I’ve been thinking about sea lampreys this week. You see, I’ve been searching for animal images to embody my ideas about an often ignored subject: Overmarketing. Though books on promotion exhort us to use every trick we can, they rarely caution about overusing them. Yet, I’d bet all of us have met the author who overmarkets to the point of turning sweet to sour.
It comes down to this: there’s a difference between telling people about your book and pummeling them with it.
At its best, overmarketing comes off as annoying and pathetically desperate. At its worst, it offends. It repels and turns potential allies into gossipy ennemies.
Here are the three types of overmarketers I can define easily.
This parasite has a big mouth, too many teeth and sucks the joy of a purchase right out of you.
Picture yourself going into a bookstore. An author walks up to you and starts talking about his books. You nod politely, perhaps ask a question, smile and start to walk way. The author accompanies you, still working to engage in conversation, interpreting each of your sighs as a confirmation of interest. You try to escape behind a bookcase. He finds you. Finally, you buy his damn book just to get rid of him. Sure, he made the sale, but I bet that $15 won’t cover the compounded negative stories customers will tell about him to other people.
Though harmless enough, the megamouth inspires even the kindest person to hide — ducking into convenient bathrooms or jumping off cliffs — until this animal has cleared the waters.
This author has a mouth the size of Cuba. It’s the sheer volume of information gushing from her maw that initially tranfixes, and then horrifies, the poor person in its path. She can — and will — recite every blurb and review her books have ever gotten . . . verbatim. She turns every conversation, no matter how far the stretch, right back to her work and accomplishments. When attacked by this animal, you’re tempted to check if she has functioning ears; there appears to be no ability to listen.
Australian Cane Toad
Cane toads tend to be more experienced authors who’ve forgotten their beginnings, suffer from too much insecurity, or who think "humility" refers to the amount of moisture in the air.
Cane-toad authors sit on panels or in discussions and take them over in a poisonous way. This can be done by never answering the question asked (responding only about their books) or killing the competition through rudeness including clever insults, blathering and not listening. Within minutes of encountering a cane toad, the literary environment is out of balance and remains toxically so.
How do you avoid becoming one of these ugly animals?
It’s about balance, baby. Well, that, and common courtesy.
Know your audience.
Yeah, this sounds simple. Believe me, it isn’t. You have to work at it. Strive to be aware of the people with whom you hope to communicate. Know both their spoken and unspoken rules of etiquette no matter what the medium — be it face-to-face, the phone, in print or online. If you don’t take the time to understand your audience, you’ll always blunder.
Talk WITH, rather than AT, people. An upside to doing this is that you’ll get unexpected ideas for your future marketing efforts. Also, you’ll learn to avoid the mistakes that irritate your main allies. Guess how I started thinking about overmarketing in the first place? It was because of the comments I heard from readers — and booksellers — about this or that author’s inappropriate behavior.
Watch (a.k.a. study).
A year before THE CLOVIS INCIDENT came out, I started going to mystery conventions and booksignings. Like a cultural anthropologist, I studied what worked and what didn’t. I noticed behaviors that engaged potential readers — and those that revolted them. In that first year, I encountered all of the human equivalents to the animals mentioned above.
Today, audiences are far more marketing savvy than they used to be. Never forget that people can detect the sulphorous scent of condescension and the slimy textures of manipulation. Please, refuse to succumb to the temptation of arrogance.
In nature, lampreys, megamouths and cane toads can’t help what they are.
In our business, authors can.
Pari (who’s feeling a bit like a brine shrimp today)