Creating Controversy

If you want to get a lot of attention very quickly, piss off loud people who are easily annoyed. Say something for or against homosexuality—the more off-the-wall the better. Say something for or against a particular race—the more stereotypical the better. Say something that is sure to infuriate someone and say it loudly and publicly. Say something against the rich or the poor.

You’ll get attention. Some people will love you. Others will hate you. Still others will be morbidly fascinated by your audacity/stupidity.

There are “personalities” that thrive on this “marketing strategy” in American media. I assume the same is true in other parts of the world, but I don’t know how universal this really is. But, in the U.S., one of the best ways to become an “overnight” success is to piss people off loudly and consistently and keep doing it over and over and over again.

Personally, I would never follow this advice, because I’m not willing to live with the consequences. One of those consequences is that it becomes harder and harder for the general public to take you seriously. They may listen to you. They may buy your book. But that doesn’t mean they’ll take you seriously. You’re merely entertainment.

Then again, I’m not always good at judging who is and who is not going to be taken seriously by the general public. I mean, I keep trying the whole “ignore them and they might just go away” strategy. Um, that governor-turned-reality-star. Yeah, let’s just ignore her. That actress-turned-anti-vaxxer. Yeah, her too. Who considers them credible anyway? And if they’re not credible, why do so many people pay attention to them?

All I know is that controversy works, if you’re willing to live with the consequences. So, go ahead, make an ass out of yourself. People are dying to watch you do it. I’m just not one of them.

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Being Sensitive to Others’ Sensitivities

We produce our work for our own reasons. Sometimes it is necessary to purposefully offend people in the process. Some artists even enjoy rattling other people’s sensibilities by offending them on purpose. They get a kick out of it. Other times artists offend others through their own ignorance.

I know I’ve done it and I’m pretty confident you have, too. One way or the other, we all offend. And I’m not convinced that this is a bad thing. It’s not comfortable, but I do intentionally expose myself to things I know will stretch my own sensibilities, if for no other reason than because I know I shouldn’t rest on my own convictions without testing them.

Even more so, as artists, we have to be true to our work. We can’t please everybody and we shouldn’t feel obligated to try to do so. We take a risk with every work we produce. We’re going to offend someone over something. We deal with it and take the risk anyway. This is part of what makes us artists—we’re willing to be artists.

On the other hand, as fellow human beings, I believe we do have an obligation to be sensitive to others’ sensitivities. Whenever possible, we need to be respectful of other people’s feelings. This doesn’t mean we don’t purposefully offend others if that’s what our work requires. This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy rattling people. But this does mean we should be honest in our approach. And it does mean we should combat our own ignorance.

I’ll give you an example to explain what I mean. My son, who has diagnoses of autism and epilepsy, was talking about something or other and these words popped out of his mouth: “Man, he was a total spaz!” In a non-confrontational manner, I said, “Do you know what that word means?” He looked at me rather blankly. “Spaz. It’s slang that compares someone who is being ‘uncool’ with someone who has cerebral palsy.” My mom chimed in, “It would be like someone making fun of you when you were having a seizure.” “Does that sound like a good thing,” I asked. He shook his head sadly and said, “I won’t say it ever, ever again.” The fact is that he probably will. It takes time and effort to break these linguistic habits we pick up. But becoming aware is the first step to changing our unsavory behaviors.

I hear people use charged language in complete ignorance all the time and they’re not all children. When words become slang, it’s hard to know the word’s original meaning—unless you happen to be one of the people who are hurt by those words. It takes effort to be informed. It takes even more effort to be aware of the ideas that cause harm, regardless of the words we use: ideas like racial minorities being predisposed to law-breaking or that life isn’t worth living if you have a disability. Words and ideas that hurt others pervade our cultures and most people aren’t even aware of them. But, as artists, we have a responsibility to be aware, to be honest, and to be respectful—even when we’re being purposefully disrespectful. It’s a fine line, but it’s one we all can walk, with a few wobbles and mistakes now and then, if we try.

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Trailer Time: Faux Pas?

So, I had to try several flops before I found this one:

As far as trailers go, this one touches on many salient points:

  • Introduces a character (at least a stereotype),
  • Introduces a catalyst,
  • Escalates the dire,
  • Establishes the need for a resolution.

It might be intriguing if I wasn’t inclined to be offended.

You see, the catalyst involves a global fireworks display launched from space. This introduces several points of discomfort:

  • The 4th of July (a.k.a. the day the U.S. celebrates its independence from the British Empire) is not a global holiday, so why would people all around the world celebrate an extravagant display of wealth that presupposes the “superiority” of the U.S.?
  • Fireworks are bad. Little kids in terrible factories make things that explode, all too often getting hurt in the process; and the things they make do explode, though not always where and when they’re supposed to, all too often hurting others in the process.
  • Would fireworks even work in space? I have serious doubts.

This leads to further discomfort, because it’s implied that this fireworks display somehow leads to a pandemic of blindness. I suppose I could give the author that possibility, except that this pandemic of blindness then leads to the collapse of society and infrastructure and hope.

Um. People deal with being blind every day. Humanity would not cease to function, nor would our infrastructure suddenly collapse if a lot more people became disabled, particularly due to sudden blindness.

Benefit of the doubt: The causation could be a bit more complicated than is suggested in the trailer.

Unfortunately, my offense is trigger by what the trailer suggests. Neither excessive nationalism (e.g. assuming that the 4th of July would be celebrated around the world no matter how you “sold” it) nor ableism (e.g. assuming that acquiring a disability is catastrophic) appeals to me, so why would I want to read this book?

