Writer Niche & Identity Marketing: Part 1 Introduction

Clothing, style, music, are all parts of your personal identity.

The other night I was in the middle of a conversation with other independent writers, I can’t remember the starting topic but for one reason or another, I started thinking about image and marketing. A lot of indy writers I’ve come across have a problem with marketing and author image, the problem being that they haven’t even considered the idea.

Now, I’m not an expert, I never went to school, never studied marketing, I haven’t watched more than one episode of Madmen. Everything I’m about to say is personal speculation and theory. Take the following into consideration and feel free to bring up any personal ideas and observations.

This is going to be a series of posts and is in not way a deep dive into the topic. It’s mostly my off the cuff ideas and I hope to develop even more insight through conversations both here and on Twitter.

Let’s start by stating some truths that I believe every writer needs to accept and internalize. These two points are taken together lead to my overall marketing image theory.

First, reading for pleasure is a luxury, it’s entertainment no different than watching movies, enjoying sports on television, going out drinking with friends, or any other hobby. Writers, librarians, and hardcore readers will wax poetic about the cultural benefits of reading and how vital it all is to civilization, but let’s face it, while the classics both old and new might be culturally relevant, your novel about robots punching each other isn’t.

What this means is that you and your work are competing with every other means of entertainment. In the age of streaming movies, downloadable videogames, and the glut of video and audio available across youtube and Instagram, your work is a drop in an ocean of content. Reading for fun is a niche form of entertainment, which means that reading a specific genre and subgenre is an even smaller niche.

The second truth is that people tend to internalize and make the entertainment they consume part of their personal identity. Think of sports fans, you know, the kind of people that own jerseys, splatter team stickers on their cars, and make sure to drink at the sports bar associated with their favorite team. The sports fandom becomes part of their identity. This isn’t a unique phenomenon, this applies to almost all forms of entertainment. Music fans, goths have a lifestyle, metalheads have a look, hip-hop fans, not to mention the fanatical K-Pop crowd. Humans heavily identify on a personal and emotional level with the entertainment and branding they consume. Apple people, I guarantee some of you reading this are Apple people, and the tech is part of your lifestyle.

The brands you use, the movies you watch, the books you read, the clothes you wear, and the leisure activities you engage in are part of the overall picture of one’s identity. You can go as far as describing types of people, giving a hint of their personality and life just by listing the items one consumes.

Jack: Android Phone, put together PC, Steam only PC gamer, still owns a Microsoft Zune, ironic Target brand videogame art t-shirts, sketchers, used Honda, comic book collection, those fucking annoying Funco dolls they sell at Hot Topic, still has a marijuana belt buckle from freshman year.

Amy: Raw kombucha, Subaru, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Northface, Patagonia, Apple, Anthropologie, Columbia, REI, Restoration Hardware.

Ok, one more, but this one you have to guess who it is. Put the answers in the comments.

?????: Armani, Oliver People’s, Ralph Lauren, Rolex, Gucci, Allen Edmonds, Fratelli Rosetti, Jean-Paul Gautlier, Huey Lewis.

All three of the above can be used as descriptors for people because a lot of us internalize what we consume as part of our identity.

Putting both points together gives us the following; reading is niche and people that read a certain genre enough to be considered readers and fans most likely heavily internalize what they read as part of their identity. This is easily observed at conventions, on message boards, and in the real world. Go sit outside any big city coffee shop with your copy of Houellebecq and see what type of person starts chatting you up.

So, taking in the above a writer can be successful if she identifies the focused niche her writing fulfills and builds herself into a lifestyle brand that makes people want to identify with.

A great example of this niche marketing technique is outlined in this article about Subaru. Read it here. To summarize, in the late 80s early 90s Subaru was having a tough time connecting with the 4wd market, they could not break into the 18-35 active male demographic. But after a bit of market research, they found the perfect niche, outdoorsy lesbians. Twenty years later and Subaru has become the go-to car for sporty LGBTQ friendly West Coast liberals. I’m going to take a wild guess but Subaru and Bernie Sanders stickers go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Let me know what you think about this down in the comments or on Twitter. Next post I’m going to go into depth about author image, niche, and identity by listing some examples of authors I think do a fantastic job.

It’s all about Style.

