Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 4: Understanding The Headlines You Use For Springboards by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Part 4
Understanding The Headlines You Use For Springboards
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of this series:
Last week:

And long ago:


The Story Springboards series:


I've been illustrating how to use a Headline as one ingredient in your Springboard via my posts on Google+ and Facebook. 

You've heard the phrase, "Ripped From The Headlines" as part of the hype for a film or TV Miniseries.  It tries to sell you on the idea that you must see this film (or read this book) because it is relevant to the world as you already know it.

Last week we examined the role of PR (Public Relations the mathematical discipline underlying advertising) in self-publishing.

If you license your novel to a big publisher, you don't have to know anything about PR beyond filling out the questionnaire the publicity department sends you, and doing any radio or TV interviews that come your way. 

If you self-publish, you need to know much more. 

It's all about the business model of the Entertainment Industry.

In this blog, I've talked about the impact of new technology on the writer's business model as the e-book has emerged since 2007.  Yes, I've been posting on this blog since March 2007 - almost 7 years now.

In 2007, few were aware of the potential in the e-book market - and self-publishing was an idiotic idea.

Today, the big publishers are aware, and perhaps alarmed, at the emergence of the Indie writer and a plethora of Indie publishers.

The same is happening in Music and Film - YouTube is a game changer. 

The underlying concept of "Business Model" is morphing fast enough to frighten those who have spent a lifetime building a big business.

So today we'll look at the business of Journalism.

Last week, I mentioned in passing how publishing in the early 20th Century was a business run for the purpose of losing money.\

Publishing companies were owned by large, profitable corporations as a tax write-off, and therefore could spend a lot of money publishing and promoting "Important" books filled with ideas too abstract, or too difficult, for a person of average education to grasp.

In fact, the average person just wouldn't be interested in such ideas. 

Remember, Silent Films and the Talkies burst into the fiction scene during that publishing era.

Movie moguls made "stars" of comely actors -- or even those would couldn't act. 

During those decades, newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, radio news and the News Reel (a short headlines with snatches of film shown between features at a movie theater) were the sources of information people used.

Then came TV News, a daily newsreel that quickly replaced radio news.  Radio news is back now, but call-in, talk show, and commentary dominate.  Radio is mostly web-radio.  "Spectrum" is expensive, sold at government auction.  A lot of it is going to smartphone service.  Satellite radio is struggling financially.

So, against that historical background, let's look at how Journalism has morphed in response to advancing technology.

Last week we established why fiction writers need to understand Journalism as a business. 

I've pointed out many times the Journalism background of many famous writers.

Most particularly, you should note the autobiographical works of the screenwriter (whose writing you know very well, even if you've never noticed his name) Allan Cole.

and later, Allan Cole's screenwriting career launch, and how having been a professional journalist helped:

And here's a newly available copy of Allan Cole's first written screenplay -- that got optioned many times, but never made.  It's mentioned in Hollywood Misadventures and now you can read it:

This non-fiction writing for profit first business model doesn't just apply to screenwriting. 

Journalism, and/or general non-fiction writing gives a huge boost to Mystery or Romance writers.

Here's one I found offering a freebie copy via BookBub.com
Susanne O'Leary -- non-fic turned fic writer shows another path:

About O'Leary -- from Amazon:

I was born in Sweden and live in Ireland (married to an Irishman). I started my writing career by writing non-fiction and wrote two books about health and fitness (I am a trained fitness teacher). While writing these books, I discovered how much I loved the actual writing process. My then editor gave me the idea to write a fun novel based on my experiences as a diplomat’s wife. This became my debut novel, ‘Diplomatic Incidents’ (the e-book version is called ‘Duty Free’), published in 2001. I wrote three further novels, ‘European Affairs’ (now as an e-book with the title ‘Villa Caramel’), ‘Fresh Powder’ (2006) and ‘Finding Margo’(2007). The latter two were published by New Island Books in Dublin. In 2010, when the publishing industry started to decline, I broke away from both publisher and agent and e-published my backlist, along with two novels that were with my agent for submission. Since then I have written and e-published four further novels and, as a result, now have ten books out there in the e-book market worldwide. I write mainly in the women’s fiction genre, some chick-lit, some contemporary romance, with two historical novels and two detective stories thrown into the mix. I enjoyed writing those but my first love is romantic fiction with a lot of humour and heart. My bestselling romantic comedy, Fresh Powder was translated to German last year and, with the title ‘Frischer Schnee’, is selling well on Amazon.de. My website: http://www.susanne-oleary.com Blog: http://susannefromsweden.wordpress.com/ Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Susanne-OLeary/e/B001JOXAJO

So, as far as staying marketable in a world where the very business model is morphing under your feet, never mind the background drumbeat of shifting audience taste, the beginning writer should not skip the non-fiction-career-step.

