Monday, November 18, 2013

When Ads Annoy, Not Inspire

My blog theme this week is about imaginative thinking and successful promotion...and how it might apply to book promotion, in particular.

Ads have become a constant, in-your-face part of our society. Open AOL, get pummeled with ads. BUY ME! SALE! HURRY, WHILE SUPPLY LASTS! You see an interesting news link, click it, and are taken to a video that starts with--you guessed it--an ad! You find a really cool YouTube video you want to view, but have to sit through a boring advertisement. Ads are on Twitter, Facebook, web sites, blogs, reader sites, book sales sites and in your personal email by the hundreds! It's a promotional warp core meltdown!

Recently I made a trip to Disneyland in California. I did the math and realized I hadn't visited the theme park in a couple of decades! While it was still a great experience, I was also a little bit dismayed by the in-your-face giant Disney advertisement the theme park has become.

The Haunted Mansion ride that I experienced just after it had first opened with its amazing holographic images and spooky themes, was now one massive advertisement for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Big thumbs down from me. The whole spooky, spine-tingling feeling of the original attraction was sadly missing. And instead of ending the ride by facing a dark mirror to find a ghost sitting between me and my ride partner, it was now a day-glo Christmas stocking. A Christmas stocking? Seriously? Not a leering, hulking evil spirit to haunt us? It was a major letdown.

More disappointment followed.

The once uber cool submarine ride that originally took passengers on an underwater adventure past marine marvels including a giant sea monster--is now one monster promo for Finding Nemo, with clips of the movie shown on underwater screens set among boulders and corral. It even has a flock of seagulls perched on a buoy bursting into their choruses of "Mine! Mine! Minemine!" every few minutes. Somewhat cute, but just didn't pack the punch of the original non-Nemo sea adventure. Instead I felt manipulated and even a little resentful.

The end result of these two "experiences" was no more effective than being pelted with ads in my email.

Now here's the tie-in to the world of publishing. Sadly, authors are contributing to this advertising blight. If I open any of the social media sites on any particular day, I am bombarded with bald-faced promotion. 

Wait! There has to be a better way to introduce and promote a fantastic product like SFR? Right?

I think just about anyone will agree that "BUY MY BOOK!" is not effective promotion. We need to convince the customer why they will enjoy reading the book. In other words, using an age-old basis of good storytelling: SHOW the entertainment value contained in the read, don't just TELL the readers to buy it.

Let's go back to Disneyland, because it didn't totally fail in its promotional ploys. In some ways it succeeded brilliantly.

I found my epitome of great promotion in Tomorrowland. Here's where I experienced a whole different type of advertising--promotion that really worked by pulling the customers into the world that was being promoted instead of putting them on a ride and bombarding them with blatant advertisement.

I had a blast on the Star Tours ride, a simulated trip through the Star Wars universe aboard an interactive space shuttle piloted by a protesting and "unqualified" C3PO, complete with jumps to hyperspace (where you could feel the Gs of acceleration as the starfield streaked by), confrontations with Darth Vader and the imperial fleet, and eye-popping space battles.

Star Tours opened the air lock and immersed me in an epic space adventure, letting me experience what it's really like to be part of this world. It built expectation and excitement about the upcoming Star Wars installments coming from Disney. In a word...stupendous! (I rode three times and discovered there are at least two completely different adventures to enjoy.)

Next I was charmed by a very different sort of promotion watching the younger participants of the Jedi Training Academy suit up in their brown paduwan robes and have an honest-to-goodness live action lightsabre battle with a towering Darth Vader under the tutelage of a Jedi master.

Each round included unique, authentic lines spoken by Vader right that perfectly suited the live action. Parents went wild snapping photos and shooting videos, and a whole new generation of future Star Wars fans was inducted into the world of "far, far away..."


But Tomorrowland didn't have the monopoly on fun.

The Indiana Jones adventure was an absolute rush--a wild ride aboard a bumpy, careening old War World II era truck, including the thrill of almost being flattened by a huge boulder and cameo appearances by the man himself, dangling from ropes and shouting warnings or words of advice. It included no movie clips, just let riders experience the thrill of being involved. Fun and effective!

Another fantastic multiple-return ride was the Cars adventure next door in Disney's California Adventure set in a massive, life-size canyon that gave an authentic feel of the remote area of the Southwest US where the animated movie is set.