I have have this twitter account, I’m pretty sure most of you reading already follow me. It’s a useless distraction where I post random inanities and constantly refresh for that adrenal pumping endorphin kick that my degenerate generation is addicted to. Every-now and then, and by that I mean almost daily, I make definitive philosophical and artistic declarations on said Twitter account, letting everyone know what they should be reading, writing, and how to prop up our failing civilization.

One of my recent rants was about my belief that writers should be well read in there genre, even if their genre is dominated by progressive degenerates. I believe that you should know your enemy and be able to continue the genre conversation through your work, something you can’t do if you don’t understand what the current mainstream is about.

I mostly write in the fantasy genre, so to put my own advice into practice I went to the Fantasy subreddit, the basic bitch hangout of the fantasy fan world, and noted a few recommendations.

To skip to the point, I bought three books, started reading each of them and had to give up around the 20% mark. Modern traditional published fantasy is garbage. All three novels were highly touted by the reddit crowd, all three were horribly cliche Dungeons and Dragons derivative stupidity.

The worst of the three actually, I shit you not, used the stupid wife getting raped by her lord because “prima nocta” straight out of Braveheart. I almost wretched from cringing.

Most of all, all three of the books had pedestrian writing that lacked any hint of style. The prose felt like early young adult, middle school grade, nothing fancier than early Animorphs, and the plot and characters felt stolen from a overwritten D&D module.

But to get back twitter and the whole point of this post. I posted about giving up on most fantasy because the writing sucks. People responded, we had some good back and froth, and one friend stated that people tend to never give examples of good writing/prose when complaining about bad writing. So, I’m going to give some quick examples.

I believe that Style is the most important aspect of writing. Style followed by Character, then finally plot, world-building, etc. Style is where the aesthetics of the novel come out. I also prefer adult writing with deeper themes and subtext.

For style, I think Bret Easton Ellis is the best living example right now. Check out this piece from American Psycho. If you haven’t read American Psycho, you are wrong.

there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed. Yet I am blameless.

American Psycho

Excellent. The whole book is a stylistic masterpiece.

But I can hear you bitching now, Alex, American Psycho is literary fiction, it’s supposed to be stylish, you were talking about Fantasy. Yeah, ok, you might be right. But, there is a lot of fantastic, well written, mature fantasy that doesn’t read like some dorks character background for his Tuesday night D&D game he forces his wife to play.

The best living writer of Fantasy is Guy Gavriel Kay. Excellent poetic prose and mature novels that explore complex themes. Here is a few pieces.

The sailors say the rain misses the cloud even as it falls through light or dark into the sea. I miss her like that as I fall through my life, through time, the chaos of our time. I dream of her some nights, still, but there is nothing to give weight or value to that, it is only me, and what I want to be true. It is only longing.

A Brightness Long Ago

We like to believe, or pretend, we know what we are doing in our lives. It can be a lie. Winds blow, waves carry us, rain drenches a man caught in the open at night, lightning shatters the sky and sometimes his heart, thunder crashes into him bringing the awareness he will die. We stand up, as best we can under that. We move forward as best we can, hoping for light, kindness, mercy, for ourselves and those we love.

A Brightness Long Ago

Fantasy can be written for adults at an adult level. Some of the oldest Fantasy like the works of Lord Dunsany, are mythic and poetic. Lord of the Rings is both a beautiful and complex work of art.

I have very little time for pleasure reading. I love fantasy, but I’m not going to spend my time reading the equivalent of roleplaying game fan fiction. Why would I read your dull prose when there’s Conan?

Stand aside, girl,” he mumbled. “Now is the feasting of swords.

Book Review: Neon Harvest by Jon Mollison

What an excellent cover!

Digger, a private investigator fresh off a failed case and down on his luck gets a last chance at a paycheck from an old friend. But like in all noir tales the job isn’t what it seems and he gets thrown in the middle of a nefarious plot involving megacorporations, murder, rape, and government corruption set against a retrofuture techno-noir background.

Neon Harvest does something different, something cool. It’s not a true sci-fi nor a true cyberpunk. Jon takes the technological baseline of the early 80’s and stagnates it. It’s a pre-digital cyber-thriller. The heroes still use pay-phones, newspapers are still on paper, and cash is still used. Yet, colony ships take off, planets are terraformed, and the internet used to exist. I don’t want to spoil anything, because the whole concept is really cool.

