Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lovers, Haters, and Swingers

by Robison Wells
(This is one of those posts directed almost entirely toward published authors, so, uh, if you're not one of those... sorry.)

In General Conference this month, Elder Oaks said "We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives."

I have absolutely no intention to have a churchy blog today. Instead, I'm going to take that quote out of context and use it for something else entirely: to talk about selling books.

Authors, in general, are marketing buffoons. We try--we really try--but generally, we have no idea what we're doing. This isn't surprising, of course. We rarely have any training in marketing. And so we guess at what we should be doing, and we read little books about marketing on a shoestring, and we try hard. This is the Good Method. It gets our name out there, and it's better than sitting around doing nothing.

While I don't claim to know the best way, I'd like to propose a better way to market than we have done in the past. More than anything, we ought to refocus our efforts--I think we've been targeting the wrong people.

(By the way, when I say "we" I'm referring to myself and whoever else wants to be included in my group. I personally think that most new authors fit in here, but I certainly am not speaking for anyone other than myself. I'll also probably use me and my books as examples.)

Okay, enough rambling. Here's the thesis: imagine all novel readers falling somewhere along a spectrum. In fact, don't bother imagining it because I just made a diagram:

On one side, you have the Love Group. These are the people who go crazy for our books--they're the people who visit our websites and buy our new novels within weeks of release. They're the people who recommend our books to others and who buy them as gifts for their family.

Way over on the other side is the Hate Group. This could be people who don't like our writing style, or who only like non-fiction, or who think our jokes aren't funny. These are people who think that LDS fiction is tripe--or, at the very least, that the kind of LDS fiction Covenant sells is tripe.

In the middle is the Swing group. These people like to read, but maybe they haven't read much LDS fiction, or they've always tended to read romances or mysteries or historicals, or they just haven't had the time to read for enjoyment lately. Essentially, the Swing Group is Everyone Else.

Now here's the key: I think that most of us--myself in particular--spend an inordinate amount of time marketing to (1) the Love Group, or (2) the Hate Group. Let me mention a few things about each of these groups:

While the Love Group shouldn't be ignored--they are, after all, your bread and butter--they also will probably read your books even if you don't target them with promotions. As I've talked to other authors--even right here on this very blog--we've noted that our online marketing campaigns tend to reach the same people every time. That's okay. Our loyal readers need to know that they're valued. But we also shouldn't expect marketing efforts aimed at them to significantly increase our sales. We're preaching to the choir here: yes, they need to be preached to, but preaching to them will only maintain the size of the choir, not increase it.

As for the Hate Group. My brother hates LDS fiction (and LDS art generally). He can't stand it. A few years ago I posted on my website (with his permission) an email debate he and I had. After using all of my best arguments on him, he finally declared "My experience is limited compared to yours, I’ll admit, but it is experience nonetheless. The point is, I’m not saying that 100% of Mormon art is crap, I’m saying that almost 100% of what I’ve experienced is crap, and that’s really not something you can argue with... Surely, eventually, you must grant me some measure of peace: at what point am I allowed to say “enough, I’ve tried your [books] and they’re all terrible, just leave me alone?”

Dan is, as you can guess, a fine example Hate Group. No disrespect to him, but I think it can very easily be seen that he doesn't like LDS fiction, he's not interested in trying LDS fiction, and why don't I just knock it off?

And yet, how often do we authors beat our heads against a wall trying to force our books into these people's hands? If someone dislikes what we offer, then we focus all of our efforts into showing that they're wrong, that our book is awesome, and that they're the idiot for not liking it. How many marketing dollars (and hours of our lives) are spent trying to convince the Hate Group? I can't begin to count the number of discussions that we've had on this very website trying to persuade people that LDS fiction is "legitimate". We're marketing to the Hate Group right there. It's tempting--I've engaged in it myself countless times. But I hereby declare a truce (except with my brother).

What's the solution? It's amazingly simple. We should sell to the Swing Group through the eyes of the Love Group. Essentially, we should find out why the Love Group loves our books. We should talk to them, and pry information out of them, and write it down and compare notes with other authors. And then we should take those results and use them to market to the Swing Group.

