Saturday, February 20, 2010

Waxing About The Marketplace

I sat one night and listened to a Detroit classic rock radio station. A rocker was being interviewed by a DJ who kept talking about dinosaur rock and why the music business struggles in the face of downloads, etc, etc, and blah blah. But one thing that fascinated me was the rocker, who specifically discussed deliberately recording on mediocre equipment and listening to it on equally mediocre sound systems.

"I don't want to know how we'll sound on high end stuff. Everybody sounds great on high end. I want to know how we'll sound on some piece of crap somebody buys at the department store or at a local drug store."

When I first heard that, I thought it to be rather profound, for about ten seconds. Still, like most things I encounter, I tried to apply it to writing. Of course, I immediately considered the analogy of writing for the mass market v. writing for my own artistic integrity. I know they can work together, but I started asking myself, "what would be the equivalent of testing the product in a literary setting?" I'm not a marketing expert and I don't have the resources to have someone test my material for me with a prospective sampling of fans.

There's no single answer to this. I suppose one can join a writing group of peers, trying to find people who are close to the market you are trying to reach. One can put samples of writing on the net or on the blog and see what the response might be. There are countless forums and message boards around, but again, I'm not sure of the integrity of those responses, especially if the responses come from other writers who are looking at your work as competition, and with a jaundiced, critical eye.

I suppose there is no substitute to reading a niche as a reader and knowing what that reader wants. If you're going to write a zombie novel, you should know what's working in horror and what's not. You should also have some sense of what elements of a zombie novel are popular with readers. What made Romero's film work as opposed to some of the other low budget pieces that crumble from within. One can argue there is no commonality between film and writing, but both rely on character, timing, and theme to help suck a reader in and deliver a promising work.

Just thinking out loud...hoping to pacify the voices in my head telling me to do something horrible with peanut butter and under-arm deodorant (if you know what I mean).


Sullivan McPig said...

I have discovered that putting work online attracts lots of people with low self esteem who use trashing someone else's work to make themselves feel better. I for one will only ever put work online in an honest writing group if at all.

Anonymous said...

Since I know that you are my competition for markets and that the harshest words I can think of wouldn't phase you in the slightest, I've taken to designing a computer virus that is focused soley on the destruction of your hard drive. ;)

On a serious note, one of the best books I've ever read on craft was written for screenwriters. I definitely think that the overlap between film and writing is extensive.

Angie said...

other writers who are looking at your work as competition, and with a jaundiced, critical eye

You know, it's not even that, although of course that's a possibility. But I think a more fundamental issue here is that writers tend to view fiction a certain way, to be aware of the structure and the parts and how things fit together and flow, in a way most readers aren't. If you want a critique, then knowledgeable, experienced writers are probably the best people to ask. But if you want to know how the larger mass of readers will respond to your story, then you're better off asking a group of readers who are not writers.

I'm not saying readers are stupid or anything, but rather that different things are important to them, and different things jump out at them (or are invisible to them) than is the case with writers. Look at all the people who are horrible writers from a craftsmanship POV, but who are still wildly popular bestsellers; clearly if readers and writers read and thought the same way, this wouldn't happen. The readers are picking up on something the writers are seeing, or something they're ignoring because OMG the writing is SO BAD!! but these horrible writers are laughing all the way to the bank (and on their publicity tours, and to the conventions held for their bookverses, and cetera) just the same. There's a difference between how writers see a story and how readers see a story, and times when saying, "But all writers are readers too" is just irrelevant.


stu said...

I suppose the equivalent is handing your manuscript to someone who hasn't read all the other zombie novels out there and who thus won't know the conventions or get the references. You're having to do all the work.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Sully, it is always important to find a reliable source to critique work.
Christine, what book is that?
Angie, you raise some excellent points. You know, I remember when I first joined a genre group there was a sense of comfort there that I had not felt in other groups. The commonality helped tremendously.As for writers as readers, I have heard people say over and over again, writers don't buy books. Or rather, they buy books, but don't count on them for sales.

Stu, yeah, I think that is a fair statement.

Angie said...

As for writers as readers, I have heard people say over and over again, writers don't buy books. Or rather, they buy books, but don't count on them for sales.

I've heard that one too, and it kind of annoys me. I buy a lot of books, I always have, and don't like being dismissed as a buyer. A writer whose blog I follow went off on a hissy fit a month or two ago when she checked her records and discovered that a bunch of her fellow writers had the sheer gall to enter the contests she holds to give away books as promo! The nerve! Those contests are for readers only, and her fellow writers shouldn't be freeloading on contests meant for readers!!!

Coincidentally, I'd just bought a bunch of books the previous day, including two of hers. I'm thinking maybe I won't buy any of her books in the future, since she clearly doesn't value me as a reader at all. [eyeroll]

I might not read a book exactly the same way someone who only reads will, but my money is as green as anyone else's, and I was pretty offended by her little rant.


Anonymous said...

Story by Robert McKee. Despite the fun poked at him in Adaptation, he knows his stuff.

And I agree with Angie. I have a major book problem. Seriously. I gave 60 rubbermaid containers of books to the Salvation Army not long ago. I don't think they'll ever take donations from me again.