Mollison excels at writing crime violence and the seedy techno-noir setting allows him to go all out with several exciting set pieces. Once scene involving a para-glider through skyscrapers was epic, an excellent action sequence where Jon showed his chops.

Another highlight was one of the villains, an disgusting billionaire rapist that was equal parts Harvey Weinstein and Baron Harkonnen, truly repulsive.

Mollison travels in the same writing circles as Alexander Helene and a lot of the PulpRev crowd and I have to say that with each new release the quality of work increases exponentially. Which brings me to my only real complaint about Neon Harvest, which is almost the same as my complaint about The Last Ancestor by Helene. I want more depth. Mollison writes ass-kicking action, the pace is quick, and the prose is pulpy goodness. But, there’s a lot of stuff in there that I wish was expanded upon, a lot of philosophical points that could of been the center of a much deeper and darker novel.

Neon Harvest is an action-packed retro scifi noir asskicker. I read it in two sittings, the second round kept me up until 2 am. Pick it up, put on some wired headphones, and throw on one of the many retrowave playlists on yotube because this one is a blast.

Barbarian Book Club: Movie Edition, John Ford, John Wayne, and Classic Westerns.

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Here’s a colorful portrait of John Ford during the making of “Stagecoach,” one of his three classic films released in 1939 (along with “Young Mr. Lincoln” and “Drums along the Mohawk”).

With the country in quarantine and the world in a state of viral panic I’ve decided to spend nights with my wife enjoying movies, the traditional American form of escapism. Our current era of digital streaming is wonderful for the film lover, parents, and the disease weary shut-in. While unlike my wife, I often miss the magic of the movie theater, I have to say that being able to enjoy the latest movies on my couch, glass of wine in hand, and the ability to hit the bathroom without missing anything is fantastic.

First, the 2019 film season has been the best in over a decade. Outstanding movies like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Ford vs Ferrari, and Parasite being my favorite, with runner-ups like Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse, and Joker. I can’t remember a year where I liked so many big movies.

But with all the recent movies exhausted and the increasing fear and depression in the world due to the virus, I’ve gravitated to watching classic Westerns on Amazon Prime, and nobody made classic westerns like John Ford with John Wayne.

The Western is the quintessential American genre. The Western is the chivalric romance updated to the 20th century. It’s the spiritual mythology of a country on the brink of cultural domination of the world. In the 19th century Americans conquered the Frontier with bullets and railroads and in the 20th century Americans culturally conquered the world with movies, blue jeans, and capitalistic dominance.

I find the Western attractive for the same reason I find pulp fiction and medieval fantasy attractive. Strong men, strict codes of honor, beautiful but deadly environments, individualism, and an overall aesthetic that matches my romantic conservatism. So these past few days I’ve gone through some of John Fords Western Masterpieces.

John Ford with Stagecoach, is credited with making what is the first Western considered to transcend the genre and also the movie that skyrocketed John Wayne’s career. 1939’s Stagecoach was a pleasure to watch. Based on one of my favorite short stories, Ernest Haycox’s The Stage to Lordsbourg, the movie follows a group of stagecoach travelers crossing dangerous Apache territory. You have a prostitute ran out of town, a banker carrying stolen money, a whiskey peddler, a suave gambler, a classy wife of an officer, the local sheriff, foolish driver, and John Wayne’s Ringo Kidd who is an escaped convict looking to settle scores. All of these characters are thrown together on a perilous journey.

Stagecoach is storytelling perfection. The movie is filled with tension. Class tension between the passengers, the constant danger of unseen Apaches, and finally the knowledge that Ringo, if he makes it to his destination faces death at the hands of his enemies. Excellent movie.

Next up was 1950’s Wagon Master starring Ben Johnson, Harry Cary, Ward Bond, and Joanne Dru. It’s the odd movie out because it doesn’t have John Wayne and because it is fundamentally a romantic comedy with a slightly pacifist theme focused on community.

Wagon Master is the story of a group of Mormon settlers expelled out of town heading west towards the San Juan River country in Utah. They hire the two main characters, horse traders, as wagon masters to take them to their destination safely. On the difficult journey they encounter a medicine show troupe of drunken degenerates, Indians, and finally a band of murderous outlaws.

