You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

Quality matters. Oh, it matters a lot.

Nobody wants to pay money to see a movie that stinks, a book that you can’t get past Chapter 1 or an album where every song hurts your ears.

You want quality. I want quality. Everybody wants it.

But you can’t pitch quality.

And you can’t package it.

So unless you’ve got something else — a quirk, a hook, a unique twist — quality alone won’t get you anywhere.

It won’t get people to look, listen or read in the first place.

So let’s pitch and package random, made-up things. Why? Because it takes practice and because you’re too close to your own stuff to do it right. And because it’s fun.

First up: two different bands.

Band A is a trio: drummer, guitar and bass / lead singer. They’re all recent music school graduates in their late twenties. They’re serious, seriously talented, good-looking and ready to break out. Let’s say they play a lot of punk rock and post-grunge.

Band B looks like a sure-fire loser. They’re all five years old. College degrees in music? Try “Hey, we’re potty trained, and we know our ABC’s.” They don’t know how to read music, write music or understand music theory like the other band. The guitarist knows one trick: crank up the distortion and make it loud. But they know the rough melodies and words to three different Metallica songs, and they do a cover of ENTER SANDMAN that’s close enough to be damned funny.

Here’s a real-life example of this sort of thing. A ton of people — 383,000 plus — have watched this kid sing, DON’T BRUSH MY HAIR IN KNOTS while her brother or neighbor kid banged on the drums.

Alright, here’s your homework: Write a one-sentence pitch for each band. Four words, if you want to ace this. Six words if you feel like a Cheaty McCheaterface.

Do it now. Find a piece of paper or fire up Word and do a pitch for each. Don’t even think about it.

I’ll go find silly videos on YouTube about swamp monsters in Louisiana or whatever.

OK, time’s up. Let’s compare pitches.

My best shot at the music majors: “Nirvana minus flannelly angst.” Four words, and I’m sort of cheating by turning flannelly into a word. Hard, isn’t it? You can’t get anywhere saying any kind of variation on, “This band, they’re really, really good.”

My pitch for the kids: “Kindergarteners cover Metallica.” Three words. Doesn’t have to be poetry here. Are you going to click on a link that says “Nirvana minus flannelly angst” or “this band is amazing?”

No. Not when there’s another link that has five-year-olds playing heavy metal?

Who wins the quality test? The serious music majors, by a mile.

Who wins the pitch and packaging test? The little kids who play bad covers of heavy metal. It’s so much easier. I would have to kidnap reporters to get them to cover our post-grunge band of music majors.

Could I get free ink and airtime with the Heavy Metal Monsters of Hillman Elementary? Absolutely.

Next: two different books

Our quality book is a literary masterpiece that will make you cry while snorting coffee through your nose, then take a fresh look at life and possibly quit your job and join a Tibetan monastery. It’s about a middle-aged man who works in a cubicle farm and lives in surburbia with a wife who’s on industrial amounts of Prozac and a teenage daughter who’s too busy thumbing her iPhone to notice who provides her with food, shelter, clothing and a VW Passat with only 13,000 miles on it. The hero’s life changes when he gets mugged on the way home. Also, a mime is involved, and a janitor who lives in a shack but says witty, wise things before he gets hit by a train.

The other book is a cheesy sci-fi novel with horrible dialogue. The premise: dinosaurs didn’t die off after some asteroid hit. They were smart. Really smart. And they left the planet in a fleet of spaceships to escape Earth long before that asteroid screwed things up for millions of years. Now they’re headed toward earth. And they want their planet back.

Ready? One sentence pitch for each. Four words.

GO.

OK, let’s see what we’ve got. Here’s my instant, no-thinking pitches.

Literary book: “Hell is a cubicle farm.” Five words. More of a title than a pitch. It sings to me, though, in a small, squeaky, off-pitch voice.

Sci-fi nonsense: “Space dinosaurs invade earth.” This is a kissing cousin to “Comet will destroy earth,” which has been the basis for about six different movies, including five by Michael Bay, with the other one starring Morgan Freeman for some reason, despite the fact that Morgan Freeman has ZERO CHANCE of flying up in a space shuttle with Bruce Willis and that dude who is an old college buddy of Matt Damon to blow up the comet,  asteroid or whatever with nuclear bombs.

