Monday, November 8, 2010

Marketing and the Physics of Water

Lately I've been hearing a lot of writers who are trying to increase their promotional activities. They think it's not working fast enough or well enough, and they are getting desperate. They lower their prices and beg each other for tips on places to send book announcements, and try to find ways to get more reviews and start buying ads....

And I am reminded of one shining bit of wisdom that came out of one of the worst movies made in modern times.

The movie is Force 10 From Navarone. It was a sequel to the Guns of Navarrone, and I remember watching it on TV. I remember watching it more vividly than I remember the movie itself. We stood there in front of the TV, hand half extended to change the channel, but it was so incredibly bad that we couldn't turn away. It was like watching a trainwreck.

My brain was seriously damaged by watching this movie, so I may be hallucinating the plots points I actually remember but: It's about a bunch of commandos who are dropped behind the Nazi lines for something that mattered deeply to them, but by the end they've decided to blow up a dam instead. It's full of dialog that would embarrass a cheesy B-movie hack. "The place is crawlin' with krauts! They're coming out of the woodwork!" and "It's quiet. Too quiet." Even Harrison Ford, Robert Shaw and Edward Fox couldn't save it.

It has one redeeming quality, though. It contained a lesson in physics, delivered cheerfully by Edward Fox (who was playing the role that David Niven played in the original). He was the demolitions expert who directed them where to set the charges inside dam. And at the climax, when they've finally set them off... nothing happens. They turn on Edward Fox as if he had led them wrong. But he's not worried. He explains patiently that they didn't have enough explosives to blow up the dam, but that's okay, because the water will take care of the rest. And lo and behold, the weakened dam gives way under the weight of the water behind it, and the Third Reich is wiped out, and in spite of the woods crawling with angry Krauts, our heroes get to go home to their sweethearts.

Marketing is like demolition.

If there isn't much water behind the dam, then destroying it is an overwhelming and well-nigh impossible proposition. You can go after it with a sledge hammer or a stick of dynamite, and nothing will happen. Hitting it harder and longer with that sledge hammer will not help.

You need the leverage of that water behind it to make your job possible. I don't care if you are an indie writer marketing to the general public, or a writer seeking traditional publication - you've got to create that mass to use as leverage.

You've got to write.

If your marketing efforts aren't paying off, odds are you're fighting against the physics of the situation. WRITE MORE! Fill that reservoir to bursting so that the marketing will be easy.

There are a few exceptions to this, of course. The first exception is if you are a traditionally published author, you should market like mad around the time of your book release. That's because you need to get as much attention as you can during that short time when your book is in the bookstore.

The other exception is with the more indirect marketing you do. It's always a good time to network with writers and readers. Be a positive contributor on forums and newsgroups, build your good name, and that also will add mass to the forces behind the dam. Just don't sacrifice your writing to do it, and don't be lured into thinking more is better.

Once the reservoir is full, then yes, sure, go at it. With the force of a million metric tons of water, we can all apply the second verse from High Hopes:

Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he'd punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram scram
He kept buttin' that dam.

'Cause he had high hopes ... (etc, etc.)
...whoops there goes a billion kilowatt dam!

I am a believer in chipping away at a goal with excessive persistence (just ask some of my former supervisors!) but don't forget where to place that persistence: writing.

Tonight's Progress: mainly reading. (This is my long work day at the day job - we'll get back to the dam tomorrow....)



Maria Romana said...

Great article, Camille, and great advice. The dam/dynamite analogy is perfect. I need to come back and read this about once a week!


DanielArenson said...

Great advice! I love the analogy. Definitely the right (write) approach.


The Daring Novelist said...

Look, there has to be something to be got out of watching that awful movie. Otherwise it would have been two hours wasted out of my life (and many brain cells sacrificed for nothing).