If you think you should skip that step, read more biographies of writers like the type of writer you want to be.  It's possible you are one of the few who should skip the non-fiction step.

It's true, I didn't work in journalism before selling fiction.  However, the connection to that discipline is deep within me.  I was raised by a mother and father who both worked in journalism.  I lived and breathed those disciplines from before I knew how to say a complete sentence.  So don't use me as an example of skipping that step.

So, we've talked about how fiction publishing in the early 20th century was a "for-loss" business, not a "for-profit" business. 

Since loss was not only allowed, but encouraged, especially in high-tax years, "Important" books had a chance to get well published. 

But what about Journalism?

Today, headlines are full of lay-off notices at big Newspapers, of bankruptcy filings of all kinds of print-media outlets, the sale of famous print-magazines to other publishing groups (that would change the editorial slant).

Simultaneously, professional journalism is finally moving online.

As with the advent of e-books which was ignored as a trivial market-share by Big Publishers, so print news outlets ignored the blogosphere until things like The Huffington Post changed the landscape.

Twitter is regarded by TV News and Finance as way over-priced at $50/share, but at the same time is seen as THE one and only place to 'be' with a breaking story.  All the big news media put headlines there. 

How did the journalism business model get to a twitter-driven base? 

Well, the path is parallel to that of fiction publishing.

This is the little-known fact dredged from history that you should take away from this blog.

In the mid-20th century, News was not a for-profit game. 

Prior to Radio and TV News, there was print-media news.  And that ran at a slim, but real profit margin.

Newspapers didn't make a profit from NEWS.  They made their PROFIT from advertisements, especially "The Classified" (think Monster.com ) And grocery coupon advertising. 

Before Radio and TV, News stories were printed as the bait to collect eyeballs to deliver to the advertisers.

That business model element was adapted to Radio News which was also advertising driven.

When Radio was replaced (mostly) by TV News, again it was advertising driven.

News Reels in theaters were sandwiched between feature films, cartoons, and serials, but customers paid for access to that bundle.  Even in the mid-20th century, box-office did not support the expense of renting the viewing bundle -- concessions did, and still do, represent a theater's profit margin.

Today, theaters have reduced access to 1 feature film plus a whole lot of advertising reels (except of course the material is digital, not on reels of film).

Around 1985, when the Internet was beginning to connect individual households to the outside world (Prodigy, AOL, local ISPs), you begin to see an inflection point where this old, stable business model suddenly would morph into what we're seeing today.

What we're seeing today is essentially chaos.  That always happens at major transformations -- for better or for worse, transformation has a chaos phase.  We're in it.

The point to remember is that NEWS -- the pithy reporting of facts -- has only ever existed to attract and hold eyeballs to advertising. 

Advertising has gone from random, artistic expression to mathematically based PR. 

It's germane to your business model as a writer. 

Once you get your mind around the longer, historical perspective of the "changing world" of the fiction-delivery-system I keep talking about on this blog, you will be able to chart your path, as a writer, into the rapidly morphing future.

It has often been said that the internet (and e-book creation/distribution) is an Event in History as significant to society as the advent of the movable type printing press.

The printing press was the high-tech innovation that heralded the overthrow of Aristocracy as the main means of government.

OK, we have a new type of "aristocrat" today -- but really, it's not the same.

We are at an inflection point which, after all the turbulence is over, will be regarded as heralding another new era of society.

There are those who are pushing (hard) to eliminate the entire philosophical concept of "copyright" -- of Intellectual Property.  If you think something, it must be because others influenced you, so what you think belongs to everyone.

It's an interesting argument (worthy of many novels with all kinds of themes!).

The Internet and self-publishing e-books (and POD) are going to change things you wouldn't expect fiction to touch, never mind change.

To figure out where you, personally, fit into the new pattern (that hasn't emerged yet), study the business model with a long view.

Get used to thinking of fiction and non-fiction (and docudrama or News Analysis or Opinion Op-Ed) as simply the bait for eyeballs.

The business-model is really just about gluing eyes to screens long enough to flash an advertisement crafted of PR-informed-techniques, to arouse EMOTION to the point where people form herds and stampede toward the advertiser's goal.

Learn to see the TV News that way.

Learn to figure out why they do segments on this or that topic, and why they say one thing but avoid another -- why the choose the language they do. 

You will see how the emotion aroused during a segment is used by the advertising between segments.

It's easiest to see on "News" -- but now watch some fiction shows.

Now analyze the advertisements to discover what audience those TV shows are aimed at. 

You have to reverse-engineer the composition you are watching on TV.

Note that BOOKS don't usually (yet) carry advertising except the publisher's list of other books at the back.

It's coming.  Watch for it.  Embedding video ads in e-books is only a step away.

