July 18, 2011 in Dag

The day I nearly got mistaken for a supermodel: a whinge about branding

I just want to start by saying that my post last week was the most successful one I’ve done, and to thank everyone who took the time to post comments back to me or respond via Facebook.

Today I’m going to go the opposite way completely and have a bit of a whinge (for my friends across the Pacific, read whine, moan, complain, rant, etc…).

Anyone who read my post last week may wonder why I’m contradicting myself and going all negative. My response is that I’m not contradicting myself at all. Last week I said that I planned to try to make my book marketing a fun experience. And to be honest, there’s nothing quite as enjoyable as a good old whinge. It helps to let out the stress and leaves you feeling energised and refreshed (well it does for me).

The subject of my whinge today is supermodels. Honestly, whose idea was supermodels? The idea that a group could somehow be elevated into the super domain just for walking around wearing expensive clothes with blank expressions on their faces seems utterly ridiculous to me. Surely there are far more worthy candidates that merit a prefix of super; superteachers or superdoctors or maybe supercharityworkers. But I’m starting to get off topic here – I think this is turning into a possible subject for a future post.

Anyway, the thing that really gives me the proverbial about supermodels is when you see that one of them has released a new fragrance, or a new fashion range. All of a sudden, they’re not just a supermodel. They’re a successful businesswoman as well. And the media gushes about how amazing it is that they’re not only utterly gorgeous but they also have a great head for business.

Give me a break. Let’s not get into the squillions of dollars they’ve already earned on the catwalk which they can use for starting up a new business.  There’s something even more important than that which they’re taking advantage of.  They already have a brand. When you see their names splashed up all over magazines, the first thing you think of is fashion and beauty. It’s no great stretch for them to spin off another product associated with that brand. And let’s face it, the products with their names on them are always things like perfume or underwear or other fashion related stuff. The sort of things the public already associates them with. I’d like to see one of them try to market something completely different, like hardware or automotive parts or artificial limbs. Then we’d really know whether they had a head for business or not.

This whole supermodel situation encapsulates for me the difficulties for us indie authors. If you don’t have the brand recognition, it doesn’t matter how good your product (and for me, read book) is. Supermodels already have that brand. What can we as authors with no public profile do to create our own brands and generate that recognition for our name in the minds of the general public? To be honest, I’m not really sure. But there’s one thing I’m hoping that will help me out. My stories are pretty true reflections on my view of the world. And my main marketing strategy is to just try to be me and have fun doing it. Hopefully that will start to tie things together.

Which leads me back to the title of this post, ie the funny bit:

The very first thing I ever had published was as a result of a funny short story competition run by The Age, the major Melbourne broadsheet newspaper. It was about an ordinary suburban couple being stalked by a bunch of camera-wielding supermodels. But what was really funny was that next to my name, in the spot where they usually have a photo of the writer of the article, they had a picture of Claudia Schiffer instead. Not the truest reflection of me or my writing. To be honest, I’m not sure that it did my brand any favours. But then again, if it gets people to read my stuff, maybe I should have a supermodel on all of my book covers.

July 12, 2011 in Dag

Time for a new plan

I read something interesting the other day. Apparently most independent authors sell on average 4 books a month. Did you get that? 4 books a month. And when you consider that most of these books are priced between $2.99 and a meagre 99 cents, that’s not a lot of royalties to be earned. Doesn’t look like too many writers are going to be quitting their day jobs any time soon.

The good news for me is that I’m actually managing to do better than that. The bad news is, not by a lot. At this stage, any plans for instant stardom are most definitely on hold.

So what is an indie author to do faced with such a distressing statistic? Especially one with barely any knowledge about marketing and a pretty minuscule social network to this point. Do I go off into a corner, put my head in my hands and wail inconsolably at the hopelessness of it all? Or do I put my nose to the grindstone and dedicate every waking hour to the single-minded pursuit of publishing glory, to the exclusion of all else?

I’ve decided that the answer is going to be neither of the above. I’ve come up with a novel marketing strategy:

I’m going to have fun!

I’m not going to tear my hair out and whine and whinge about how hard it is. And I’m also not going to drive myself to the edge of exhaustion over it. I’m going to try and enjoy myself.