VERDICT

The bottom line is, quality is one thing. In the end, it’s probably the most important thing.

Yet nobody will read your masterpiece, listen to your amazing album or see you act like no actor has acted in the history of acting-hood if they don’t get hooked by your pitch and packaging. They have to know you exist first.

Quality isn’t a pitch. “You should see that movie — it’s really good” doesn’t work. Your friends and family will ask, “What’s it about?” and if you don’t have four words to explain it, to give them a pitch, then forget it.

The next time to read a book, see a movie or listen to a great new song, think of four words.

How would you package it? What could you possibly say, just to your friends so they could see it, but to a reporter or a TV producer?

Plot Ninja – story structure made easy

My library contains Every Book on Writing Known to Man or Woman–journalism, speechwriting, fiction, rhetoric, grammar, speechy journalism, ficitonal rhetoric, whatever–and honestly, they’re mostly good for kindling during the zombie apocalypse.

I’m only half kidding. 

The secret to all writing is structure and editing, and the absolute best in the world at structure are these magical creatures called screenwriters.

This is why I hope readers of this silly blog watch the video above (yeah, you skipped it? watch the thing) and check out my sister’s new course, Plot Ninja.

Don’t do it because she’s my sister, or because she’s brilliant and funny.

Do it because writers of any sort need to steal everything they can from screenwriters.

Because all those different writing books in my library, and yours, are a lot like instruction manuals for plumbing, electrical wiring, drywall, cabinetry and painting. Yeah, that stuff is really important–but not at first.

Here’s the thing: writing anything is like building a house: sure, you can throw together a little shed made of two-by-fours and drywall, and it might hold up for bit, but try to build a house like that and it’ll fall down after the first rain.

None of it matters without a strong foundation and framing, and the only way to get that right is with strong blueprints.

Who actually knows the secrets of story blueprints?

Screenwriters.

Nobody is better. It’s not even close.

Not because they’re the most talented writers. Not because some of them get paid bazillions of dollars.

It’s because screenwriters focus, relentlessly, on the only thing you see in screenplays: the blueprints of a story.

Nobody else teaches the bones of storytelling like screenwriters.

Listen, I have a journalism degree and wrote thousands of newspaper stories. Have a background in rhetoric and have written thousands and thousands of speeches, then I write thrillers for fun. Somebody taught me the structures for journalism, speechwriting and fiction, right? Not in the way you think. A journalism degree with teach you the inverted pyramid and a lot about headlines and ethics and how to put together a newspaper or magazine. Structure and blueprints? Not really.

Same with speechwriting and fiction. You tend to get a lot more instruction about the fit and finish than the blueprints and foundation. 

I find that backward, so when I teach folks, I always start with blueprints and foundations. Tools you can use for whatever you write.

And all the best stuff I’ve learned about strong blueprints came from screenwriting and Pam.

Get the whole toolbox, not a single template

You’ll see a lot of people saying, “Here’s how to write X or Y” and yeah, it’s one way to do it. 

Screenwriters have the whole toolbox and use it.

They don’t say, “This is the only way” unless they’re hawking the hero’s journey, which is not the only story in town. There are all kinds of stories: comedies and tragedies, dramas and melodramas, tales of transformation and redemption. 

Screenwriters have picked up every tool in the box and know all the ways of putting together stories.

And you can build them in all kinds of different ways. In fact, you have to. Try to plot a comedy in the same way as a drama, or a horror story, and it’ll flop.

Those hammers and drills and blueprints are useful for anything you write, whether it’s stories in newspapers and magazines or 200,000-word epics about an evil talking cat and his buddy, the seeing eye dog who’s seen too much, and what happens when they decide to go on a crime spree.

So I’ll try to post more of Pam’s videos about screenwriting every Wednesday, because they’re funny and useful.

And I hope you get as much out of them as I have.

Note: No, I’m not writing about that evil talking cat, his seeing eye dog and their crime spree, though it does sound like fun. 

