Listen: the first page of a book shares something in common with the first moments of a song, the first five minutes of a movie, the first date, the first dance, the first steps of your first-born child.
It should be magic.
Raw and beautiful. Powerful and pure.
So on this silly blog, I pay particular attention to the first page of novels. Because you can bet Grandpa’s farm and every cow in sight that a brilliant page one foreshadows a good book, while a terrible collection of clichés and drivel on the first page will not suddenly improve by page 302 to make us laugh, cry and change our life forever.
Today, we take on A SHORE THING, allegedly written by Snooki, though we all know she didn’t actually write it.
A professional ghostwriter did the boring “typing of words” part. Snooki did the hard work of cashing the check.
You will be shocked to learn her fellow castmates also got publishing deals, with Jwoww and The Situation also getting checks from publishers to put their infamous names on book-like substances.
Many trees gave their lives to give their words life.
I will pour one out for those trees tonight.
Here’s the text of page one, with edits and comments in red:
A SHORE THING
Life was hard. But a pouf? That should be easy. (Whoa, starting out a novel with a three-word cliché is a bold, bold move. Risky. And it doesn’t pay off here. Because anybody who says “life is hard” and follows that with an extended riff on the difficulties of Big Hair doesn’t actually have a hard life at all.)
Giovanna “Gia” Spumanti was a hair-raising pro. She’d been banging out poufs since age eleven, or as soon as her fingers were long enough to hold a bottle of Deluxe Aqua Net. (Maybe this is intentional, but the innuendo in the first two sentences of this graf is more juvenile than clever.) After ten years of trial and error to find the right combination of spray, twisting, and shine serum, Gia could add four inches to her overall height—which as five feet flat, she could use. Gia’s pouf defied the laws of gravity. It was her crowning glory. (“Crowning glory”–oh, how punny. Please riff on that more in the next sentence.) Although she’d love to wear an actual crown (here we go, as the prophecy foretold) of rhinestone tiara whenever she left the house, it just wasn’t practical. It could fly off on the dance floor and take out an eye. The pouf, however, wasn’t going anywhere (but up). (Wait: seriously? This is like one of those bad SNL skits with one joke they repeat for 10 minutes.)
Tonight, humidity was a bitch. Her thick black mane refused to cooperate. Gia brushed it out to start over—again—feeling discouraged. Her first night out in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, she wanted to present the best version of herself. Hundreds of guys would get a look at her, and she’d be searching among them for her near future fling(s). (I read a ton of fiction, and non-fiction, and this is the weirdest use of parantheticals I’ve seen in forever. Doesn’t work. Also, protags should be likable, and this graf of backstory just makes the reader see the protag as completely self-absorbed.) After the year she had back home in Brooklyn—landing and losing a couple of jobs and boyfriends—she deserved the sexiest summer ever.
Gia hoisted the front section of her hair, holding it high over her head with one hand.
I binge-watched the first season of JERSEY SHORE while visiting my sister in H’wood, so I know enough to be dangerous about Snooki, The Situation and the entire sordid thing.
And no, this novel meant to be lit-RAH-sure.
However: Entertaining trash should still be entertaining, and well-done. This first page is neither.
In this sort of story, sure, you’re going to get a lot of interior monologue, including self-centered nonsense like this.
A full page about hair, though, is a bit much even if you put it in the middle of this kind of novel.
Dedicating the entire page to hair and backstory? Far worse.
Here’s the structural lesson I take from this hot mess: life is hard, and what’s even harder is turning a reality show villain into a fictional hero.
Because that’s what the stars of JERSEY SHORE are: comic villains absolutely swimming in a sea of nasty hubris.
Every comedy targets an institution. Sitcoms typically poke fun at families, marriage and kids. M*A*S*H* went after war. FRIENDS put the bull’s eye on young singles.
