Junking the junk.

Junk mail. Meh.

Sometimes, it feels like the stuff being stuffed (see what I did there?) through your letter box, has already been given up on. They’ve already accepted that its headed to the recycling box, but for some reason, they felt it deserved a visit to your doormat beforehand. Like it should see more of the world, because damn it, they spent whole minutes putting it together.

So, they spent their valuable marketing budget letting some intern at a print shop get their big break writing and designing their flyer for them. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Everything.

Let’s take this amazing piece of work that hit the mat just this morning.

I first wanted to pull this thing apart on the simple fact that, despite 2018 being nearly upon us, there are businesses out there till thinking that marketing yourself as ‘female friendly’ by making material pink and incredibly patronising is going to work. Or should that be patriarch-onising?

Are you a woman? Have you forgotten your MOT date is on the certificate? Do you have no idea that an MOT centre that had a commission based service on MOTs, a dedicated sales team, or middlemen would be really weird, or at the very least overkill? Then come to us! We’ll even tell you to put this reminder on your board or fridge in the kitchen (as that’s where you spend all your time right?). And best write the appointment down – after all, all the space in that pretty little head of yours is taken up by shoes.

Come on guys (I’m presuming they’re guys), let’s raise the game a little here. I mean, some of this is actually quite useful and helpful – but surely regardless of gender?  I forget stuff all the time. Ironically, I wish I could forget this flyer, but that doesn’t seem likely now.

It doesn’t matter that there are four stars in front of the words ‘five star rating’ (I know, there is another star on the flyer, but really?), or that there are so many sales messages here, the only thing standing out is the misogyny. Or that there is a completely superfluous dotted green line (am I cutting something out?), or that it looks like they’ve given each individual word its own typeface.

What matters, is that they’ve paid for this junk. Presumably, this met their standards of excellence. It nailed their brief. They were happy to pony up the dough.

Which surely means, under no circumstances, should you ever take your car to them? Honestly, it’d be like going to a doctor who lets their house plants die.

If you’re thinking of putting together marketing material, less is always more. Fewer words. Fewer images. Fewer messages. White space does not have to be filled. You do not have to write war and peace. And you do not have to convey your entire manifesto. Choose one key message and stick to it.

Below is probably the most perfect advert Porsche have ever created.

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No images. No need to fill space. And a perfect headline that’s also a punchline. This shows that Porsche not only know their audience, but also how they are perceived as a brand beyond it. And that lets them communicate effectively to both.

So, next time you’re headed to the lowest bidder for all your marketing needs, I ask you to consider one thing. Should you cut out the middle-person and head straight for the recycling centre?

Okay, two things then. Could you spend your money more wisely and make your budget deliver a better ROI by going somewhere else?

The final point? Junk mail is only junk mail if you make it so.

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A Place for Product Placement

I’ve been quite lucky that in the twelve months Shadow Beast has been out, the worst review it has received has been three stars, with comments varying from a simple ‘okay read’ to another which gave away the twist and ending. 76% of the reviews give it a five star rating, with another 18% giving it the four star treatment.

Any author should be pleased with that kind of impact and feedback from readers who have put their money down, especially after nearly a year on the market.

However, a latest comment in a review did at least make me chuckle, and I took a little time to consider it. They weren’t very happy with the product placement in the writing. I also suspect he may have been a Land Rover enthusiast, as he took some umbrage that I referred to Thomas’s modified Defender as an Overfinch rather than a ‘Rover’ or ‘Landie’.

It is of course impossible to please all of the people all of the time, and I don’t intend to try, but I thought I would take a little time to talk about product naming and usage in writing generally, and in my own.

First of all, when a self-published author like myself names or uses real life brands and products in their books, it is very unlikely to actually be product placement, where a company has paid for its inclusion. That said, should Rolex be wondering which of their watches Thomas wears, and if they would like me to wear it as an endorsement, it’s this one, but with a leather strap.

Naming a product can have several purposes and uses to a writer. I use it specifically in three ways in the most part. Firstly, I use it to tell the reader something about the character. By associating a character with certain brands, I can provide you with an essence of their personal tastes, financial status, and even possibly things like age, gender and background, and normally in under three words. It can be very useful to set a scene, especially at the beginning of a story.

This is something that one of my favourite authors, Ian Fleming, constantly did. From providing his hero with a shiny Aston Martin DB4 in Goldfinger (you read that correctly, it was in the film that it became the eponymous DB5 we all know and love), to his Rolex (now Omega), the purpose was always to suggest Bond’s swagger by way of his swag.

Secondly, a specific piece of equipment is usually most easily described by its brand and model. I agree that you probably don’t need to know the serial number, but by letting you know that Thomas is using Leica binoculars or shoots a Holland & Holland .465 bolt action rifle, it should help the reader visualise it easier – or in the case of the gun, give you an idea of its power. I don’t see much point in going to great lengths descriptively when naming the product does everything I need it to do.

Another of my favourite authors, Michael Crichton, used this in his writing often. He would always go to great lengths to describe scientific apparatus, surveillance equipment and other items down to the model number. Sometimes I would look them up, sometimes I knew what they were, but I always had the visual reference. Clive Cussler is somebody else who is very fond of mentioning the exact make and model of cars, planes and weapon favoured by Dirk Pitt, his own hero.

Thirdly, by using a real product or brand, it can help reduce word repeats. It provides another option descriptively on top of common adjectives.

There is of course the obvious reason too. It’s always a little bit of wish fulfilment. Authors tend to give their characters the things they’d like to have, from simple attributes to sharp suits and expensive cars.