Why BAD GUY by Billie Eilish is so damned good

BAD GUY by Billie Eilish pulls off some neat tricks, doesn’t it?

Here’s my take on why this works so well.

SUBVERSIVE PUNK-POP

Don’t know what category that folks with doctorates in music would put this in. I’m gonna call it punk-pop, because it’s not as dark and industrial as NIN, or as grungy as Nirvana, but it’s got a subversive edge in the images and lyrics.

Yet the melody and beat is radio-friendly pop. And I think that’s brilliant.

UNAFRAID

With most artists, image is everything. Pop divas work hard to look perfect at all times. Rock stars and rappers work hard to look tough. Billie isn’t trying to look tough here.

Billie’s unafraid of coming off as weird and goofy. No pop star would dance like this, or let her eyebrows go off in their own fashion directions. 

She’s not going full on theater-of-the-grotesque like Marilyn Manson, but she’s letting people see her as human, which makes her far more relatable than the stars who try to maintain a perfect, photoshopped image. It’s gritty and real.

LYRICS

The lyrics are clever, interesting and fun.

Most pop songs have terrible boring lyrics.

I mean, I’m not a giant fan of country or rap, but by God, country lyrics tell a story every time and rappers are absolute poets with lyrics you can do dissertations on.

For a popular song all over radio and YouTube, these lyrics are a win.

IMAGERY

It’s perfect. There’s a great intro, with Billie immediately showing she’s a real human by busting through the yellow paper wall, taking out her Invisalign and dancing in a way no boy band or diva would ever be caught dead doing.

Unlike 90 percent of music videos, the only repetition is there for a purpose. You get an echo of the beginning in the end, with reversed footage of her coming through the yellow paper wall. And in between the intro and the end, there’s a nice mix of images that fit the lyrics. It all works.

STINGER ENDING

Marvel movies became famous for putting stingers after the credits. This is the first stinger ending to a music video that I can remember, and it rocks.

You’re not sure how she’s levitating at first, then the words match the video in a nice revelation. Yes! 

VERDICT

Well done, Billie the Eilish, well done. Give us more like this!

A Tour De Force of ’80s Videos

If you were breathing during the ’80s, you will remember these songs and videos. If you weren’t alive, use this chance to learn about the songs coming to Classic Rock stations after they get done with their rotation of ’60s folk and ’70s disco-funk.

You may recognize some tunes from this thing they used to call the radio, which plays random songs and ads you don’t control, no matter how many buttons you push, though you could use these things called telephones to call the DJ to request a song, win prizes or try to get on live air to say something horrible, clever or horribly clever.

This era is actually important, in a musical sense, because ’80s rock and pop stars were the first to deal with music videos and MTV, so they broke a lot of ground in terms of visuals. It’s hard to go from “here’s some live footage of a concert” to “which Hollywood director should we hire for our $3 million shebang that *might* hold a candle to Thriller?”

Check it out:

The clip from Top Gun still cracks me up. How did we ever think that movie was cool?

30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys

media strategy saturday meme

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: first impressions matter more than ever.

In the old days, you got to know people because they LIVED NEXT TO YOU, or because you saw them at the feed store when you saddled up Bessie and rode there on Saturdays.

These days, you can use the Twitter or the Book of Face to meet people around the world, except for North Korea and some other places where the Series of Tubes is illegal or the secret police only let you use a pirated version of MySpace or whatever.

Online, people make a first impression about your entire life in less than two nanoseconds, based on three tiny little things:

  • your profile photo
  • your handle
  • your bio

Sidenote:  If you don’t understand the headline reference to Achy Breaky Big Mistakey, here’s the original Billy Ray Cyrus video and a link to Mullet Junky, which is guaranteed to make you feel better about your hair. Enjoy.

So, instead of giving you five big Twitter boo-boos, or seven, I’m giving you 30 dumb moves to avoid on the Twitter — ten no-no’s apiece when it comes to your profile photo, your handle and your bio.

I believe, deep in my soul, that ten times three equals thirty, or possibly 30, depending on whether you use the metric system and what edition of the AP Stylebook you sleep with.