The producers of JERSEY SHORE knew Snooki, The Situation and the rest of the gang were comic villains. They’re only fun to watch to see what kind of trouble happens, and every piece of trouble is far from random. Nobody gets hit by a bus while they’re using a crosswalk.
Every episode is all about chaos and craziness that comes straight from the hubris of cast members.
Who will get drunk and start a bar fight?
Who’s so desperate tonight that they’ll hook up with anything and everything?
Which member of the cast is such a self-absorbed dipstick that they’ll get on the phone and try to order a pizza or a cab and give his last name as “Situation” and first name as “The”?
I haven’t read the rest of A SHORE THING and never will. The feeling I get, though, is this is meant to be a comic romp, with the Snooki character, Gia, set up as the protag. That we’re supposed to laugh with her instead of laughing at her.
And now I’ll prove those three things to you with one word, a word that you will definitely recognize and understand.
Here’s that word: SNOOKI.
Does Snooki (real name: I don’t care) have flaws and quirks? Oh yes. She and every other member of Jersey Shore had a solitary talent: creating constant drama, if not fiery train wrecks.
Conventional wisdom is that talent trumps all. This is America, right? The cream rises to the top. No way will somebody like Snooki get magazine covers.
HOWEVER: Just a few miles from the Jersey Shore are 5.82 bazillion Broadway actresses who have more talent, beauty and brains in their pinky fingers than Snooki and all her castmates combined. Some of these Broadway stars approach perfection, being triple threats who can sing, dance and act while looking like supermodels.
Talent alone, though, doesn’t make them into stars.
Are they hidden gems? You can’t say that. They’re on Broadway, seen by millions of locals and tourists in one of the biggest media markets in the world.
If the people who place all of their faith in the viral power of the Series of Tubes were right, all that overwhelming talent plus a few tweets and YouTube videos would be launching people from Broadway into the stratosphere, week after week.
Except that doesn’t happen.
Instead, we have People covers of Snooki getting pregnant and wall-to-wall coverage about the Kardashians, who really need some alone time before we beg Elon Musk to send them all on his first manned mission to Mars.
Flaws and quirks beat absolute perfection
In the old days, back when we had these things called “papers of news,” some papers ran an interesting contest. Out of a page full of photos of pretty women, the game was picking not your favorite, but the photo you predicted OTHER READERS would choose.
Much more interesting. In the first case, it’s your preference. Maybe you like blondes with short hair. Who knows? Who cares?
The second question — which photo will the most readers choose? — is a lot more fun. It’s the same game played by Hollywood talent scouts, music industry execs, literary agents and model agencies. Put yourself in the shoes of a diverse audience, young and old, city slickers and cowboys. Now bet your career and livelihood by picking not who you like the best, but who you think average people would pay money to like.
With the old newspaper contests, readers went with quirks and flaws. If there was only one redhead on the page, picking her was smart. Because she stood out.
Think about some of the most famous supermodels. Lauren Hutton had a big gap between her teeth. Cindy Crawford had her mole.
When everybody seems equally perfect and wonderful, a little quirk or flaw makes them interesting. Flaws and quirks let them stand out from the crowd and gives the audience somebody to identify with, because average Joe and Jane Sixpack aren’t perfect, either.
A related idea is that quirks and flaws — even train wrecks — attract attention.
If you’re perfectly talented and perfectly balanced and sane, you’ll never make the news for (a) getting married and divorced every 72 days, (b) having spats with other stars, (c) being arrested for being a drunken idiot or (d) going into rehab.
Downey is a supremely talented actor. If he had a perfect personal life, you might hate him. You’d want to see him brought down to earth off his pedestal of perfection. On the other hand, if Downey was drinking Charlie Sheen‘s tiger blood nonsense, you’d dismiss him as an idiot. Instead, people admire Downey for getting clean and sober, because everybody loves a redemption story. He still has an edge — plus flaws and quirky charm — but he’s no Sheen, who’s turned into a punchline.
