Making A Living At Writing
Previous Parts in this series:
So here we are in 2014 and the world of marketing fiction is morphing even faster than ever. In fact, "marketing" in general is under a high-impact game-changer of an ad-campaign. The targets of this campaign mostly have no idea they've been targeted -- which is the way Public Relations is supposed to work, sneaking through your critical thinking filters.
The groundbreaking ad campaign was launched for the film Anchorman 2. Ron Burgundy suddenly appeared all over the place, coming at you from every medium.
I saw several items on the financial news back in December 2013 about this ad campaign for Anchorman 2, during the talk about how the only thing wrong with Obamacare is the lack of a sufficient PR thrust to cause people to sign up for Obamacare (while news items kept appearing about the lack of Security on the back end of the healthcare.gov website.)
In the Entertainment biz, (of which publishing is a part), no matter how interesting your story, if it doesn't have an appropriate ad campaign, it won't make you a profit.
Do you know how it "happens" that something like the Burgundy promo suddenly appears on NEWS SHOWS? And everywhere else, while ads are appearing -- most hits on the YouTube video which has been pushed viral? That it didn't "go" viral but was pushed viral on purpose is the story. But how did that story make it onto a news broadcast?
Publicity Release, that's how.
There are a number of online services that promise free or fee-paid distribution to news outlets for a press release you write -- and they even admit that there is a standardized technique for writing such press releases. They show you how. But that isn't enough.
Any reporter, editor, etc. is now bombarded with thousands of these things a day.
It's not enough to "put out" a "press release" -- professional back-channel access to the decision makers is necessary, and before that can be effective, there has to be a "story."
This is the NEWS GAME, behind the scenes. It has its own language and buzz-words as well as an entire business model for attracting the attention of large numbers of people who, because of whatever they have in common, will very likely do something with the information.
The most successful novelists I know of (and sometimes know personally) have one of two starting-professions under their belts before they "make it big" in the book biz.
It doesn't matter what kind of Journalism and it doesn't matter marketing what. These two professions ingrain an entire outlook on the world that trains the subconscious to think in certain ways when organizing an Idea for a Story.
So we're going to examine how the News Game has changed -- where it was decades ago, why it was that way, and what forces caused it to change.
ANCHORMAN 2 is a marvelous case in point since it is sort-of about NEWS, but is fiction, and got this groundbreaking Public Relations Campaign.
That's what's "wrong" with self-publishing -- most writers just don't understand Public Relations, or how to create an ad campaign (nor do they have a sufficient budget). And they don't understand Journalism -- which is the interface between the writer and the audience. If you get "reported on" you are important. How do you get "interviewed" on a news show and have them introduce you as the author of a book which they put on screen?
How do you get a cover design on your book that an eye-blink of exposure on a TV screen would give a viewer a need to buy that book?
It's magic, right? Sheer dumb luck? It could happen to anyone? All you have to do is get your book in print?
What do you need a "publisher" for?
PR, that's what.
PR is the most expensive part of producing a book. Just as in film production, the writer gets the least amount of the budgeted money, the book writer gets the least amount in advance from the publishing budget, and the least of the profits.
Self-publishers who establish a publishing budget covering all the items a big publisher puts into a budget have a very good chance of succeeding.
One reason writers go to self-publishing is that they learn how the author's contract pays them 6% to 10% of the NET proceeds from sale of the book. The publisher keeps the rest.
No, actually not. The publisher SPENDS the rest on staff and tasks required to produce and market that book. Publishing (like the News Game we're going to discuss) used to be a zero-profit business. It used to be that big companies owned a publishing company for the prestige of it (I'm not kidding; I know first-hand), and the company policies of the publishing arm of the company were designed to lose money.
The publishing company's job was to lose money AS A TAX WRITE-OFF.
They were in the business of exciting original thought with stimulating IDEAS, of instructing, informing, investigating, and incidentally entertaining. The business aim was to break even -- make office rent, salaries, printing fees, etc etc -- not to make a profit. So for every big, best seller, they would deliberately publish really "important" books that just could not possibly earn what it cost to print and distribute.