Here you board a Cars style conveyance and get a crazy tour of Radiator Springs and its many colorful characters, and as a grand finale you get to race fellow riders in another Car over steep hills and around tight turns.

Again, no movie clips. You meet the Cars characters face-to-face, including a warning from the looming Sheriff to watch your speed and a grumbling confrontation between the Hippy van and the military Scout jeep. After this experience, anyone who hadn't yet viewed the movie Cars would be compelled to run out and rent or buy it!

My contrasting experiences got me brainstorming about book promotion and how we might do it better. True, we don't have a mega-blockbuster movie to tap into, but heck...we write SFR! We're imaginative, innovative and far-thinking authors. We know how to color outside the box--way outside the box. So maybe it's time to apply some of that imaginative "force" to our promotion efforts. How do we draw readers in--both into our books and the SFR genre in general?

Here are my questions to the SFR authors and readers community:
  • How might we better promote our wares--romantic adventures in time and space? 
  • What can we do to excite readers and build expectations about our books? 
  • In what ways can we make our promotion fun and exciting? 
  • How do we give readers a taste of what we have to offer in terms of entertainment? 
  • How can we do things better and more effectively than we're doing them now? 
  • Could we possibly team up with fellow SFR community members to find new, innovative, mind-blowing ways to enthuse the reading public about our work? 

Let's brainstorm. Please comment with your thoughts, ideas, experiences or efforts. For readers and fans, explain what works (or has worked) for you in terms of book promotion. And what doesn't.


  1. I usually get in trouble when I post on this topic, but here's my two cents.

    The best way to get your book noticed is by investing in original art. Make your cover beautiful. And make it look pro. You're a pro, you're book is original, so your cover should reflect that. Your cover should set the stage for the moment the reader opens the book and reads that first line.

    There's ten million books on Amazon that feature the same generic cover: same shirtless generic dude with six pack, a generic female model in his arms (in her generic underwear). There's no faster way to have your book ignored than by going the generic, stock photo route.

    I put all my marketing money into art (and an editor). That's it.

    The cover MUST be compelling, and it must have your target reader squarely in its sights. It has to look like it belongs right next to the best sellers in your genre - and not like it belongs at the bottom of the generic slush pile. Research your target market. Look at the covers of the best sellers. Make your book belong at their sides.

    The title must also be compelling - and original. I think I spotted twenty-seven books called 'Bloodletting' on Amazon last time I was on. Research your title. And make sure it actually means something to the reader. Your book might be about an alien named Svargar, but that will mean nothing to a reader unfamiliar with the story. Make the title count. Make it work for you.

    Pay attention to the search key words on your Amazon book page. I've tweaked mine recently and it made a huge difference.

    As to how we can help each other out? Stop tweeting about your (our) books and start tweeting about theirs.

    And reviews! I know from my own readers that they pay attention to the reviews I write, and they've picked up books I've recommend based on those reviews.

    Building up those good reviews on Amazon really helps. Nothing looks better next to your book than some fresh five star reviews. So when you find a book you like - five-star it!

    And if you can't say something nice, then don't. Writers need to stop posting negative reviews of other writers. I think there's a direct conflict of interest there. Are you a writer or are you a critic? I think you have to pick your side (again, I get in trouble for saint this). As a writer I'll do everything I can to help prop up my fellow wordsmiths. Privately, I'll give anyone feedback who asks, but I won't do it publicly, and I don't understand other writers taking swipes to knock other writers down a few pegs.

  2. In Indie book world, a lot of author groups have cracked the bestseller lists by getting together and releasing bundles and such. The Naked Truth of Self Publishing (I think that is right title) has some great advice on how to form a group and how to promote it.

    I also really liked Let's Get Visible. A lot of great advice there about getting visible on Amazon and small section about other platforms.

    As for the "buy my book" problems, well, Kristen Lamb's social media books have good advice on soft promotion. I've only been doing this seriously for a year, so I can offer no compelling argument for or against my blog as an author marketing tool.

    I prefer soft promotion because I'm not comfortable getting -- or dishing out -- hard sell tactics.

  3. >How do we give readers a taste of what we have to offer in terms of entertainment?

    One strategy is to identify tropes that readers enjoy.