Contrast also works. If you see somebody who looks great, it raises expectations. Time after time, an ugly duckling has shown up on stage at Britain’s Got Talent, underwhelming anyone watching until they opened their mouths and MADE PEOPLE CRY.
Here is Paul Notts, who definitely played the part of the ugly duckling. And the crowd loves him.
The package matters more than the product
The average person in the 1970s was exposed to about 500 ads per day. Today, it’s up to 5,000 ads per day, all professionally designed by Don Draper to persuade you that yes, you have to buy that widget RIGHT NOW.
It’s no exaggeration to say that a 1 percent response rate isn’t failure at all. That’s pretty dang good.
If the pros are happy to get something like 1 percent, don’t think that you are somehow immune from the mathematics. Your package has to be amazing to break through all that clutter.Because people are more media savvy than ever. They have to be. If people weren’t such hard targets, they’d blow the mortgage money on a garage full of Shamwows.
This is why you can’t think, “I have 15,000 blog readers and 22,000 Twitter follows, so if they all buy my book / album / fingerpainted portraits of dogs dressed like Elvis, I’m home free.” Not after you do the math. 1 percent of 15,000 + 22,000 = 370.
Packaging is so important that it actually subverts true talent.
Malcolm Gladwell tells a great story in BLINK about classical musicians in professional symphonies. Used to be, the conductor watched people try out. Then he picked who’d be first violin and all that. For the sake of fairness, symphonies switched to having musicians play behind a screen. You couldn’t see who it was. What they sound like is all that mattered anyway, right?
This little change turned classical music upside down. Conductors freaked out, because they were picking women for manly instruments like the tuba, things they believed women couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung power to play.
Also, some people looked terrible when they played, but sounded great. Other people were good-looking and looked great when they played, but they actually sounded bad, when you couldn’t see them.
The screen turned off the connection between our eyes, our ears and our brain.
It’s the same thing that happens when you’re sick and can’t smell. Food tastes entirely differently. Taste isn’t all in the tongue.
Here’s the other thing: a conductor can tell the difference between a room packed with world-class violinists, but you and I can’t.
A professional food taster can tell you insane things about packages of Oreos, down to which factory produced the additives and flavorings. You and I can’t do that.
A scout for the New York Jets could talk to you for hours about how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are totally different quarterbacks, but to you and me, all we know is they’re both really good and that Peyton has a younger brother who looks like he’s still 12 and plays for the New Jersey/A football team. The intricate technical details about how each quarterback handles seven-step drops when facing a corner blitz, well, that’s beyond our ken. Sidenote: I don’t even know if “ken” is a word anymore.
The point is, when we’re talking about the top .01 percent of talented people, doing whatever those talented people do, the package is more important than the product.
That’s because the professionals who pick winners and losers do have strong opinions, often about technical, high-level stuff, yet those opinions actually don’t matter at all to the people who matter most, which is you and me, Joe and Jane Consumer, who actually buy the movie tickets / books about sparkly vampires (please don’t) / and music singles on iTunes.
The only opinions that truly matter are the uneducated ones.
We don’t care that professionals in the music industry say Madonna and sixteen other pop divas have weak voices. Our eyes are hooked up to our brain, which also communicates with our ears. The whole package matters, not just the voice. So the showmanship of Madonna makes her a star when a zillion other singers with better pipes fail.
Unlike the symphony tryouts, there is no screen in real life.
You can take it further. There are all kinds of actresses and professional athletes who put out albums that objectively stink. Yet they sell far more copies than they should simply because their name ID is crazy high. They know how the publicity game works. And so they get more attention, and sales, than musicians with far more talent who will toil in obscurity.
A great package (name ID, flaws, quirks, drama) + poor talent beats the heck out of great talent + poor packaging (no name ID, no flaws or quirks, no drama).
The same is true of actors, writers and artists. This is why obscure artists suddenly sell all kinds of paintings and such when they die. Their name is finally in the news, probably for the first time. There’s all kind of talent hiding around the corner that you never see.