The mission statement didn't include this, but the real mission was to lose money and gain prestige for the company that owned the publishing company.
That all changed when the US tax laws that governed warehousing of product changed.
Two decades later, technology swooped in and blindsided paper publishers -- e-books are now the battleground, and self-publishing may be our Renaissance. (we're seeing this trend in Indie film and Indie everything else.)
Note also that most all the US operating publishers are actually owned by foreign companies. The shift in the tax laws gutted US Publishing to the point where we had an era writers called "Pac Man Publishing" where companies ate each other (this is happening with our Airlines now, and Healthcare delivery and innovators are entering that phase.)
Just remember this: IT IS ALL ABOUT THE TAX LAWS.
So let's add a third starting-profession to the list of pre-published-author professions:
2) Marketing (PR is part of Marketing)
3) Business Administration
One of the items in the BA curriculum is Public Relations and the place and function of the PR Department in the corporate structure. Accounting is supposed to cover Tax Laws, but if you self-publish, you have to learn all that, too. Tax laws are the elephant in the room. You stand or fall as a business on Tax Law.
A self-publisher is a corporation -- has to be! At least an LL.C. There's an annual fee imposed on corps by each state -- a tax. It's all about taxes.
If you self-publish an e-book, and get sued, they can take your house, car, any other property. Put the book into a corporation, and all the laws are different, but they are different in each state.
And a self-publishing writer has to be a Master of administering or managing a PR department -- even if she wears all the hats in this corp, she has to do the PR and be the PR Department manager herself. Each of these jobs is a full time job, and each requires a 4-year University Degree or at least the knowledge acquired in that degree work, plus the real-world, hands-on, skills gained by working with people.
So google the following query:
anchorman Burgundy promotion
Study the results from the point of view of 1) Journalism ( a news organization deciding this film's promotion is NEWS - not the film itself!), 2) Marketing (that provides the news organization with the material to make that decision a slam-dunk) and 3) The Business of monetizing an investment in a piece of fiction (watch the film).
From the outside, the results of PR look like magic. It's not. It's science so advanced that it looks like magic.
So beginning writers assume they can write a great novel, self-publish it, and LUCK may strike and boost them into this pinnacle of profit that the Burgundy films enjoy simply because their writing and their story are so much better than that movie (which they probably are).
It's true: Luck Can Do That. And the odds tilt in your favor if you write well.
But self-publishing for profit requires a whole lot more savvy than that.
It requires understanding business.
Being a successful self-publisher means understanding the business structure well enough to know exactly where "Talent" resides in the Business Model, and precisely what the value of the content produced by Talent is worth in terms of ROI.
Remember the old Hollywood saw, "I'll make you a star." Mostly, the producer saying that was a grifter who just wanted to "make" the girl, but sometimes they could and did "make a star." How talented an actress was Marilyn Monroe? How good a singer is Madonna? Are there better actresses or singers? Why aren't they as well known?
Is fame proportionate to ability?
See this entry on FAME:
Making a living at writing (even if you use a publisher) also requires the writer's concept of their product's place in the business model to morph as fast as the business model itself is morphing. (which in 2014 is fast! Tax law changes will ensure even faster morphing, never mind Healthcare changes.)
Take the ANCHORMAN 2 promotional campaign as an example of how your PR approach must now shift.
The Business channels carried items noting how the unique aspect of this promotional campaign was because it utilized multiple media forms simultaneously - a timed barrage.
It's on TV, Radio, YouTube, Internet ads, and I don't know about print, blogging. The campaign itself is the news item, as much as the sequel to a popular movie.
OK, the subject of the movie has wide appeal -- but the effectiveness of the YouTube ad plus all the multi-channel hype was highlighted on the Business channel coverage when one of the anchors said his whole family wants to see that movie -- the teen from YouTube or Netflix exposure, his wife from another medium and himself from other sources.
Each channel of communication with potential audience demographics now requires a different medium of communication of the "message." But "messaging" is still King.