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Problem Solved…for now

I’ve decided to go ahead with short informational (i.e. nonfiction) pieces and I’ve decided to do what I know to do and to prioritize those projects I know will be able to turn a profit if I do it. Of course, to practice what I preach, I need to redo my business plan to reflect these decisions, create marketing plans and implement marketing campaigns. So let’s just say I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to help me use my limited energy and resources, but I’m keeping them there for now. You’ll learn more soon enough.

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Away Away, for Now

I’m putting my fiction away for now. It was a hard choice, reluctantly made. But I’ve got other priorities that I want to see fulfilled. Once they are, I hope to be generating enough residual income to give myself room to breathe and time to kick back into storytelling mode. For now, the income kind of work has to be my focus, which means the fiction has to go away away, not just last in a long list away.

Ironically, it was that short story trailer that started me along this path. I want to give myself time to create, publish, and market some short informational products. Instead of inspiring me to write (fiction), it inspired me to sell.

What can you do? I’m a trained marketer, if not a marketer at heart.

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Trailer Time: What You Aren’t Telling Me

I watched a trailer because the series title piqued my interest. I knew it was a trailer for a series going in and so do you:

First, I know the music and the out of focus bits were elements that were used to generate excitement and mystery. I get that the pace was both for effect and for necessity, keeping everything tight, tight, tight. I get that. I do.

Honestly, though, the only things I really caught were:

Will we survive?

Extinction level event.

Um. Yes, we will survive or else there wouldn’t be a second, let alone a third book. But what is it we’re surviving? An asteroid? A plague? An invasion? Computers gone wild? No clue.

But there will be soldiers. Soldiers aren’t my favorite thing in the world, but I can do soldiers.

Now, the title, Linkage, Incursion, and Reversion seem like some kind of transformative plague. Or maybe that’s just me.

The point is that I have no idea what I’m supposed to be excited about. I have no clue who the characters are. And I really don’t know why I should care. If all I’m going to get is a cheap thrill, there are easier, less expensive ways to do it. After all, I have a Netflix subscription and a son who loves to try to scare me.

So, then I watched this one:

First, I thought my sound got muted. Then, bam!

Granted, this is a sensory processing thing for me, but I missed most of the text adjusting to the silence and then the noise. So, I watched it again.

Is it just me or does this seem like vampires vs. aliens?

Am I just having a bad day? Am I just being snarky? Or did I just stumble across two trailers that tell me virtually none of the things I want to know?

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The Product Side of Marketing

Marketing is an umbrella term that covers a great many activities. While there are businesses that specialize in business activities that do not fall under this umbrella, who use marketing as only a small portion of their total business activities, writers are not among those businesses. Properly considered, just about everything a writer does falls under the marketing umbrella.

The actual act of writing isn’t a marketing activity. Technically, it’s a production or a “manufacturing” activity. However, what you choose to write – everything about what you choose to write – does fall under the marketing umbrella. The output of our writing is our products. This is an underserved topic, because most writers don’t choose what they’ll write with a thought to their marketing. Most writers leave marketing as an afterthought – something they think about after the production process is complete. This is one of the reasons why most writers are not professional writers who make a living writing. So, let’s take some time to seriously consider the product side of our writing.

We start by thinking about the various factors that go into what we choose to write:

  • What topic will we write about? What genre will we write in?
  • What will we provide our readers with: information, entertainment, a persuasive argument, a mix of any of these three?
  • What length will we make the piece: a long book, an average book, a short book, a novella or whitepaper, a short story or feature length article, a flash story or short article?
  • How will we make our work available to readers: traditional publication, self-publication with a purchase fee, self-publication with a subscription fee, self-publication without a fee but with advertising, self-publication without a fee and without advertising, or an alternative publication approach?
  • How will we let readers know the piece is available? Who will we target as our likely readers?

All of these questions are marketing questions and all of these questions are answered before or during the production/writing process. If you’re not answering these questions intentionally, then you’re providing a default, intuitive, or de facto answer through the writing process – an answer that is not determined by and may not be consistent with your marketing strategies.

If we graduate from these initial questions and commit ourselves to answering these questions intentionally as part of our overall business/marketing approach, we find there are additional questions to answer.

We then start thinking about the various factors that go into choosing a product mix:

  • How much can you produce in a given timeframe (e.g., a year)?
  • How many pieces do you need to produce to satisfy your goals and your readers?
  • What lengths should you produce given your production capabilities?
  • How much can you afford to invest in your products? Remember to include your time in your calculations.
  • How much revenue do you need your products to generate? Remember that you need to generate enough revenue to cover your costs and provide you with the profit you desire.
  • How quickly do you need your products to generate revenues? Remember to consider the time frame difference among the various publication methods.

The precise answers to these questions differ for every individual writer, however the majority of us who are trying to make a living writing need a product mix that includes both full-length works (long, average, or short books) and short works (novellas or white papers, short stories or articles) in order to generate the profits we want to see each year.

How we go about making these available to readers depends on our comfort level with various marketing strategies and our revenue requirements. Traditional publication, for example, tends to take longer and has less revenue-generating potential, but it also involves less risk. Self-publication tends to be faster and has more revenue-generating potential, but the writer takes on all or most of the risk. Alternative publication methods provide various combinations of the two.

Have you planned your product mix? Did you base your plans on what you want to write as an artist or what you need to write to meet your goals? Did you know that you can devise solutions and strategies that satisfy both the artist and the business professional?

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