An easy example: go to your county fair in the summer and check out the arts and crafts displays. I shoot photos and know enough to be dangerous and listen, I was really impressed by all the kids who won ribbons for photos. Then I scooted over to the adult photo winners. Mind blown. Great shots, including a bunch people took all over the world. But you’ll never learn their names or see their work.
Without legs, you are dead in the water
Though I kinda sorta hate reality TV, it is the best possible laboratory for testing evil theories about media and publicity.
The structure of different reality shows makes stars out of people like Snooki and Kim Kardashian while denying fame and fortune to other people with more actual talent and potential.
Here’s why: legs.
Survivor is one of the original reality TV hits, and you probably remember the first guy who won it, the naked man, Hatch, right? (I am not certain about his first name, and yes, the Series of Tubes would tell me, but I believe “naked man” and “Hatch” is close enough.) Hatch was an interesting villain, and villains stick in our head better than heroes. But aside from getting in the news for going to prison (train wreck!), Hatch pretty much disappeared.
Same thing with Rupert, a bearded pirate hero who was on Survivor: Some Island Where It is Hot. Great character. Should have been a star. But except for some kind of Survivor All-Star thing, Rupert also disappeared.
Why? Because the structure of Survivor doesn’t give anybody legs. Except for the rare times they bring back people for a second go, you are one-and-done.
Jersey Shore, Basketball Wives and even the crazy stuff on Discovery (Mythbusters,Storage Wars, Southern Men Who Put Their Hands Into Swamps to Catch Man-Eating Catfish) have given us breakout stars not because those people are far more talented. It’s because the structure of those shows gives them legs.
They aren’t one-and-done. The people on those shows are on the Glowing Tube season after season after season.
And it is no mistake that we’re talking entirely about the Glowing Tube so far.
Movies are typically one shots. Unless you’re in a crazy successful series like STAR WARS or HARRY POTTER, a movie doesn’t typically have enough legs to get you even to Snooki status. You’re lucky to get ONE sequel, and that means people see the first movie and see the sequel about two years later. If you’re insanely lucky, there’s a third movie, at least another year or two after that.
This is why TV is king.
First, because instead of once a year with a movie, people can see you every week.
Second, because unlike all other forms of media, the Glowing Tube automatically generates all kinds of extra coverage in newspapers and magazines, blogs and radio, social media and regular old water cooler BSing.
Not accidentally. Automatically.
Sure, they talk about movies and books on the radio when I drive to work, but mostly, they’re talking about TV shows.
So let’s look at American Idol for a second. Actual talent. Big exposure. But it’s one-and-done, right? That should blow my evil theory out of the water.
Except the producers of American Idol understand that their newborn and freshly hatched stars needed steady exposure. They understand the need for legs. So after the season is over, not only does the winner (and some also-rans) have albums released in a hurry. They also send the winner and runner-ups on a big long concert tour and bring them back, repeatedly, to sing on later seasons and such.
This is about why lectures never work, poetry is powerful, even instrumental music can make you cry and the humble, silly music video can be one of the most devastating weapons of persuasion and change on this little rock orbiting a ginormous burning ball of nuclear fusion and fire.
1) Lectures never work
If you have a toddler, or a teenager, or are married, you are well aware of this fact.
Lectures are basically journalism, writing or speaking to inform. If your purpose is to persuade, journalism and lectures won’t do the job.
It’s common to hear, “If I just had more TIME to explain the facts, they’d understand and agree with me.”
Twitter isn’t built to sell books. Or anything else.
Yet if you belong to the Twitter, you see all sorts of authors pimping their books.
Some do it subtly, or randomly. Others do it faithfully, if not relentlessly.
And even if they mount a full Social Networking Offensive — a combined-forced attack with tweets on the ground, blog battleships at sea and Facebook fighter planes swooping down from above — even if they do all that, they will fail.