Top 10 achy breaky big mistakeys with your profile photo

You see the worst ones on Facebook, but Twitter is not immune from wacky profile photos.

Do not:

1) Make the duck face

2) Try to be sexy

3) Flash gang signs with your hat on sideways

4) Take off your shirt to show us your tattoos or how much you enjoy fake orange Oompa Loompa spray tanning (it makes you look like a reject from Jersey Shore)

5) Pretend to chug tequila or smoke the Biggest Blunt Known to Man

6) Make the duck face while trying to be sexy, flashing gang signs with your hat on sideways, showing us your tattoos and pretending to chug tequila

7) Use a self-portrait shot on your phone, using the mirror in the bathroom (we can tell, and yes, Mirror in the Bathroom is a good tune from the GROSSE POINT BLANK soundtrack)

8) Go with extreme close-up (I see your pores!) or incredible longshot (that might be a person, or Bigfoot) or a weird angle (up your nose)

9) Use a shot with two / four / six different people and make us guess which one you might be

10) Wear sunglasses, hats and other accessories that make it impossible to tell if you’re a 12-year-old girl, a 35-year-old man or a wax dummy

Basically, don’t freak people out or make people guess who you are. And don’t try too hard.

Now, there are some variations that aren’t bad. Random photos and symbols are sometimes bad, but not always. If you’re a writer or editor, go ahead and use a photo of books as your profile shebang. Totally fine. Actors can use the Hollywood sign or the comedy and tragedy masks. WE TOTALLY GET THAT. But the weirder you get, the weirder your first impression will be.

Also: A huge STAR WARS geek can use Yoda as a profile photo. Just remember the first impression — even if you’re a 6-foot-tall redheaded supermodel — will be that you’re a short, 900-year-old frog-thing with wrinkled skin. It is not really a surprise, or remotely cool, for men to be use photos of THE MATRIX, lightsabers, Captain Kirk or Call of Duty 17: Blowing Up Stuff on Mars.  Yet it is unexpected, and therefore kinda cool, for women to be into comic books, Spock, anime and all the things that would make you say “dorkahedron who lives in mom’s basement” if a man picked it for his profile shot. This is a paradox, and possibly unfair, but tough noogies. (My AP Stylebook is silent on the correct spelling of “noogies,” so by my reckoning, I’m establishing the correct spelling right here and now, for all time.)

Top 10 achy breaky big mistakes with your handle

Also known as your name, moniker, nickname, special badge for the Series of Tubes and “what Keanu Reeves is supposed to call you when you jack into the Matrix.”

This is more of a Twitter thing, though these 10 achy breaky big mistakeys also apply to what you pick as your email address, blog title or any visible tattoo involving the alphabet rather than a drawing of Wolverine riding a My Little Pony.

Do not:

1) Use a handle that nobody can pronounce,  like “puqnI’loD,” the Klingon word for grandson (I looked that up at Klingon Language Institute, which actually exists, and this fact frightens me)

2) Throw in a bunch of slang numbers in your handle like “2legit2quit,” unless you are, in fact, MC Hammer

3) Use lots of random numbers, because everybody really, really wants to be buddies with “fred349829402”

4) Get your full first, middle, last name and favorite hobby in there, aka “LauraIngridHasselbackLOVEShorses”

5) Use initials or whatever to make it completely impossible to know whether you’re a man, woman or cyborg from the future sent to kill Sarah Connor (there is actual science here, and not just me spouting off, but that is a post for another day)

6) Be so obsessed with pimping your business, book, movie or album that your handle is simply the name of your business, book, movie or album, and once you move on to the next project, you’ll abandon that handle anyway

7) Put serious TMI into your handle, as in “singlemomthinksmenSTINK” or “stillunemployedyear3” or “livinginmomsbasementplayingcallofdutyallday”

8) Get all lovey dovey with a handle that’s a bunch of mushy nonsense about your husband, wife, kids, dog, ferret, capuchin monkey or boa constrictor, as in “debbie+fluffy4evah”

9) Appropriate the name of a celebrity, unless it’s to make fun of Snooki, Jonathan Franzen, Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump or any of the “Real Housewives of I Don’t Care” — and yes, you should follow @EmperorFranzen and @English50cent

10) Try to be funny with some kind of gag handle, a la Bart Simpson and “@ipfreeley”

Top 10 achy breaky mistakes with your bio

It’s hard to screw up when you only have 160-characters or whatever.

