..and you need to decide if you’re OK with that.
I was going through my Youtube videos this week and tabulating views and such. I did several different versions of the GOD’S WAR trailer in an effort to reach different types of readers. For the most part, I think those succeeded. But if you look at views, the most popular video is still the most controversial – the Anti-Urban Fantasy (UF) Heroine trailer.
I knew this trailer had the potential to piss off a lot of people when I made it, and I hesitated to post it even after pouring hours of work into it (at least it didn’t cost me anything. I did 98% of it in PowerPoint). People love their genres, no matter what they are, and poking fun at it isn’t going to win you a lot of friends. That said, I also knew that there were a good number of people who were as annoyed with the standard UF heroine as I was, and those were the people I wanted to reach with this trailer. Of the three trailers I did, it was shared the most, has the most comments, and hand sold at least three or four books (I know because people actually felt the need to email me and tell me they bought the book after watching it – yes! THOSE are the people I made that trailer for).
I bring this up because I think that we have a tendency to play it safe when it comes to marketing – not just in the book industry but in the marketing industry as a whole (I write marketing and advertising copy for a living, after all). The thing is, sometimes you have to risk pissing a few people off (people who wouldn’t be interested in your product anyway) in order to speak in a way that really resonates with your target audience. It’s up to you to decide how far you want to push that. You could just end up being a lazy bigot. Just take a look at some of these ad campaigns for an idea of what not to do.
If I create something that I know has the potential to piss some people off, I sit down and interrogate it. I must have watched that trailer a bazillion times before posting it. I also watched some other videos cataloguing the evolution of UF covers. Most importantly of all, I anticipated what the reactions would be to the video from people who loved UF. I knew I’d get people saying I was bashing their genre, that they’d never pick up my book now, that my approach was condescending and offensive to UF readers. Then I thought about what kind of harm that would do. Does critiquing a genre amount to bigotry? Or was I simply asking folks to take another look at what they were reading and question it?
So I made it clear up front that this was a trailer for people who were tired of the same old UF heroine. If you still liked your UF heroines as they were, well, cool. You knew up front that it wasn’t something that interested you. I decided that poking fun at a genre and maybe making a few folks uncomfortable was worth the risk. I was presenting UF tropes and stereotypes in order to position the book as challenging them. If you already liked those tropes, this wouldn’t be the book for you.At worse, they’d swear off all my books and send me hate mail.
Finally, I looked at the messaging to the people I actually wanted to reach with this trailer. There are plenty of conversations about the perils and problems of UF, and I’ve even read and participated in some of them. I wanted to address these problems in the genre and position GOD’S WAR in such a way that it appeared to address a lot of these problems. It’s got an actual scary heroine who kills bad guys – she doesn’t date them. No werewolves, no vampires, no tight leather pants – just what I always wanted from UF but didn’t feel I was getting – a physically scary woman kicking ass and taking names without much fear or regret, because this was her job (of course, it was pointed out to me later that when I said “no werewolves” that Khos is actually a shapeshifter who turns into a dog, and Nyx is noted to have slept with him at one point. In my defense, he wasn’t technically a bad guy. So. Erm.).
Now, this isn’t to say that the other two GOD’S WAR trailers sucked. I like them quite a bit. But they also speak to very different audiences. One is very clearly SF-nal. The other is more adventure-fantasy. And though I’ve received positive feedback of the “Wow, did you really create that yourself?” variety, the only trailer that resulted in passionate emails about books immediately bought is the anti-UF trailer.
I still regret not doing a full trailer for INFIDEL. But if you think writing a book a year when you have a day job can be rough, try writing a book a year while marketing two books a year. That was too much, and my efforts with INFIDEL counted on stuff like giveaways and some targeted ads – all passive stuff that I could turn on and not think about.
Still, even with the INFIDEL teaser trailer, I tried to do something surprising and unexpected. I wanted something non-typical that made it clear people hadn’t read this book before.
One of the things I learned at Clarion was that if I worked too hard at making something that didn’t raise any questions, and didn’t look at all different from anything else, well, sure, it was going to be nice and safe, but it wasn’t going to connect with anyone either. It was going to sound just like everything else. And if something is just like everything else, then anybody could write it. Anybody could create it. And if anybody could create it, why would folks bother to buy it from you specifically?
I’m always looking for ways to push the envelope. Always looking to walk the fine line between being interesting and being outrageous. Finding that balance takes a lot of work, and I know I fail at it a lot, but as far as I’m concerned, if I’m not failing, I’m not trying hard enough. Failure just means trying something different. If it doesn’t work, try something else.