    I was thinking yesterday about creating more Goodreads lists that are sorted according to tropes/characters/settings and other elements. That might make it easier to recommend books (i.e., sharing a link rather than typing out titles over and over again).

    If we can help readers identify content that SFR shares with other subgenres, perhaps it will help readers feel more comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone.

    This could also be as simple as reading an SFR and then doing a non-spoiler tag post.

    >In what ways can we make our promotion fun and exciting?

    I recommend we hire Pinkie Pie from MY LITTLE PONY. She's a total party queen!

    >Could we possibly team up with fellow SFR community members

    Might be a good idea to form groups of small task forces to simply brainstorm ideas. The more practical and manageable, the better.

    Also, I remember Donna proposed an SFR book club. I forgot to leave her a comment that I'd be interested in joining one if it had a leisurely schedule (say, 3-4x a year).

    I agree with Cary that a great cover can help. Of course, for most authors that's a matter of luck of the draw. But authors can certainly advocate for good cover design.

    That said, content will always trump covers (and price) where word-of-mouth is concerned. Case in point: I had a beautiful, custom cover made for my novella IRON GUNS, BLAZING HEARTS, but the book is not getting *anywhere* near the amount of buzz as, say, THE LAST HOUR OF GANN. Even if one concludes both covers are equal in quality, GANN had more cross-over appeal because of the content. Plenty of SFR covers have beautiful design but that doesn't automatically translate to buzz/sales.

    So my vote is also for authors to explore more high concept premises as well as riskier stories and characters. And more conflict. SFR stories need more conflict across the board (both between the h/h and in the external plot).

    >Stop tweeting about your (our) books and start tweeting about theirs.

    Co-signed +1000! That would help quite a bit and paying it forward can help raise the overall visibility of SFR.

    Of course, this presumes, in part, that authors are actively reading SFR or at least reading several books a year. Or are familiar with enough titles to promote other books regularly.

    As a reader, I have an expectation that authors read and enjoy SFR if they write it. So I'm befuddled at times when I discover that that doesn't seem to be the case.

    I've also encountered, repeatedly, some authors promoting the same five books/other authors over and over again.

    Why would we want to send the message that SFR only has about 10 titles to offer? It makes the genre seem so limited when in fact the opposite is true.

    However, one can still help get the word out about new releases, promotional events, etc. on behalf of other authors even if one hasn't read the books in question.

    Between my monthly and yearly January 1 new release roundups at The Galaxy Express and the new releases that will be listed in the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, authors can easily discover new titles to help promote.

    @Pauline I'm more of a soft sell strategy gal myself. Soft sell doesn't mean being shy about getting the books out there, however. The strategies can involve as much work as the hard sell.

    It also depends on where the promotion is happening. In some cases, a mix of the hard and soft sell will be the most effective. You can use the hard sell in an ad and a soft one in other areas such as social media.

    So another question is how can we combine them the most effectively?

  4. Here's something else that's worked great for me: my newsletter!

    I look at my Newsletter as the 'Nuke' in my arsenal. I only pull it out at very specific times, like when I'm doing a book launch, or if there's a specific event I want to draw attention to. I've actually only ever used it four times in two years. I know some writers who send out news letters monthly or even weekly. I usually turn these off or unsubscribe.

    I used my newsletter recently for my last book launch. It was a great way to kick things off.

    The downside, is that you have to wait for people to sign up, so it takes a while to build (so start building now!).

    I find this to be more effective than anything else I've done.

  5. Oh, and, Heather, I wasn't sure what you meant by "luck of the draw," for cover design. I don't see it as luck as much as hard work. I'll spend a lot of time researching artists (and recommend other writers do the same). After I pick an artist, I'll spend a lot of time with them discussing the project, the characters, and the look and mood I need for the cover. And I've definitely had some covers that I've rejected.

    A lot of people think I'm nuts, but I'll start working on my cover about the same time I start working on the MS.

  6. Cary, I believe Heather is referring to those authors who have to rely on the cover department their publisher has. Also those who don't have the luxury to be able to afford exclusive cover designs.

  7. One way to build up a good newsletter subcription that I discovered recently was through an event run by The Romance Studio - Spookapalooza. As part of the entry into the grand prize draw, people could leave their email address and tick whether or not they were willing to receive newsletters from participating authors. I've only just started a newsletter and doubt I'll do it unless I have a couple of biggish events going on to promote.