Despite this challenge, there are bazillions of bios out there which are assaults upon the English language and, left unchecked, will not only tear the very fabric of society, but will rip a hole in the space-time continuum, sending Jean-Claude Van Damme back in time to battle an ancient Schwarzenegger in TERMINATOR 9: NIGHTMARE AT THE NURSING HOME.

Do not:

1) Try to give your life history, in chronological order, using Every Abbreviation Known to Man

2) Claim to be a pro photographer, Olympic gymnast, black belt in Gracie jujitsu, supermodel, billionaire CEO, secret agent, actor, bodyguard and author who also drives Indy cars–we might believe two of those, maybe three if we’re drunk, but not six or nine

3) Throw in a bunch of wacky symbols and graphics that nobody understands, or use numb3rs & txtspk 2 say what8vr u cld say uzn wrds

4) Share TMI details that nobody needs to know, like how many times you’ve been married and divorced, how many kids you have or the nicknames of your seven most favorite cats

5) Treat the Twitter, the Book of Face or any other social media shebang like it’s a dating website, telling us how you enjoy slow dances, long walks on the beach and all that nonsense — and as a bonus, here is the worst bio page ever

6) Expect us to believe you live on nine different continents by listing your “location” as “London, Moscow, Tokyo, Kenya, NYC, Antarctica, LA and the International Space Station” (yes, somebody is going to comment with a link to Wikipedia proving there are only seven continents)

7) Get all cute with your location by saying, “in limbo” or “everywhere but nowhere” or “right behind you”

8) Turn it into a resume with where you went to college, a summary of skills and your career goals–please save all that for LinkedIn and such

9) Make it completely obscure by writing it in French when you are NOT FRENCH AT ALL, using a Gertrude Stein poem instead of a bio, wussing out by using a quote from a famous person — or Capitalizing Every Word Of The Entire Bio While Not Understanding That People Actually Want To Be Able To Read The Stupid Thing Without Getting A Migraine

10) Trying to be shocking by saying insanely offensive things while packing all seven of the FCC’s seven dirty works in there and working very hard to make your profile form an obscene gesture using ASCII art nonsense

In the future

Will I  do the same sort of post for the Book of Face? Nope. Sorry. I do this for fun, and for free, and the Book of Face keeps getting breached by hackers and such, so I’m kinda mad at Zuckerberg and all that.

Also in the future: There will be robots that mow your lawn and space-age looking trikes that turn into flying cars. Just wait. Are you done waiting? Here you go. If Daniel Craig doesn’t already have one of these, he’ll steal one this weekend.

The Series of Tubes is not a strategy

media strategy saturday meme

It pains me to see folks place all their faith in the Series of Tubes, whether they’re trying to bust into Hollywood, sell books about Men in Kilts or make a living playing punk rock songs with only three chords.

It’s no skin off my nose if they stubbornly keep on doing it.

As somebody who believes in science, and numbers, and doing whatever works, I’ll just say this: the Series of Tubes is useful for making friends and other things — but it is not a strategy and it is not a plan, not even for Internet Tough Guys.

internet tough guy as a child
This is your standard Internet Tough Guy as a child, deep into his training.

Here’s the thing: to persuade 10 people, you have to reach thousands–and to persuade thousands, you have to reach millions.

Which means using mass media, which is a completely different animal than social media or social networking.

Digital alone isn’t a strategy. It’s one piece.

There was a good Seattle blog, staffed with professional journalists and getting 400,000 hits a month, and that wasn’t enough to keep it afloat. Because internet hits may seem impressive, but they can be cheap and fleeting.

Truly reaching an audience means going to where they are, which isn’t your website, Twitter feed, Instagram home or whatever corner of the interwebs you prefer.