When I go out on social networks, I’m going to have a laugh with people. See if I can make them smile, and see if I can make myself smile as well. Whatever promotional activities I hold, I’ll try to add in some sort of fun element to make them as appealing as I can. Whatever space I’m in I hope to make an enjoyable space, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or this blog. Enjoyable for other people, but most especially enjoyable for me.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try my best. And it also doesn’t mean I’m not going to be smart and organised. But if I’m not enjoying myself as I go, I’m either going to collapse into a miserable heap or turn into a manic head-case.

Maybe I’ll be successful. Maybe I won’t.  From now I’m suspending all my expectations. I know my book is good (I’ve had enough wonderfully positive feedback from readers to tell me that) so I want to give it every chance it deserves. And if that’s going to be a long haul, I need to make sure I can maintain my motivation without going crazy.

Because ultimately, the reason I chose to write was because I really enjoy it. If I don’t extend that fun into my marketing, then I might as well not bother.

July 6, 2011 in Dag

Would you let them make a movie out of your book?

I know it’s probably not something I’m ever likely to have to worry about, but I do occasionally wonder about what I’d do if someone came up and offered me lots of money for the film rights for one of my books.

You’d think that working out the answer would be pretty easy. Why wouldn’t I just say yes on the spot? After all, it would likely offer a far more lucrative stream of income than the books on there own. And besides, heaps of people who’ve read my book have commented on how they thought it would work really well as an animation.

But I’m still not convinced that it’s exactly what I want, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I’d be concerned about doing justice to my story. I know that sounds like a terribly arrogant thing to say. But so often, I’ve gone to see movies based on books I love and been terribly disappointed. Even highly regarded adaptations, such as the Lord of the Rings movies, failed to me to capture the spirit and complexity that make the books so wonderful.

The second reason is more personal. Partly it’s a reflection on how much of myself I put into my writing. I have a strong sense of ownership of my storylines and my characters. But I love the way that as I start to pick up readers, I can share that ownership with them. It’s been an amazing thing to hear from readers about how they’ve embraced my characters, even finding new dimensions to them I hadn’t thought of. It’s real bond, directly between myself and the readers.

But a movie would change that. I’m fully aware of how many different people it takes to make a movie. Directors and producers and actors, plus probably a bunch of other writers to adapt the prose into a screenplay. Maybe it’s just the control freak in me but I hate the idea of losing control of my characters to all these people, and having them come between me and my readers. And I can speak a little bit from experience here. I’ve done quite a bit of writing for theatre (comedy sketches) and have also studied scriptwriting for both film and television, so I have some idea of what can happen to an idea from its original form to the final work.

The final reason is to do with the idea of imagination. To me, books are the most imaginative medium there is. Readers are free to conjure up visions of the worlds of the novel and its characters. Each might have a different idea of how a character looks or sounds, or exactly how a location appears. But once it’s made into a film, imagination goes out the window. You have someone else’s vision imposed on you, and it may be hard to replace that in the future.

So these are the reasons I made a pact with myself quite a while ago. My stories are mine and mine alone to share with my readers. If ever a film producer came to me offering big money for the rights, I’d thank them kindly, say how flattered I am and then show them the door.

At least that’s what I tell myself. Sometimes, when I think of what I could do with the money and how it could enable me to live the writing life I’ve dreamed of, I have a feeling that I might be prepared to be a little bit flexible.

June 26, 2011 in Dag

Joyously dumb: My writing and pop music

If you’ve taken some time to look at my “What is dag-lit?” page, you may have noticed that one of the ways I used to describe dag-lit was “joyously dumb. But what on earth is that meant to mean? It’s a bit tricky to explain but I’ll try.

Believe it or not, it actually has more to do with music than pure writing. Pop music to be specific. I’m a big fan off pop music. And this is where it gets a bit tricky, because there are lot’s of different definitions of what pop music actually is.

When I’m referring to pop music, I’m talking generally about music that’s not classical or jazz. It might be rock’n’roll or reggae or have a blues or country sort of edge to it. I tend not to put things into categories so much. I usually refer to it all as pop music.

