Kel: orange-as-a-bottle-tan-man.

Then again, it wasn't Tang, possibly the world's most awful drink-they-tried-to-disguise-as orange-juice.

Shane Gericke said...

Smile, wink. I likes me some a thank smile, wink.

You know, to channel Our Sophie ...

Kelli Stanley said...

I confess, darling--I loved Tang. I used to put it in milk to make an orange shake. :)

Hey--if it was good enough for astronauts ... ;)


Gabi said...

I'm a little sick to my stomach just thinking about Cheez Whiz (I'm from Wisconsin and there are actual laws against its consumption) but I have to say the physical experience is very similar to when I think about all the things I should/will hate/don't wanna do that SOMEONE unnammed has said will help me find more readers. Of course they always say more sales. I just change it to more readers because that's the part I do like.

Glad to hear you're watching your cholesterol and giving us more chances to do what we want -- read fun blogs like this.

Shane Gericke said...

You like Tang? Oy! But maybe it'll go better mixed in Scotch ...

Kelli Stanley said...

Hon-nee ...EVERYTHING goes better with Scotch. ;)

Shane Gericke said...

Thank you, Gabi. Always a breath of sunshine, you are.

My mom grew up in Wisconsin, said there were laws against margarine, cause naturally they wanted to sell butter. Course, margarine then was white and you had to mix in a glob of yellow goo to color it ...

You know, it's a wonder any of us are alive. The radiation from the A-bomb testing must have killed all the germs.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Brilliant post, as always!

I am so giving myself a pass on marketing stuff now. As soon as I get the web site updated and the book trailer scored and answer my Facebook messages...anybody have any crackers for my Cheese Whiz?

Shane Gericke said...

Thank you, Rebecca. Yes, update the website so we can see what's up with you. Then, pass the crackers. But only if they're florescent yellow ...

Shane Gericke said...

You know, I just wrote this thing so I could say fuck. Beavis and Shanehead :-)