Attack of the Internet Fanboys
Oh, this is sacrilege. I know it.
Internet Fanboys believe that the Twitter, the Book of Face, blogs, the entire series of tubes — hey, that’s the future. Old Media is so old. They say, “Social media once was the student, and now it is the master. If you only KNEW the power of the Dark Side…”
Except they’re wrong. No matter how much you want it to work, how hard you squeeze your eyes and reach for that Internet lightsaber, it doesn’t fly through the air and into your hand. Even when you pick it up and push the button, nothing happens.
Faith isn’t enough.
Here comes the science
But spam works, right? And it uses the series of tubes.
Sure spam works. That’s why most email being sent today is spammalicious. Scammers send billions of emails every day, despite all the spam filters and barriers, because all they need to make money is a 1 percent response rate.
One percent. That’s a terrible success rate. Horrible. That’s like asking 100 girls out and hoping one says yes. But with enough volume, you can make money.
Surely, authors will do better than spammers. They aren’t peddling cheap Viagra and penis pills. They’re (a) pitching great books and (b) targeting their audience to book lovers rather than random people, therefore (c) the response rate for authors should be way, way better than 1 percent.
These are your internet friends, fans and family, right? They know you. They talk to you every day. They’re gonna buy your book.
But they don’t.
Want to know why?
Snooki vs. Nathan Bransford
Snooki can’t string a sentence together without committing sins against the English language. Yet she “wrote” a novel.
Nathan Bransford, on the other hand, is a muffin of stud.
He was a literary agent and understands the business of selling books
The man looks like a movie star.
He’s got 100,000-whatever Twitter followers and a blog with a lot of hits
He wrote a great book — a YA novel, which a hot genre, and his book got buzz and good reviews
THE MAN LOOKS LIKE A MOVIE STAR
If there ever was a picture of literary studliness, it’d be Nathan.
This isn’t an agent writing a book about writing (cliché). This man is writing a novel (brave!). So if anybody was poised for success using the Series of Tubes, it’d be this man.
I don’t know Nathan, but what I’ve heard of him made me root for the man. People say nothing but nice things about him. Every indication is that he’s smart, talented, good-looking — a literary rock star.
And his book had buzz before it even came out. I expected — and hoped — that he’d have a best-seller.
Snooki, on the other hand, is firing blanks.
She’s more infamous than famous
No sane human being would call her a writer and nobody believes she wrote this novel of with her name on it
She’s a walking, talking train wreck — would you let her borrow your car or babysit your firstborn?
It’s safe to say Nathan’s audience — people who follow him on Twitter and read his blog — are literary types who not only love books, but actually BUY book via the series of tubes — or, if they’re feeling really frisky, walk inside giant buildings stacked with bazillions of books where they hand people pieces of paper decorated with images of dead white guys, or let them touch a rectangle of plastic, then the people who seem to live in this giant buildings hand you books of your choosing and complete the ritual by asking you to have a nice day.
You could also bet the farm that 99 percent of people who know Snooki’s name and have seen her on the Glowing Tube would never guess, not even if you put a Nine against their noggin and started counting down from five, that Snooki has ever read an entire novel, much less written one. Her most avid fans, the ones who don’t watch her for the live-action train wreck and the irony of wallowing in low-brow nonsense, are 125.6 times more likely to be in a tanning booth than a bookstore.
Before we make our predictions about how well Nathan’s book did vs. Snooki’s book-like substance, let’s do some math.
The math, it is BRUTAL Nathan having 100,000 Twitter followers should be a huge marketing advantage.
Marketing Architects used this formula: “If half the people in the networks actually see my posting, and one percent of them respond, and 5% of the responders buy, what will the outcome be?”
(possible audience) x (% who see it) x (% who pay attention) x (% who buy it) = sales
So for this example with Nathan: (100,000 followers) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 25 sales.
Here’s another bit of math from Dan Zarrella, social media scientist, who I believe is the World’s Greatest Expert on Twitter.