I know it isn’t always to everyone’s taste, but product naming and use does have a place. In the case of at least a few, it was my editor who asked my to specify brands for the reasons above.

Feedback also has its place, and I’ll certainly keep all of the kind comments and constructive criticism Shadow Beast has attracted as I prepare the sequel, The Daughters of the Darkness. Some, like my recent reviewer may be pleased to hear he’s ditched the Overfinch. I’ve given him a Twisted tuned Defender pick-up instead!

Starbucks

Remember the Self in Self Publishing

There is an awful lot of advice out there in the world of self-publishing. Facebook forums, blogs (erm…like this one), e-zine articles, you name it, some self-proclaimed, self-published guru will have called shotgun on the advice column. Some of course is legitimately helpful. But elsewhere, things can get a little out of hand and over analytical. It’s perfectly acceptable to have discussions about which font to use for your paperback, (something from the Helvetica family, or in my case Palatino Linotype), or your ebook (Georgia, but don’t beat yourself up too much as readers can select their preferred font and size anyway), but if you’re hung up on say whether to put the ISBN-10 or 13 first in the layout, we need to talk.

I’ll give you a recent example from a Facebook forum I’m part of. A well-meaning contributor did a little bashing into those who, in her opinion, mistakenly put their acknowledgements at the beginning of their books. Poor old readers just don’t have the time to read acknowledgements, and they are unwelcome as the personal ego trip they clearly are. I’m just going to come out and say it. Poppycock. Acknowledgements are traditionally found at the front of a book. I can go to any on my shelf, flip through the first front pages and you know what I’ll find. Acknowledgements. I’d think it rather odd to discover them at the back. And let’s face it. If you’ve self-published, many friends and family will have probably helped and contributed in their own way somehow. Do they deserve to be slotted into the back like an afterthought? No. And they’re probably going to be the first people to read your book too. But that’s not to say it’s fine to do the full Gwyneth Paltrow. Keep it short and sweet. Like most things in this post, you’ll be fine if you apply healthy doses of common sense and scepticism.

There are things you need to do. Your book will be remarkably better off having been professionally edited and designed. I completely understand that cost is the biggest issue you probably face as a self-published author, but your book will do better if it has benefited from a good structural edit, a copy edit, proof-read and the bonus of an expertly designed cover. I will go into more detail about the whole process in a future post, but the point I want to get across today is that ultimately, it is your choice.

Let’s face it, if you’ve gone down the self-publishing route, it’s probably because you were struggling to get noticed by a traditional publisher or agent in the first place. I’m no exception. My book, Shadow Beast, sat on the ‘maybe’ pile for two well known agencies for so long that in the end I gave up and did it myself. I am very proud of it, and I think it’s a great story. More to the point, so do the many readers who have left five star reviews and compared it to Jurassic Park, and demanded it be made into a film to boot. I’m very lucky that the book has been so well received that within six months of pressing the big red button, I can now say it is my main source of income. But it wasn’t guaranteed.

You are completely free to give up the day job and commit to being a self-published author, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You may have noticed quite an uproar of late over the changes to how Amazon pays authors for their ‘unlimited’ service. This premium library allows paying subscribers to borrow your book, but whereas until recently you were paid a set fee for each download, authors are now paid on the number of pages read. Suddenly, many saw a drop in their payments from Amazon and cried foul. But lets be clear, actual sales were completely unaffected! The unlimited service was meant to be an add on, not your main source of income. But the problem is…there’s an awful lot of dross out there. Certain genres, such as erotica for instance, are flooded by poorly written, novella length guff. And the problem for Amazon was that most readers, quite rightly, were giving up after a few pages. If you’re work was short and…well, shite, you were reaping a reward regardless. But that’s not how the world works honey.

Most people who write, do so because it is something they love and ultimately, need, to do. And this should always be your starting point. Self publishing opens up a world that allows you to hold a book you have written in your hand, or can download to your Kindle. It gives you massive creative freedom, putting you in charge of what you write and how you present it. But you’re not guaranteed an income, a new life as an author or ultimately, any success at all. You need to be happy with that as a possibility, and be happy to just write for yourself. I still wish you every success though of course! And the thing is, if you write for yourself…it becomes less important what others say, and you become less inhibited by their barrages of advice and what they think.

There are lots of things you can do to aid your book, and there is good advice out there. Price it competitively, and be realistic for instance. I don’t care if your opus is over 800 pages long and it took you a decade to write, I don’t know you and I am not going to pay book store prices for it. When you have Stephen King’s loyal following and captive audience, you can get away with it perhaps, but until then, I’ll pay via check, made out to reality thanks very much.

On the flip side of the coin advice wise though, be aware that sometimes people just want you to pay for stuff. Again as an example, I recently took a ‘free’ review of my book’s Amazon profile from the forum I mentioned. When I initially joined, I was praised for the professional cover of my book, which they said they loved. Six months later though, things had changed and a new cover was recommended, and they just happened to offer such a service! As I browsed the examples, I noticed the large type stating ‘images courtesy of Shutterstock’ on virtually every single one, and on checking the covers on Amazon, found it wasn’t just due to being a mock-up. Needless to say, I much preferred what I already had and thought it far better conceived too.

The point is, I was able to make that decision. It’s my baby and I’m in charge. It’s all down to me. There will be pros and cons to everything I decide, and the repercussions and rewards are equally felt by me. Self publishing is one of the few worlds where it really can be all about you. But if you don’t cater for readers at all, don’t give it your best, and don’t do your work justice, then you might not get a great deal out of it. My advice when it comes to advice is the same I give for writing generally. Find balance, find confidence and find your own voice, and you’re off to a good start.

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