Apparently, the producers of this film spent more on promotion than on the movie, and one of the stars is getting his cut off the back end (not up front which is usual). In other words, he gets a percent of the box office, so he's out there beating the drum just before the film hits -- TIMING is the other biggie in advertising. Messaging (saying it in a way that gets across) and Timing are the keystones of an ad campaign.
And it is a campaign. It's a WAR between those who can profit from selling you the product, and your resistance to spending that money. Also the consumer has limited time to spend on entertainment. You are, as Heinlein said, vying for the buyer's beer money and leisure time.
There is a whole science behind getting "people" to DO SOMETHING.
That science, PR, works well enough that the cost/benefit equation works better in favor of those who know and utilize that science.
Advertising used to be an Art. During the 20th century, it became a science (Public Relations is now math based on statistical studies of how large populations respond to messaging). You've seen TV news using "focus groups" to predict elections or graph public opinion of viewers watching a segment.
PR is founded on the assumption that "people" are a herd -- that people see a person (a leader or influencer -- such as Klout attempts to spot by analyzing your social media interactions) move in a direction and they just follow like a herd. Therefore, the only way to "make a profit" is to control that herd's movements, and PR is the math behind that control. We've discussed all that at considerable length on this blog.
Here are 3 previous items on this blog that discuss PR:
Control the Influencers - the Leaders - and you control the herd. Any cowboy/gal can tell you how that works.
For a century, this science has been growing, becoming refined and more accurate -- so successful that the general opinion that an individual has of "people" is that they (people plural) aren't very smart.
"Yell FIRE in a dark theater!" It brings to mind that image of a stampede for exits.
One PR principle is to keep that herd in a panic -- or some peak emotional state, pathos, sympathy, revulsion, all do the job. The key to controlling the herd is whipping up emotion because emotional states (fear-fight-flight) wipe out critical thinking, paralyze the ability to discern the con-game, the grifter's skills at work.
We discussed the TV Show Leverage here:
If you missed prior discussions involving PR, review them here:
If you've studied Leverage, (and the many other TV Shows that focus on con-men tricking "marks" into self-destruction) you are equipped to make yourself PR proof.
Once you see the strings of greed and fear con-men pull to make their "marks" dance, you will never be a "mark" again. If you can achieve that mindset, you have a serious chance of being successful at self-publishing.
Seeing is believing.
Until you see what PR at publishing houses does, and how they do it, and how you have been a victim of it, you have no chance at success in self-publishing.
You don't need a college degree to do this, but you do need to know what is in those textbooks. You don't need a teacher. Teach yourself. Go to the library or buy some used textbooks (much cheaper now in e-book format!) and just learn it.
So returning to the grifter's secondary tool of "fear." That's "Yelling Fire In A Crowded Theater." Just get the herd moving, and human stupidity will do the rest for you. Remember, the principle behind PR is that Aroused Emotion obliterates critical thinking. Once you've short-circuited human critical thinking, you own that herd.
As long as you, the writer with aspirations of self-publishing, are a member of the herd that Publisher's PR Departments own, you will not succeed at self-publishing. Your indignation and defiance are emotions aroused by the "stupidity" of publishers who refuse to publish the "better" kind of book you write, and thus your critical thinking is shunted offline, and they own you.
As long as you are in rebellion against traditional publishing, you will fail because they own you.
You will not fail because your book is not marketable (though that does cause failure). You will fail because of your emotional state.
You can master your emotional state easily by coming to understand how the Confidence Operator is jerking you around. Find where your handles are sticking out, and don't let them get hold of you by your handle.
For writers, that handle is generally, "I write better than that." And very often, that's true. What the writer must learn to go professional, especially as a self-publisher, is that there is a low, but clearly defined threshold that a story must meet, and any quality above that just doesn't matter in marketing.
How well you write just doesn't matter. How important your story is used to matter -- in today's publishing world that publishes FOR PROFIT ONLY -- "importance" of what you have to say doesn't matter.
Once you get that fixed in your mind, you can research why lesser works than your own sell so much better.