He takes raw data from bazillions of tweets and studies the heck out of them. The rate for retweets is actually even more pessimistic than the first bit of math I used above from Market Architects. Now, retweets cost you nothing. The actual purchase of books, movies and whatnot will be far lower than the rate of retweets.
But let’s be generous and go with the actual math of what Dan has discovered from sifting through all that Twitter data.
Back to the math: it’s brutal and evil. Surely this didn’t happen to Nathan, who I do believe is a literary muffin of stud. If I were a betting man, I would say no. He should buck this bad math and sell better.
Most authors don’t even have up-to-the-minute sales figures. We can’t know exactly how many books sold. We can get a good peek at Amazon sales, though, and if the Internet Fanboy theory is right, when you pimp your book via Twitter and Facebook, people click their mouse and presto, massive online sales.
The Amazon sales rank of Nathan’s book is 267,136 — which doesn’t tell us anything yet.
Rachelle the Gardner, another literary agent with a blog and a brain, blogged about a study from a major publisher that tracked Amazon sales rankings and sales over six months.
Books ranked 1 to 750 = 75 to 275 sales per week
Books ranked 750 to 3,000 = 40 to 75 sales per week
Books ranked 10,000 or above = 0 to 5 books sold per week
So that rough math isn’t crazy, at least in terms of sales on the Series of Tubes. I bet Nathan sold more than that. Maybe his physical book sales were a lot higher. HOWEVER: the Internet Fanboy theory that tweets lead to online sales of books gets shredded here.
What’s the Amazon sales rank of Snooki’s novel? 13,812.
How could a literary loser like Snooki do better — with a terrible book — than a literary rock star with a great book and a huge online following of book-loving writer types?
Why this happened
Part of the reason is simply this: if you’re friends with 500 writers and authors, you can’t buy all their books. Because you couldn’t afford to pay rent.
Same thing with politics. People who work in politics naturally know hundreds of elected officials and candidates, but donate to very, very few. Why? Are they heartless? No. They can’t afford to do otherwise. If you work in politics and gave $200 to all 200 candidates you know, that’s $40,000 out the door. You’d be living in a cardboard box.
Same thing with books. Most of the 13,000-whatever folks I’m connected to on Twitter and the blog are writers and authors. Love these people. Some authors send me free ARCs or e-books, which is great, and I do buy books from authors I know sometimes. But you can’t buy them all. Let’s say only half of those folks have books out this year. $10 times 6,500 is $65,000 in books.
Therefore, I’m not shocked that book-loving followers don’t buy books from each other all day. We’d go broke.
Back to my favorite New Jersey train wreck, Snooki. She isn’t a special case or some crazy outlier.
There are scads of untalented hacks — people who couldn’t write their way out of a paper sack if you handed them a sharpened pencil, people who typically don’t even WRITE THEIR OWN BOOKS — who sell more books than great writers.
It doesn’t even matter how bad the ghostwriters do their job. These books sell like hotcakes anyway.
And no, I’m not talking about some weird subgenre of books that live an in alternative universe. These untalented non-writers sell all kinds of books: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, whatever.
What’s the secret?
You know their name.
That’s it. Name recognition. Nothing is more powerful.
Kim Kardashian could do nothing more than wave her mascara wand over a manuscript that her agent had some ghostwriter crank out, and yet she’d sell more copies of KIM KARDASHIAN’S ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO QUICKIE MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES than 99 percent of people who’ve dedicated their lives to writing literature so good you cry tears of unbearable joy and beautiful sadness.
Here’s a number that will blow your mind: Kim Kardashian makes $10,000 per tweet.
That’s right. Kardashian makes more for some 140-characters of product placement — something she probably has a staffer write for her in about 30 seconds — than some authors get for an advance on a book they spent years polishing and perfecting.
