Today I am so pleased to welcome Nicole Kimberling and Josh Lanyon to Joyfully Jay. Nicole and Josh have come to talk to share one of their chats with us. Please join me in giving them a big welcome!
Promotion in the Age of Peak Advertising
by Nicole Kimberling and Josh Lanyon
In early March, Josh and I decided to co-write an article about promotion. We were going to have it go live in June. Little did we know what fate had in store for us.
So we decided to just leave the conversation that we’d started as it was, then pick it up again after the Very Long Pause. So here we are, talking to each other in March, having no idea what’s coming our way.
Nicole Kimberling: What is effective advertising? As more an more authors enter the market hoping to live off the proceeds of their talents the inter tubes are getting even more clogged with promotional material. My assertion is that when content is nothing but a blatant advertisement for other content, its both ephemeral and skip-able which is why I’ve focused recently on a more NYT style of promo—the opinion piece as book promotion, which really advertises the author as a writer and thinker rather than a specific work and therefore has a longer shelf life. What do you think? Is it fundamentally pretentious for genre fiction writers to take on the weighty topics and thinky-thoughts of the world? Do readers even want that?
Josh Lanyon: So I agree with your assertion. And no, I don’t think it’s pretentious for genre fiction writers to take on weighty topics and share their thinky-thoughts. I even think that–in theory–readers would prefer this approach to the white noise of constant BUY MY BOOK!! BUY MY BOOK!! The problem I see–and I see it in myself too–is an almost universal shrinking attention span. Blogs and blog tours are a good example. We see almost none of the kind of interaction we used to experience in the days of LiveJournal, for example (which is where we met!) Is there a point in crafting a nice little article on your process when nobody seems to be reading? People show up simply to enter contests–and then half the time don’t even return to see whether they’ve won. When I was first thinking of joining Twitter, I saw all these cartoons showing everyone talking at once, nobody listening. I’m not sure it was true at the time, but I do think it’s true now.
Is there a solution? I’ve been trying to make sure there’s some entertainment value in my promotional efforts–like making book trailers and teasers, which are at least attractive to look at. But that’s not engagement. I miss engagement.
NK: I miss it too! I miss people typing words to me instead of just hitting the “like” icon. And I miss people liking words instead of just photographs of cats…not that I’m against cat photos. I put up a lot of them…but I do miss the experience of meeting new people because of they’re writing what I’m also writing or reading what I’m also reading. I guess the “reading what I’m also reading” part has moved mostly to Patreon.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Patreon—not whether its good thing or a bad thing, but just the effect it’s seemed to have on the writing community in general. To me its as though we’ve sort of all gone into separate silos whereas we used to link arms and lift each other up a lot more. And I think that might be partly to do with the time demand that Patreon makes on authors to be available to their benefactors both directly online and in creating exclusive material. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe its just fear of a Twitter mob lurking around every corner.
JL: What’s that line from Joe vs the Volcano? I’M NOT ARGUING THAT WITH YOU. I think, speaking as someone with a Patreon, that it’s a little of both. I think the lack of civil discourse has the unfortunate effect of driving people underground. The real danger there is the misconception that because people aren’t openly debating you, they actually agree with you.
But another facet of silo-ism (yeah, that’s not a word) is financial anxiety in, what amounts to, a very precarious line of work. We have a generation of writers (and by generation, I’m referring to their time in the trenches of professional writing, not their biological age 😉 ) who’ve entered a life of letters with, not just the intent, but the expectation of making money–maybe a lot of money. And that isn’t going to happen for most of the 45,000+ fiction writers working in the US alone. This is a business that drives people crazy. I think we see more calculated alliances but less of that old helping-hand attitude. But I digress!
NK: Yeah, I see what you mean–that the expectation of and search for a middle-class wage is leading authors to think much more tactically than before. But I also wonder if we aren’t giving up our single greatest resource as writers interested in the production of creative works–which is the support and intellect of other writers.
And I guess I’m not the only author thinking of this. I was reading the NYT Magazine today I came across a quote in an article called, “Is it Possible to Feel Creatively Connected Without Social Media?” The author, Megan O’Grady, writes, “I recognize the pressure on authors to cultivate a “following” — as though the real point of connection weren’t the work itself.”
This hit home especially for me because I’m not sure if I would ever have attempted to write mystery had I not read one of yours. It was revelatory as if I had been shown how to wear a confusing garment or disassemble a whole lobster. As if you had leaned over and said, “No, dear, this is where you pull, et viola!”
Maybe it all comes down to the chariot analogy? (lol) Only with Art and Commerce the two opposing winged horses that we must all manage? Promotion is a part of that Commerce which can drag down the Art, but Art cannot exist at all without the money that Promotion brings?