As an example, I'll use my most recent book, The Counterfeit. As I've talked to the Love Group, these are some of the things that they've told me they like: the unexpected humor, the romance which is strong but not sappy, the facts/historical base, the everyman nature of the protagonist, the well-crafted settings, etc. Some people have told me that they like it because it's clean but not preachy. Other said they like the themes of courage and doing what's right regardless of the consequences.

Now that I know these are some of the reasons the Love Group loves the book, I can now use them when I talk to the Swing Group. These things are my brand. They're what differentiate my book, and they're the things that I need to emphasize. One review of my first book said it was "a rollickingly funny, bitterly satiric Mormon novel." I've used that line dozens of times on the Swing Group--and it quite often results in a sale. Perhaps they think "Bitterly satiric? And it's Mormon? Maybe I will give it a try, even though it's LDS fiction."

The point of this all is that we spend way too much time, effort and money marketing in unneccessary ways. There's a vast audience out there, and we can use better techniques to reach them.


At 10/31/2007 12:11 AM, Blogger Josi said...

Very interesting--i hadn't thought about that before. I definitely focus on the love group--they just make you feel so good, ya know?--so I need to adjust my efforts.

One question for ya--I have a lot of people I know and have on mailing lists that are in the hate group that won't SAY it. Do I still send them the postcards and e-mails and such or do I just bypass them? I can never decide.

At 10/31/2007 9:27 AM, Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

Wish I could find my Swing Group. How do you unearth them? Come to think of it, I don't even know who my Love Group are. Woe is me.

At 10/31/2007 9:44 AM, Anonymous marlene said...

A very helpful observation which led me to think. Many books have sub themes and topics that, if the readers knew about, might change the group they fell in. For instance, a mystery hater might be a cooking enthusiast who would love a book if they realized that the main character shared that characteristic and solved her mysteries while cooking. Where the publisher might market basically to mystery readers, there might be a whole new group just waiting to love a fellow chef. Your formula would be to emphasise the cooking component in discussions rather than the fact that the book is a mystery so as to catch the swing group and basically attract a new love group.
Makes lots of sense to me and a productive way to think about it.

At 10/31/2007 10:36 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Just because someone is in the hate group doesn't mean that you shouldn't market to them. It just means that you shouldn't spend a lot of effort (or money or time) to do it. If they're just on your email list, then by all means go for it.

The Swing Group is the very easiest to find, because they're 95% of readers. I imagine you already know much of your Love Group: are there people who regularly visit your website? Friends and family who buy your books as soon as they're released?

Yeah, the formula is very adaptable and very much open to interpretation. You can define the groups in very specific terms (you could say your Love Group are the people who love your books) or in broad terms (you could say the Love Group are the people who love LDS fiction, or people who love your genre).
The two key points of this thesis are: (1) don't spend a lot of energy on the Love Group or the Hate Group, and (2) find out why the Love Group loves, and use those ideas to market to the Swing. Aside from that, you can interpret it anyway you want.

At 10/31/2007 2:18 PM, Blogger Marcia Mickelson said...

Great blog. I like the way you spelled everything out. It's so true. I'm very scared of the hate group, by the way. Like Josi said, you might not know they're haters and secretly hating. It's because of them that I don't talk about my writing a lot to people I know.

At 10/31/2007 2:40 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Great post.

Next blog: Steps for focusing on the Swing Group. I'd love your take on finding them and marketing to them.

At 10/31/2007 4:28 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Are you getting extra credit at BYU for this, Rob?

At 10/31/2007 5:48 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Very thought-provoking, Rob. I think you're exactly right.

That hate group sure makes for interesting conversations at book signings.

At 11/03/2007 7:44 AM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

Great advice. I'm not published yet but I read it anyway. I hope that's okay.

At 11/15/2007 12:41 AM, Blogger Rachelle said...

I haven't published a novel yet either, but I enjoyed the tips. It's a good reminder that our books need to have plenty of well-defined sub-plots to meet everyone's likes.


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