Kardashian got a reported $10 million for her fake wedding and could earn $5 million for her divorce. Yes, that’s a link to a story quoting an expert who has math backing him up. Click it and cry.
This doesn’t happen because Kim Kardashian is the prettiest woman on the planet or because oozes from her every pore. There are thousands of actresses on Broadway who can sing, act and dance circles around any of the Kardashians, but those Broadway actresses don’t have their own reality TV show.
Kardashian and Snooki make money, and sell books, because they are famous. Because you KNOW THEIR NAME.
I’ve written about name recognition for The New York Times’ about.com, as their expert on public relations, publicity and whatever. They sent me checks that said The New York Times on it, and I cashed those checks. As a journalism major, that was fun. The next three links are from stuff I wrote for that blog. There are reasons why corporations spend billions on ads that repeat the name of their company billions of times. Also, there is real science on how name recognition works — read it here at the brilliantly titled post, How Name Recognition Works — and finally, there are ways — evil, secret ways — to boost your name recognition.
(Yes, I know the last post says “Four Ways to Boost Your Name Recognition” when the url-whatever says Five Ways — this is a mistake. The internets, they are fallible, and I told folks to fix that long ago.)
Back to talentless celebrities who write books which make more money than people with writing talent on loan from God.
Glenn Beck wrote a terrible thriller, something that people said sounded like a bad parody of a bad parody, and yet it became a best-seller. Is he a talented writer? No. Did he even hire a talented ghostwriter? Nah. There’s no point in bothering with that when your name alone sells things.
Sarah Palin has “written” best-selling books that are — and this is a strange coincidence — all about Sarah Palin.
The fact these celebrities had best-sellers has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with name recognition.
That begs the question, how did they get such amazing name recognition?
Here’s the answer that will blow the minds of Internet Fanboys and make them wish they had the strength to run from the keyboard and wrap their Cheetos-covered fingers around my neck and squeeze really, really hard: all that name recognition came from dead, tired, obsolete OLD MEDIA.
It came from the millions of people who see Snooki and Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton on the Glowing Tube.
It came from the covers of People and US and The National Enquirer, who seem to be spending a lot of ink on real housewives who are on reality shows despite the fact that many of these women are not housewives, or married, or interesting at all except in a train wreck kind of way. But they’re on TV.
It came from newspaper interviews and entertainment sites like TMZ and from tired, obsolete Old Media standbys like Entertainment Tonight and hip new cable shebangs like The Colbert Report.
And it came from the millions of people who listened to Glenn Beck on the radio.
All these people with huge name recognition are doing something far, far different than the hordes of authors and writers placing their faith in the power of social networking and the Series of Tubes.
They’re using Old Media. There’s a reason it’s called “mass media.” It reaches the masses.
Bottom line: You could spend three years building a popular writing blog and getting to 10,000 Twitter followers, or 100,000 followers, and it wouldn’t be as useful as 10 minutes on a cable reality show with a weekly viewership of 3.5 million.
Think about that. Ten minutes beats three years.
Social networking — it’s not social media — is for meeting people. A few hundred people, or a few thousand, but not millions.
Social networking is meant for dialogues, not monologues where you spew links asking people to buy something, even something as nice as a book.
If you want to reach a mass audience, you must use the mass media. Must. Not “should.” Must. IT IS REQUIRED.
Now, it is true that big corporations are spending a lot of money on internet advertising. Banner ads do reach millions of people. That’s advertising, not social networking. And yes, it boosts name recognition. It just costs a lot of money. Earned media — coverage by the press — is free and has more credibility than ads.
Even the worst movies are a publicity godsend It’s not an accident that a ton of big-shot authors got a rocket boost to their careers when one of their books became a movie.
Stephen King started out with CARRIE, which was a bestselling novel and then a movie — boom, off he went.
Scott Turow had an injection of Harrison Ford with PRESUMED INNOCENT.
