Marketing to the reader
This may seem like an obvious orientation to begin with; after all, how else are you to sell any books if you don’t give the readers what they want?
But the situation is worse than that. This is partly due to the heavy feedback associated with the review system and the fear that authors have of getting a positively skewed distribution of reviews (that’s the bad direction), which ultimately kills or buries their book for a period of time, at least.
This is Ray Bradbury’s understanding of book burning realised, by the way:
The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/ Republican, Mattachine/ Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme. Read more here…
Authors like to say things like “A negative review can kill your book, so make sure that you only release the best work you can.”
But what does that mean in the Amazonian environment?
For the most part, it seems to mean gravitating towards the Golden Mean of storytelling.
This too sounds pretty attractive to begin with.
But when you realise that most readers just want to read pulp rubbish and don’t want to be challenged and read for escapism (in a negative sense), then there’s a very real threat that if authors gravitate towards this Golden Mean, they are essentially heading towards producing conservative, lowbrow, escapist, rubbishy fiction.
I like to call this guessing game and learning orientation … ‘marketing-fiction.’ Essentially, there’s a trend to incorporate marketing into the story itself rather than amplifying marketing beyond and around the story in the traditional kind of way (web marketing and writing a trilogy, etc), which evidently needn’t have the hyphen. marketing-fiction goes a whole lot deeper than writerly fiction at targeting the aspects of narrative construction that push all the right buttons, etc., in the largest number of readers.
If you then market your marketing-fiction effectively, you end up with a double-whammy effect, which may well result in a bestseller on your hands. I mean I’ve seen it and tracked it; haven’t you? And I can understand that authors (or marketers come authors) can get a real kick out of that. Marketers love getting it right; it gets their adrenaline going … and you can get addicted to it.
But marketing writers and writerly writers are different species
Every author positions their stories and series with a target audience in mind, I know; but what I’m talking about is taking it to the nth degree and structuring everything around that (or nearly everything: as much as they’re consciously and willingly able to, anyway).
Some readers are aware of this and care; most seem either to be oblivious or don’t care because their ‘needs’ are being fulfilled by the marketers’ output and positioning.
So, what of the writerly writers? Should they resist or give in?
I think there is still plenty of room for marketing fiction effectively and establishing a writing and publication programme as an author of something other than pulp fiction will in the end pay off.
Also, there are growing numbers of readers who are disaffected by the Amazonian environment and the low standards being reinforced by the demands of the majority and the calcultations of the algorithms.
It may take longer to get noticed and a writerly writer may need to develop their marketing skills extensively and to a high degree (essentially treating it like an R&D programme), but if everyone gives in, the consequences can only be poor.
If you want to resist believing that gravitating to the Golden Mean implies an improvement of your skills as a writer (and there are many who do succumb to this), and you want to continue to write experimentally or at a ‘high level’ and so on, you can still believe that the future will have an increasingly effective place for niche marketing.
That after all is what the web is good at. And some of what results will be thanks to the current conditions, lol …!