But you won't understand the data you're gathering until you understand PR.
Many times great disasters with horrendous death tolls have occurred in public places (such as bars or theaters) with insufficient exits.
"Messaging" is the science of figuring out what to yell in that darkened theater to raise the emotional state to the point where critical thinking evaporates and the mindless herd is created (in politics, it's call a Bandwagon).
"Timing" is the science of picking when to Yell.
Targeting a Market is the science of "getting all those people packed into that theater" -- "finding your audience."
"What Is The Lowest Common Denominator that all those people share?"
That's what "audience" means to PR folks -- not the definition of the word audience, which is about "those who hear" but how to gather those people all together to yell your emotion-raising message causing the herd to lunge all together in one direction.
If you think about what that means, you may see why Science Fiction is not so popular.
Science Fiction has been defined as "The Literature of Ideas." That is, it is about THINKING.
Only in ROMANCE is it possible to have truly peak emotional experiences while at the same time still thinking critically. (I said Romance, not sex.)
Science Fiction is always about the story (fiction) of some revelation about the structure of the universe (science) that organizes (science) the knowledge gained into a pattern than can be used to invent new things.
In the typical, old fashioned, science fiction a young boy (always a boy) who has a brilliant mind discovers some new fact that his elders could never have found. Using this new fact, the boy invents, fixes, adds-on, or otherwise morphs what tools his elders were using and thus solves a problem older people could not.
The driving force in old style Science Fiction is the boy's emotional need to "prove himself" -- or one of the other emotional issues of teen boys, but never the sexuality inherent in the teen years. SF was usually set in the time of life of the Rite of Passage into adulthood, and thus defined what it means to be an adult, as opposed to being a child.
That type of Science Fiction has almost disappeared from the shelves (or Amazon).
Stories about the process of becoming The Adult In The Room via the application of critical thinking and bold exploration of new ideas have not been given the PR push (that Anchorman 2 has gotten) for at least 10 years.
It is as if those selecting books to put PR muscle behind do not want young people to admire and emulate those whose behavior is controlled more by critical thinking than by emotional-herd-behavior.
People who default to critical thinking when someone yells FIRE, are generally the sort who simply will not respond to advertising for shaving cream, perfume, tooth paste, or a muscle car. They simply can not be fooled by advertisements, not even for political candidates.
People who default to critical thinking are immune to advertising, and every other grifter's trick.
Science Fiction, from the publishers whose mission-statement included losing money, or break-even at best, taught readers not only to admire critical thinking, but also how to do it when the whole mob around you is screaming, "FIRE!" The science fiction fan was always the one who grabbed the fire extinguisher before the blaze got out of hand -- or set himself to become that person as an adult.
The measure of adulthood was the ability to default to critical thinking, no matter what others were doing.
That's not the same as being "emotionless" (as Spock was portrayed). It's not lack of emotion. It's that one trains one's emotions to be subordinate to critical thinking in the decision-making process. Once that training is complete, one is an adult.
From another view, Science Fiction is the fiction about people who defy the rules (because that's how science advances -- by people finding the mistakes in previously accepted Laws of Science).
These individuals have the characteristic that Klout.com is looking for -- the clearly delineated difference from everyone else.
The lowest common denominator of the Science Fiction reader is high intelligence and unique critical thinking in the midst of peak emotion.
That's what makes the Science Fiction hero/heroine a prime candidate for Romance Genre.
For the astrology buffs reading this -- Romance is usually signaled by a Neptune transit. Critical thinking is generally associated with an easy Mercury/Saturn connection, and/or Saturn transit to the 3rd/9th axis. When the two are combined, you get prophetic brilliance, or Love At First Sight. The true Happily Ever After generally results from that combination, whereas the hard Neptune transit "Romance" generally results in a really rough "The Honeymoon Is Over," moment.
So now I'll give you a week to review Marketing, PR, the history of publishing, and other points I've skimmed through here.
Next week we'll discuss more about why it is that Journalism is a great way to start a fiction writing career aimed at making a living from writing.