JL: Maybe it’s a little bit of Be Careful What You Wish For. Writing used to be one of the loneliest of artistic professions, but social media has really made that a thing of the past. Being able to connect with other writers as well as readers was like a gift. So it’s ironic that the pressure to be constantly promoting–which often amounts to talking when you have nothing to say–has actually begun to get in the way of meaningful conversation and deeper connections.
Having said that, this idea–your idea–for this kind of thoughtful back and forth on various topics has given me a couple of ideas for my own blog. Maybe that’s the takeaway. That, yes, it’s is harder to be heard when everyone is talking at once, but maybe the solution is not to raise your voice–maybe the solution is to come up with more interesting things to say.
(At this point the conversation broke off because we were all suddenly Sheltering in Place and forgot everything we were doing as we obsessively monitored the news and each other’s sneezes. Flash Forward to May…)
NK: Well holy hell . . . and to think we were there chatting away about creating promotional content as though we weren’t on the cusp of an impending catastrophe. I feel like–you know those 70s disaster movies? Where you see all the characters before they’re hit by a tsunami or trapped in a rooftop restaurant during a skyscraper fire? Like that.
What did we even know about financial anxiety? Since we had this conversation the unemployment rate has surged more than 3000%. That’s just mind-boggling.
But authors are still authoring and readers are still reading–and books that were scheduled to be released are coming out to a whole different world than the one they were intended for. What do you make of it all?
JL: Well, right off the top, I don’t want to read ANYTHING about a pandemic. For me, it’s way too soon. WE ARE NOT AMUSED.
But that’s just me.
Just as there are two publishing worlds–the world of the traditional or hybrid author and the world of the KU author–authors are experiencing two different pandemics. Authors who rely heavily on print and mainstream publishing, are experiencing delays in acquisition and publication, which isn’t just frustrating, it can effect their earnings and even potentially the course of their career trajectory. Those of us who rely largely on our digital list, aren’t experiencing much change. Or no, rather, we’re not necessarily experiencing reduction of income yet–we can still promote our little hearts out on the web–but we all handle stress and anxiety in our own way. Speaking for myself, my concentration is shot. I’m not feeling inspired or creative. So I’m taking time to catch up on things like reformatting and repackaging my backlist.
I’m worried though. For those of us in the traditional/hybrid camp, there are ominous indications for the future. The fact that Barnes and Noble is teetering, is really alarming. According to Smashwords–and this is my own experience as well–Kobo has not lived up to their initial promise. A reduction in options is never to the benefit of authors.
NK: My concentration is beginning to return but my confidence in being able to predict how any given book will be received has gone completely out the window. I mean, we seemed to be heading right for one dystopian hyper-partisan future only to get sidelined into a whole different timeline. It’s like those movies where two characters fight all the time, then aliens attack and they have to at least agree that they hate each other less than they hate alien invaders…or lethal viruses. If this were a novel I’d have been like, “Ooh, nice one. Didn’t see that coming. I thought this would be more of a civil war type thing but…wow! Wham! Out of nowhere comes a pandemic.”
It’s hard to seize the zeitgeist and come up with a great marketing plan under these circumstances. One can only try though. As a publisher it’s my responsibility to just keep trying to connect authors with readers against all odds an adversities. Playing matchmaker one book at a time.
JL – OMG. Right. That’s all true. But here’s something that gives me hope both for online interactions and for marketing too. While I still struggle with the desire to disconnect completely from the outside, I’m finding that when I interact, I’m taking a little more time, being a little more kind–I’m trying to pay more attention and not just rush through checking something else off my list. I don’t know if it will help sell more books, but I honestly don’t care. It makes the process of talking to people about books more pleasurable, and that’s really how we all got into this, isn’t it? Wanting to share our love of books and stories and characters with other people?
NK: Exactly so.
Author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure, and unapologetic man-on-man romance, JOSH LANYON’S work has been translated into eleven languages. His FBI thriller Fair Game was the first Male/Male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, then the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place on the list). The Adrien English series was awarded the All Time Favorite Couple by the Goodreads M/M Romance Group. In 2019, Fatal Shadows became the first LGBTQ mobile game created by Moments: Choose Your Story.
She is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee, and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads All Time Favorite M/M Author award.
Josh is married and lives in Southern California.
Follow Josh on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram and Tumblr.
NICOLE KIMBERLING is a novelist and the senior editor at Blind Eye Books. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award. Other works include the Bellingham Mystery Series, set in the Washington town where she resides with her wife of thirty years as well as an ongoing cooking column for Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. She is also the creator and writer of “Lauren Proves Magic is Real!” a serial fiction podcast, which explores the day-to-day case files of Special Agent Keith Curry, supernatural food inspector. Her short story collection, “Grilled Cheese and Goblins,” will be featured in the 2020 Pride StoryBundle.