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.