  8. Yes - with the traditional houses, you get what you get and you don't throw a fit. So to speak. :) I've been really lucky to get quite bit of input with Tor, but it's their final call.

  9. So what if as SFR authors we set up a brainstorm conference--very small--maybe a group chat type of thing, where we can put our creative brains together and storm ideas.
    I totally agree with you %100 that promos are going nowhere a lot of times cuz there are just too many. And this is one reason Disney gives me the willies. Crazy as that sounds, but it all feels like one giant marketing ploy.
    So if others are willing, we can dedicate some genuine time on developing sound and creative marketing plans. I'm brand new to the promo scene, but really wanna figure out good ways to connect with readers.

  10. I have been seeing those Goodreads lists pop up more. I think it is a great way to compare SFR books to more mainstream genres. GP has shown up on a couple with names like "heroine-starring sci-fi/fantasy" and "anything but vampires."

  11. @Sharon Well, if you're going to twist my arm. LOL! Cool, I'll think up some lists. They're so easy to put together. I could even work it into blog post content.

    Re: newsletter: Jessica E. Subject gives shout outs to fellow authors in her newsletter (e.g., cover and blurb or a mention of a new release). It's a nice way to help cross-promote.

    @Cary What Pippa said!

    @Pk Maybe an SFR think tank would be a good thing to launch in the mid-late winter, after the holidays. I can join but there are 2 SFR events I need to start preparing for now plus my regular blogging commitments, so I'd hate to over-commit. But if anyone wants to kick it off before then, please do! :)

  12. Sorry I've been silent up until now, but you know how it goes with da day job. Now I'll catch up...

    @ Cary I totally agree on the quality cover art (when it's within an authors control). A cover can make or break a book. I think a lot of readers equate an amateurish or uninteresting cover with the content of the book. I'll have to go check out some of yours.

    Love the "stop tweeting about our books and start tweeting about theirs." Sharing great SFR finds is good for the whole community.

    I'm also with you on the "if you can't say something nice" line of thought. If I can't give a book a four or five star review, I generally won't review it at all.

    @Pauline When I heard about bundling I thought it was the greatest promo idea I'd heard in a long time. Maybe some of our self-pubbed authors could create a private FB group to talk about bundling. I ESPECIALLY think this would work for shorter stories. Sort of a do-it-yourself anthology.

    I bought Let's Get Visible and I hope to read it soon.

    @Heather I love those Goodreads lists! I also check to be sure I've voted for my fave books and when I'm checking out a new book I like to scan the lists to see what it's landed on. Maybe we could take our "If you like" idea a step further and create a list that taps into some of the SF/R cultural icons. If you like Firefly, you'll like... If you like Star Wars, you should read... etc etc

    As for promoting the same five books over and over, yup--guilty, guilty, guilty. *red face* I'm trying to expand my horizons but I seem to keep falling back on the same favorites when making recommendations. I'm really making an effort to expand my list, but having tons of time to read and holding down a more-than-full-time job sometimes just does not compute.

    @Cary (again) I think your approach to the newsletter is great. I don't like being bombarded with them either, but a quarterly or so addition with lots of interesting content would definitely be something I'd subscribe to.

    @Pk Hrezo I like the idea of a chat/forum/mini-conference to brainstorm promotion ideas if there are enough members interested. Maybe even a private FB group? These side groups we've been spinning off have really worked well for other projects.

    If a few of you are interested in kicking off a private FB group to kick around ideas, I'd be glad to set one up. Or join one if someone else wants to take the lead.

    Thanks to everyone for chiming in with your thoughts and ideas. This has been inspiring--and an education!

  13. >the same favorites when making recommendations

    I should clarify that there's a difference between making a personal recommendation (i.g., "I loved this book for x reasons and think you'd really enjoy it") and strictly informational sharing such as "I read the blurb for [insert title] and the story promises a steampunk setting with automatons."

    Obviously, we can't make personal, authentic recommendations without having read a book! So better to stick with fewer titles where authentic recommendations are concerned.

    But it seems to me there are many opportunities to provide informational alerts about other books or debut authors. Or at the very least, point readers to resources where they can discover more SFR books.

    In an established genre, authors don't have to worry about advocating for the genre as a whole. SFR, though, is at the point where it could benefit from multiple signal boosts.