I suppose that like anything, musical appreciation is subjective. Not everybody likes the same sort of things. And I certainly don’t like all “pop music”. I’m especially not fond of a lot of the production line, machine-like stuff that seems to be all over the radio these days (then again I might just be showing my age).

Pop music isn’t clever like classical or jazz. It doesn’t have lots of fancy chords or tricky time changes or all those other complicated things that can be picked apart by music scholars. As a form of music, it’s pretty dumb. But to me that’s part of its appeal. And when it’s done well, it has a kind of magic to it that just takes you away into another world completely. Makes you tap your feet and hum away, and leaves you in a good mood for hours. And that’s what I mean when I refer to the joyously dumb.

But there are certain musical artists who (to me at least) are able to achieve even more. These are the writers and performers who can marry pop music with great ideas, themes and lyrics. One of my personal favourites is R.E.M. A couple of great Australian (New Zealand?) examples are the wonderful Crowded House and a more recent Melbourne-based band called Augie March. These bands write really intelligent and intriguing lyrics to music that has all the joyous dumbness of the greatest pop music.

So, at last, getting back to the subject of my writing. What I’ve just described is exactly what I want to achieve as a writer. I don’t want to write sophisticated literature that will be picked apart by academics at universities. I want to write stuff that moves people, and takes them away to a joyous place, like the best pop music. But I want to do more than that as well. I want to be just that little bit smart, to leave my readers thinking a bit as well as feeling good.

But I guess that that, just like music, is totally subjective. I’ll leave it to my readers to let me know if I’ve succeeded.

June 5, 2011 in Dag

Goldilocks and the Fashion Police

Once upon a time, there was a lovely little girl named Goldilocks.  She had long hair of gold and a kindly heart.  Goldilocks was always trying to help her friends.  Whenever it rained, she made sure to carry a spare umbrella, just in case someone else had forgotten theirs.  And if anybody accidentally bought too much food at the grocery store, she was happy to carry some of their bags home for them.  Yes, everybody in the town loved Goldilocks.  There was only one thing wrong with her.  She had no fashion sense.

Every time Goldilocks went out, the townspeople gasped at what she was wearing.  Stripes mixed with flowers.  Knee length socks under boots.  The townspeople could not believe the atrocities against fashion which Goldilocks was committing.  They tried to drop hints to her, left copies of Cleo and Cosmo under her doorway while she was out, but it was to no avail.  Goldilocks continued to wear short skirts over denim overalls and green stockings with orange shoes.

Finally the people could take no more.  They organised a town meeting to discuss the situation.

“This cannot go on,” cried the mayor.  “We can’t let her continue flaunting the rules of fashion while we try to go about our daily business.”

The rest of the townspeople all agreed, but no one could come up with a plan of action.  They all loved Goldilocks too much and didn’t want to offend her.

Then one man stepped forward.  A small man, dressed all in black, that nobody had ever seen before.  He stood up on the podium and said, “what we need to do is call in the fashion police.”

“Who are the fashion police?” asked the townspeople eagerly.

“The fashion police enforce the rules of fashion,” replied the man.  “If they ever see anyone breaking those rules, they put them up against the wall and shoot them.”

At first, the townspeople were somewhat dismayed by this.  Without Goldilocks, who would be there to help them rebuild their homes when the cold winter winds blew them over?  And who would give food to the orphans when there was no one else to provide for them?  But the man said there was no other alternative.

“Think of the effect she must be having on your children,” he insisted.  “How would you feel if they all began to dress like her?”

The townspeople knew he was right.  Without any delay, they called in the fashion police.  Goldilocks was tried, convicted of crimes against fashion, and shot, all in the same afternoon.

Now things are very different in that little town.  Whenever it rains, nobody will let you share their umbrella. And if you’ve done too much shopping, you’ll just have to carry those bags home yourself.  But these seem like a small price to pay.  Because since the fashion police came to town, nobody has ever been out of fashion again.

Note: I wrote this story for a short story class after sitting in a train listening to a group of girls criticising the clothes other travellers were wearing. Some of the quotes were taken direct.