Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday the 13th and the Unanswerable Nightmare

It is our unanswerable nightmare: Quality versus marketing.

Is it possible that all it takes to be really, really successful in this business is to write a really, really good book?

It's what we think when we start writing. Actually, it's what we think after we've written our first really lousy pile of garbage (we all do it. Usually early on. It's a rite of passage, embrace it.) We think: "If it's good, then it will catch on. Word of mouth will spread. The book will explode. It will sell well, the book will be successful.

Then someone drops the "Boulder of Marketing Reality" on your head. Here's the bottom line: a poorly marketed product won't sell. And especially since no one is doing their own marketing anymore, and publishers have dropped that in author's laps, it is a reality every writer will eventually face if they are serious about their work.

But then we look at movies like Godzilla (book marketing and movie marketing are essentially identical), which were marketed like crazy - but still bombed. We say to ourselves: that's because it was a lousy movie. So I bring up the biggest box-office bomb in human history: John Carter. The movie (as all four of us who saw it will tell you) is actually really, really good. And though Disney did a LOT of marketing for the movie, ultimately they did a lot of bad marketing for the movie.

But then we see things with no special marketing, so explosion of ads or viral campaigns. And it just.... explodes.

The end. And everyone who loves it says it's simply because it's good. Which can't be right, because they didn't know the book was good before they read it, and only took the time to do so because of a marketing. Right?

So then we ask ourselves: was it really just because it was good? Or was there something that made it work. Did The Hunger Games really just happen? Is it simply because it is really, really good? Or did it get help in causing people to give it chance to find out?

With all things the truth is somewhere in the middle. But with all dialectics, it's usually impossible to see that middle. So here I sit, on Friday the 13th, sifting through the unanswerable dilemma of the book industry. And on a day when I feel I've got a free pass to complain: since the publishers won't do anything to help market, and can't force a book to be good, it lands on us writers. And our poor heads (mine at least) are spinning.

It is our nightmare. Our unfathomable Cthulhu of a authorial reality. And today, for me, the madness is deafening.

1 comment:

Greg Mitchell said...

First off, points for dropping a Cthulhu reference. That made my day :)

I totally feel your pain. Marketing is this ugly thing and, with the publishers leaving it to the authors, that leaves the authors who are really out there "promoting, promoting, promoting" looking like a bunch of ego-maniacal glory hounds. "Look at me! Buy my book!" I'd be quite content just to sit at my house and wait for the interview and review and blog tour offers to come flooding in, but they just don't. So that leaves me in the vulgar position of hawking my wares on the proverbial street corner of the Internet. Will that ever change? I honestly don't know.

So I'm right there with you. But, hey, at least we have Cthulhu.