    Allow me to provide a concrete example.

    If I'm following an author on Twitter and all I see are tweets about the author's book, there's no incentive for me to RT more than once or twice. I'm not going to bombard my followers with the same news over and over again.

    But if the author sends out tweets about SFR books she's read or discovered or has news about, I'll RT. Because then it becomes more of a conversation rather than "look at me! look at me!"

  14. Most of the Twitter classes I've taken call it the rule of three. for every tweet about your product or yourself, you should tweet twice about something else. Best is something informational and then something that boosts someone else's signal.

    Keep in mind, if your tweets aren't being shared it could be timing. I usually pop onto Tweetdeck once a day, sometimes twice if I get a response on something. I try to tweet something personal, though I don't tweet just to tweet. If I'm feeling dull, I'll browse my columns for stuff to share. I always get the brigade feed and I share blog posts.

    I try to visit our main bloggers and tweet their links. For some reason, even though I've subscribed to The Galaxy Express, those posts don't come, so I have to remember to go check the blog. On good weeks, remembering is easy. I've had a lot going on in my family this summer and spring, so I don't always remember.

    I know it takes more work, but, for instance, the SFR Brigade interviews, make the headlines more interesting. On twitter, if you have a meme, it just fades into the background. People stop seeing them.

    Sharing isn't enough. We want people to click through and read. Heather does great headlines. I struggle with them. And I'm often surprised by what works and what doesn't.

  15. Okay, I had to laugh. I found this in my inbox this morning:

  16. @Pippa, I've participated in a few of those promos (at TRS) which ask for email addresses. What you find is that most people will say yes to being on a newsletter list but I think they do that only as a strategy for being picked; that is, they think that by ticking "yes", it gives them a better chance of winning a book.

    In terms of actual conversion of those readers from contestants to regular readers of your newsletter, I think you'll be disappointed. I've had to severely cull my own newsletter list recently because, 4 years after my first TRS promo, I was finding that almost 80% of my subscribers weren't even opening the newsletter! And I had come up with what I thought were attention-grabbing Subject lines, such as "99-cent ebook sale!", or "Free SFR release!". So, for me, newsletters don't really cut it.

  17. @Pauline Loved the nerds vs. geeks analysis. LOL

  18. Sorry to chime in so late, y'all. Life is a little crazy right now.

    I have to admit the whole book promotional blitz Laurie is talking about makes me want to avoid the very places I have to frequent to be current on SFR authors and trends--online loops, websites, FB pages, etc. If I feel that way, what must the readers with no stake in the market feel? And if I find it impossible to make choices amid all the clutter and clatter, how can we expect readers to do any better?

    I suggested the book club because it was a way not only for us to come together and sort the wheat from the chaff a little (and have some fun at the same time), but also to give readers a peek at that process. If we can take a book and look at it in depth PUBLICLY somehow--as a podcast or an open chat--then readers would really see that author's world and characters and, by comparison, other authors, other worlds. That would open up the SFR world a little more to them and draw them in. At least, that's my hope. Just one idea that would benefit the whole genre and, by extension, everyone's sales.

  19. @ Laurie - I thought our group would like that one. LOL

    @ Kaz - from what I've been reading, building a newsletter list is key BUT...

    there are two schools of thought. One is that you give them something for signing up. But...

    Others say if you do that, you don't get true believers, just people who want free stuff.

    I've heard/read that the best newsletter list is one for people who just want to hear about your next release.

    That's really all I ever sign up for. I usually don't have a lot of time to read the other stuff. The people who had a lot of success with their newsletters say they only send out with a new release. So that's my plan, to build a list of subscribers who sign up because they want to know when I release a book. And I don't have to think of yet another interesting thing to write every month. LOL

  20. I'm all for the book club as one branch of the SFR-as-a-genre tree. Hope to be moving forward with that for 2014.

  21. @ Pauline: I'm with you on the Newsletter. My Newsletter only goes to people who sign up voluntarily (no bribes, no prizes). It took a long time to build the list, and it's still small by most standards, but it was very effective for my last two title launches. Good results and lots of feedback. I treasure the people on that list and I'm very careful what I email out to them.


Thank you for chiming in! We love to see your comments. (All comments are moderated so spam can be terminated!)