Joseph Finder, Carl Hiaasen (funny man – but he needs more vowels, doesn’t he?), Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, J.K. Rowling — a ton of authors that are household names got that way not just from having bestselling books, but from having movies made from those books.
The power of name recognition is also why Hollywood has lost its mind and is busy making movies out of board games (Battleship – seriously) and Every Bad ’80s Cartoon Known to Man (G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, HE-MAN, SMURFS and so forth).
Why are those good fodder for movies? We already know the name.
Here’s the rub: the movie doesn’t have to good, or a hit, for the author to get a massive shot of sales. That’s because studios spend millions promoting each movie.
You see endless trailers on TV, ads in the paper, posters. You hear radio ads and read reviews of the movie in the newspaper. The entertainment shows and blogs plug the movie, or pan it. The movie stars go on the talk-show circuit. Publishers put out new editions of the book that say, “Now a major motion picture starring this handsome man and that sexy woman on the cover, the two of them kissing while they hold a gun or whatever.”
Even if the movie bombs, the author just got millions of dollars in publicity, seen and heard by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Am I saying you need a movie to sell a book? No, that’s not the point. I’m saying even the worst movie, and the worst book, will sell a lot simply because of the publicity budget Hollywood spends.
Let’s take a horrible example: BATTLESHIP was a bad, big-budget movie based on a board game. It only got made because toy companies like Hasbro realized they’ve built up so much name ID with G.I. Joe and Monopoly and every other toy, they can make bad movies with those titles and people will see them. And as a bonus, they can sell more toys, including special movie editions of Battleship and G.I. Joe dolls (sorry, “action figures”) and even rush books of the novelization of the movie.
Those bad books about bad movies based on toys? They’ll sell. Quality doesn’t matter when name ID is high.
Here’s the math: let’s saying only 200 million people get exposed to the trailers, reviews and hype for a movie. That’s a huge understatement, since movies make most of their money overseas now, and publicity campaigns for movies are global today, aimed at billions. Either way, I’m going with 200 million out of a sense of fairness, justice and equality or whatever.
(200,000,000 people) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 50,000 sales.
That’s a bestseller right there.
The point is, quality doesn’t necessarily matter when exposure is that high.
The new math: to sell thousands, you need to reach millions
If you’re going from the other direction — high quality, no advertising and publicity budget — you can’t get to the audience needed via social media.
Without a big advertising budget, you’ve got to use the mass media to reach the masses. That means earned media, and reaching audiences in different ways.
Some people rely entirely on the Glowing Tube for entertainment and news. Other people listen to NPR as they drive to work. Others read the paper.
If you only focus on the series of tubes — and you don’t have a presence on radio, TV and print — then you don’t exist to those people. They’ll never see or hear your name.
But don’t tell the Internet Fanboys trying like mad to add more Twitter followers and Facebook friends and blog hits, like this is some kind of Tetris game where the winner is whoever racks up the highest score. “You just don’t understand the power of new technology — Old Media is so 1982.”
Think about big-shot authors again. What do they have in common? They go on book tours. They give interviews to newspapers and magazines and TV shows. They get movies made from their books.
They don’t just use mass media. They use the hell out of it.
Do most bigshot authors go all-out for social networking? No. Some ignore it entirely. Others have people handle that. Because it’s not critical. It’s a bonus rather than a pathway to success. They know something most people don’t: to sell 50,000 books, it’s not enough to tweet to 10,000 followers, or even 100,000.
You need to reach for a mass audience. Millions — or hundreds of millions. The only way to do that is through mass media.
The thing people can’t wrap their head around is that by using the Series of Tubes, anybody can reach any mass media market anywhere in the world, for free. But you need to know how to do it, and you need something worth that free ink and airtime.
The fact that your punk rock album / novel about elves with lightsabers / book of poetry Gertrude Stein would write if she were alive today is “super, super great” doesn’t get any ink and airtime. You can’t pitch quality — you need something worthy of free ink and airtime. And that’s a different topic entirely.