The Wonderful World Of Advertisements

So what was the point of yesterday's post besides a nice blast from the past? To give you an idea of how advertising have changed over the past twenty years. It's different, yet in a way it's the same. As our culture has evolved, so has the way companies try to sell us stuff we don't really need.

I'll be honest -- very few ads work on me today. When I was a kid and would see a new toy advertised on TV (like something from Nerf), you better believe I wanted that toy. Those ads made those toy seem so much fun. But then when you did get that particular toy, you realized it wasn't quite what you thought it was going to be.

I think it's when we're children that we start to become immune to advertisements.

They bombard us constantly. On TV, at the movies, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, on the websites we visit. We see them so much that we just start to ignore them without really thinking.

Sometimes I just don't understand the reason for certain ads. Like the Iron Man sequel opening this weekend. The studio is spending millions and millions on TV spots and billboards and ads in magazines and TV, not to mention banner ads on websites (and how many people really click on banner ads? I can't think of a single banner ad I've ever clicked on). And my question is ... why? It's friggin' Iron Man! The movie's going to be huge. Why not put the trailer online and let the bloggers do all your advertising for you?

I was thinking the other day how if The Matrix was released today, it wouldn't be as popular as it was then (forget the fact it was groundbreaking when it came out, helped changed film making forever, etc). But if it did come out today, the studio would ram it down everyone's throat. Like Iron Man and every other big budget movie out there, they want to make sure people know it exists, so they give us a marketing overload.

But do you remember when The Matrix came out in 1999? How there wasn't that much advertising for it? (And if there was, I don't remember it; all I remember is maybe one TV spot and that's it; you didn't have three or four different trailers making the rounds.) I went into the movie not really knowing what it was about, and holy shit was I blown away within the first couple minutes. I don't want to sound cheesy, but the movie was a life-changing experience. And so of course I couldn't stop talking about it once I left the theater. Many other people couldn't either. It was a movie that you told everyone about.

Word of mouth is a great thing. And now with the Internet, there is what is known as viral marketing. It's what really pushed the concept of Hint Fiction out there to the masses. If it wasn't for the Internet and people mentioning it on blogs, who then in turn mentioned it on blogs, it never would have become as big as it did. And, hopefully, it will continue to grow.

Some books do very well by word of mouth promotion. Hell, look at Paul Harding's Tinkers, which was published by a small independent publisher and managed to win the Pulitzer Prize. The story of the book's stop-and-go process is fascinating. There was no huge marketing campaign for that novel. No ads taken out in the New York Times and USA Today.

As this previous post showed, it doesn't take that much to make a book a bestseller. Yes, it takes money, of course, but if a publisher pays a lot for a book (say, six figures) then you better believe that publisher is going to do everything it can to earn back on its investment. That's just good business sense. So they advertise everywhere, print thousands and thousands of copies, and ensure that it reaches the bestseller list.

But just because a book reaches the bestseller list, does it mean it's successful?

I remember talking to my agent once about a certain novel which had earned its author a huge advance, and my agent said something like "Yeah, but that book tanked." I said, "It was a New York Times bestseller though." He said, "But that doesn't mean anything."

And he's right. If a publisher pays one million dollars for a novel, just imagine how many copies that novel will have to sell to earn out. It's almost impossible unless the author is someone like James Patterson or Stephen King. (Speaking of which, do authors of that magnitude really need all the marketing campaign they get? Just like Iron Man, we know they have books coming out, and when they come out we'll buy them, so why not push some of that marketing budget toward a book by a lesser known author who could use the boost?) And so that book that the publisher paid one million clams for hits the bestseller list for a week or two. Okay, that's nice for the author (they can forever be known as a bestselling author, have it engraved on their tombstone if they wish), but that just means a few thousand copies were sold in a week's time. As the weeks progress and the sales go down, just how well has that book done now? And then you have books that stay on the bestseller lists for weeks and weeks, sometimes even months, sometimes even years, and it's thanks to those books that help publishers stay afloat.

It's impossible to predict how well a book will or will not do. You just can't predict it no matter how hard you try.

The advance for the anthology wasn't very large, so Norton will not be doing the same amount of publicity as they would for a book that they paid much more for. Which is expected and purely smart business sense. And which places a good bit of that promotion on my shoulders (and the contributors' shoulders if they're kind enough). But like I said, that's expected. A lot of writers have to do their own promotion nowadays. I am working with a publicity at the publisher to set up two events -- one in New York City, another in Los Angeles -- but the publisher will not be paying for my travel expenses. And again, that's fine. I think it's important to really get this anthology started off on the right foot. And again, it's expected that I do a large chunk of the work.

After the book has been written, the writer stops being an artist and is forced to become a businessman (or businesswoman, if you prefer). Some writers refuse. They think that all they need to do is just write and the publisher will do the rest. Those writers, my dear friends, are delusional. Back in the day, maybe some of those writers could get away with that, but not today. Not with the way publishing is changing.

As the release date for this anthology approaches and I'm e-mailed every couple weeks by my editor and her assistant about certain issues, I'm beginning to realize I've stepped into a different level of publishing. Before it was all about writing a novel and some stories and trying to place them, and then when they were published saying "Hey, look at this, isn't it cool?" And while I do still work on novels and publish the occasional short story, I'm starting to realize I need to prioritize what it is I write. A flash fiction piece or short story that might get published online or in a literary journal, or concentrate more on a new novel, which, if it sells, will help pay some bills and, hopefully, start a career?

This isn't to say I'm going to stop writing flash fiction and short stories. I hope to still knock a few out every once in a while, but my primary focus should be on career positioning -- looking ahead at a specific goal and doing everything I can to reach it. Suddenly I've become a dual-minded writer: one half artist, one half businessman (which, to be fair, I think I've always had some business sense -- any writer must have that to get anywhere -- but now it's become much more important). And while I of course always want to write what I want to write, I also have to take into consideration the simple questions: who will buy this (my audience), and why?

This post has run much longer than I intended, so if you've stayed with me this far, I thank you. I could probably go on and on, but let's wrap things up, shall we?

So back to advertisements. They're everywhere. We as a society has mostly become immune to them. But sometimes they work. So I ask you: what advertisements do you find most appealing? If you were -- oh I don't know -- an editor of an anthology, just what kind of stuff do you think would get potential buyers' attention?