Here is an item on how much self-publishing writers make from writing:


If those writers could make up the difference by embedding ads, would they?

How would that change what they put in their writing? 

Nobody is going to TELL a writer exactly how PR works, you know.  It is a secret -- well hidden in plain sight.

Stuffy, obtuse college textbooks teach you about it, but who reads those without being forced to take the course?

Advertising is all about emotion.

I saw an article in December explaining that all advertising now relies entirely on rousing emotional pitch, and never on actual information.  I've re-surveyed some ads, and yes, that seems to be true.

So maybe it's a trend.

Parallel to that shift in advertising, we have the dilution of News content, and the invasion of "slant" into "hard news." 

As I pointed out previously, I was raised in a journalism family. 

The cardinal rule of journalistic writing (e.g. news stories for news papers) other than write with an 8 year old's vocabulary and syntax, is to choose language that is absolutely devoid of any hint of your own personal opinion.

In Part 5 I referred you to a non-fiction book about the history of science fiction in which a certain work is called "melodramatic."  "Calling" is revealing your own personal opinion.  An adjective like "melodramatic" refers to a quality which is only present subjectively.

The usage has changed the meaning over time. 

In the mid-20th Century, the Merriam-Webster definition -- ( emotional in a way that is very extreme or exaggerated : extremely dramatic or emotional ) held true.

The word was used to refer to an "extreme" or "exaggerated" situation - a caricature of reality.

The more modern Urban Dictionary says:
The state of being overly emotional - therefore often in a situation that does not warrant such a strong reaction.

Can you see the subjective judgement components?

What is "extreme" -- well, that's your opinion, and might not be mine.

What is "exaggerated"  to you may seem in correct proportion to me, or even understated.

What is "overly" emotional?  What exact degree of emotion does in fact warrant 100% response?  What is "over" what?  Where that borderline is depends on who you are and what else you've experienced.

So a JOURNALIST can't use the word Melodramatic -- not ever, except when quoting someone, and then only to illustrate how judgmental that person seems.

The word itself is commentary -- and Hard News is factual and only factual.

So there are a hundred little tricks of the trade journalists used to use (assiduously) to keep all hint of opinion out of News.

Another characteristic of Old Fashioned Hard News was that, while every outlet had an editorial slant (clearly delineated in editorials and never hinted at in News items), and each outlet selected things to report on according to their slant, they did not CRAFT A NARRATIVE.

Today, TV News (and most other media outlets) blatantly admits (via TV anchors) that they omit any item that "does not fit the narrative" being crafted to justify their editorial slant -- no matter how much hypocrasy oozes through the cracks.

 Very few people channel-surf News programs and do relentless contrast/compare studies to sift out the few real Hard News Facts buried amidst the torrent of opinion.

That group of channel surfers is so small that most people have no idea there is a Narrative being "sold" (via precise mathematical PR techniques).  And in fact, if you told them, they'd consider you a bit daft, or maybe a flat-out liar.

To understand what's happened to the world of fiction publishing (and how to leverage that to the advantage of the Romance Genre HEA credibility), we'll look at the world of TV News.  The changes have happened in lockstep in both fields, and the reasons for those changes in both are the same.

The reason is PR.

Behind that, the reason is quite simply profit. 

It's a business-model shift that caused a shift in content. 

The shift in content is easiest to see in News -- but is also visible in fiction.

Next week, in Part 5, we'll look at some fiction -- and in Part 6 the following week, we'll examine the News Game. 

Put the two perspectives together and you will see what you can do to gain credibility for the HEA and Romance in all its crossed-genres.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Advertising as based on emotion, not information: I've seen several very moving or entertaining ads that were so "subtle" I had no idea what product was being advertised. At the end, when they finally mentioned the name of the product, if I didn't already know about it, I still didn't know what it was supposed to do. (I'm still not sure what the cute conversations with kids that always end in the punchline "It's not complicated. Bigger is better" are supposed to be selling and what the punchline has to do with the product.)

    Hmm -- probably the advice to start with nonfiction doesn't include the way I started, with academic literary criticism? :)

  2. Margaret -- yes, academic counts as non-fic! Very disciplined.

    Oh, and YES today advertising is emotion-based, but it hasn't always been. Our society has shifted hard into discarding all decision-making methods other than how one "feels" so emotion-based advertising works.

    Perhaps it is because advertisers wanted an easy way to sway behavior of large groups that the advertising industry subsidized many changes in our educational system in early years to bend a generation toward never-thinking and always-feeling to get "the right answer."

    So today anything that requires you to do anything other than what an animal would do is somehow politically incorrect.

  3. Here is an article blending the ideas of advertising and emotion -- entertaining advertising. This illustrates why advertisers focus narrowly on emotion to promo a product.