Wagon Master is a great movie, a western where the focus is on finding community, the desire to go west for a better life, and the contrast between the outlaws and the Mormons. Ward Bond plays a hard scrapping, cussing, Mormon Elder, my favorite character in the movie.

Excellent movie worth watching for its rather unique plot format, more of a series of montages instead of a linear structure, and for the positive portrayal of religious people, something rare in today’s entertainment.

1956’s The Searchers starring John Wayne is considered a masterpiece and one of the most influential films ever made. John Wayne returns to his brothers Texas homestead after fighting in the Civil War. Shortly after Comanches raid killing the family and kidnapping the two daughters. John Wayne and his adopted nephew spend the next few years tracking the Indian band across Texas and the territories.

The Searchers is a surprisingly dark movie and Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards is compelling and highly nuanced, almost to the point of being unlikable to my 21st century sensibilities. Ethan is an Ahab character, obsessed with hurting the Comanche almost more than he is obsessed with finding his niece, who might actually be his daughter.

Racism and the disgust towards miscegenation, specifically the rape of white women by the Indians, but also in the disgust one of the characters shows towards a Indian female, is one of the central themes. The rape of captives is directly implied, and even the gentle female characters show disgust at the idea of a white woman returning or wanting to live after being taken captive.

Excellent movie filmed beautifully in Utah’s Monument Valley, but somewhat darker than the others. I think this one requires another viewing in order to catch the subtler themes.

Finally 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring James Stewart and John Wayne, my wife’s favorite movie out of the four.

Liberty Valance starts with a frame narrative, James Steward as Senator Ransom Stoddard and his wife return to the small frontier town of Shinbone for the funeral of an unknown man. After the local newspaper presses him about the story, Senator Ransom tells the tale of his coming to Shinbone thirty years prior and is dealings with the dead man, Tom Doniphan played by John Wayne.

The young Ransom, a freshly minted lawyer, arrives in the western territories, head filled with ideas of justice and fairness, only to find Shinbone a cesspit of crime where the citizens are at the mercy of thugs like Liberty Valance and their rich rancher bosses. John Wayne, plays Doniphan, a tough alpha rancher in love with the local waitress and critical of Ransoms idealism.

Liberty Vance is a movie that wonderfully illustrates the concept of Law vs Chaos, wild vs civilization, and the power of law and justice vs rule by might and violence. It’s a idealistic movie, one that has faith in American government and law making it somewhat tough to swallow in our cynical 21st century, but the story and acting is overall excellent. Its one fault is that it continues past what I thought should have been its logical endpoint, dragging out the ending into an unnecessary diversion.

I’m going to continue watching older movies, I’m finding the writing, pacing, and feel of classics refreshing. Most of all I enjoy the lack of cynicism and snark found in modern movies.

I think I’m going to continue Westerns into the Eastwood Era or maybe some Bogart movies. Maybe I’ll do a round of Akira Kurosawa samurai flicks.

Disney Imagineering

During our trip to Disneyland my younger brother recommended the Imagineering Story on Disney+. I enjoy behind the scene documentaries and looking into the writing process, movie-making, and other creative endeavors, so I decided to give it a try and brush up on my Disney history.

My wife and I watched the first two episodes last night. It’s an excellent documentary that takes an in depth look at the creation of Disneyland and the small team of creative geniuses who came up with all of the magic. It’s really cool seeing the creative chaos and almost manic creation that went into opening the first park. How everything was made custom, decisions happened on the spot, and everything was improvised or created from scratch.

The first episode focused on Walt Disney coming up with the Disneyland idea, getting it funded, and building the theme park in the middle of nowhere at that time, Anaheim. Interesting to look back at Disney as a small company, Orange County as a backwoods, and every Walt Disney idea as a far-flung pipe dream.

While watching these guys improvise and build this park basically by hand I was struck with the realization that Disneyland could not be built today. 1950-60s U.S. was at its peak or creativity and innovation. If Walt Disney tried to build Disneyland today he would never get past the basic pitch. The amount of red-tape, insurance, government interference, regulation, inspection, and obscene taxation, is unbelievable and insurmountable by anyone but the biggest multi-billion corporations. Opening a small restaurant or bar in California is a nearly impossible endeavor, let alone trying something like Disneyland with its massive scale and quirky innovation.

It’s sad to reflect on the fact that we live in sclerotic time, buried in bureaucratic over-regulation and creative stagnation.