  • Some people rely on the radio. Maybe they’re like me and drive far to get to work and home every day.
  • Other folks read their local newspaper every morning with coffee, a ritual that I believe to be sacred and noble.
  • And yes, there are people who still use their television, even if it’s hooked up to cable, Hulu, Netflix or whatever else is hot this week.

The bottom line is this: If you made a pie chart of where people get their news and entertainment, it would be insanely fragmented. Digital is an important, modern slice, sure. But it’s just a slice.

A real media strategy, a smart one, touches every corner of that media pie.

Not one or two slices. Every one.

Four reasons why COBRA KAI completely obliterates THE KARATE KID

Unless you live in an ice cave, you’ve seen THE KARATE KID—and by that I mean the classic from the ‘80s, not the remake with Will Smith’s kid and Jackie Chan which had the same title, and sort of the same plot, except it was set in China, was about kung fu instead of karate … and was just an achy breaky big mistakey of a movie.

COBRA KAI isn’t just another cheesy remake or TV spin-off.

It’s actually better than the original movie.

Let’s say that again: COBRA KAI is better.

Here’s why:

1) A dark, gritty treat for adults

Go back and rewatch the original movie, even for five minutes. Daniel LaRusso is the good guy and Johnny Lawrence and his buddies are the bad guys. There are no shades of gray.

What makes the film work is this isn’t a traditional action movie where the hero is tough and sexy from the first minute of the movie and doesn’t really change or grow by the time the movie ends. The only thing that changes is the pile of dead bodies created by the traditional action hero in the process of saving the world.

ROCKY and THE KARATE KID are the rare exceptions where the hero is a loser in the beginning, a total underdog. The joy in both films comes from their struggle and sacrifice to climb up from that gutter.

COBRA KAI isn’t simple. It’s dark, gritty and complicated, and that’s what makes it great.

2) It’s much, much funnier

Sure, there are cute moments in the film, and some jokes that’ll make you laugh.

COBRA KAI, though, will make you snort milk through your nose.

3) Even minor characters shine

THE KARATE KID doesn’t give minor characters much to chew on. They’re part of the scenery. Pop quiz: can you name any of Johnny’s gang? I can’t. Interchangeable thugs.

 

COBRA KAI fleshes out as many characters as possible, and it does this with efficiency and grace.

4) Crossing character arcs, as rare and beautiful as a triple rainbow

In most movies or novels, the hero suffers, sacrifices and grows. The mentor, the love interest, the villain—everybody else typically stays the same. They serve as catalysts and examples (good or bad) but they don’t change.

Back in THE KARATE KID, Daniel definitely suffers, sacrifices and grows through the catalyst of Mr. Miyagi’s teaching, but Mr. Miyagi doesn’t go from nasty curmedgeon to sweetie pie. Same thing with the evil sensei who runs the Cobra Kai dojo in the movie: he’s bad in the beginning and bad in the end.

COBRA KAI tries something bold and amazing with multiple crossing character arcs. They’re juggling chainsaws here, and they pull it off.

Season One shows us the redemption of Johnny Lawrence as he moves from bad to good. You root for the man.

His protégé Miguel actually moves from good to bad, and it hurts you to see a good kid turned into a jerk. In the final episode, Miguel winning the tournament should be a moment of triumph. It’s what Johnny wanted and worked for—yet it’s ashes in his mouth. And the writers know they don’t need dialogue to do this. It’s all there in Johnny’s face and it slays you. Miguel gets what he wanted, too, and finds out he cares less about the championship and more about the girl that got away.

There’s a similar contrasting journey with Daniel LaRusso, a fallen hero turned villain, using his power and money to torment his old high school karate rival.

It’s only through teaching Robbie, Johnny’s son, that Daniel finds his balance again and returns to acting like a hero.

Robbie has the opposite journey, suffering and sacrificing to move from bad to good through his new relationship with Daniel and the LaRusso’s.

The writers and showrunners went further by giving minor characters real, meaningful arcs. The best example is Hawk finding his confidence, then taking it too far and becoming a villain, while bad girl Moon finds redemption by ditching the mean cool kids to hang out with Hawk and the dorks.

Finally, it’s a nice tough that the big bully at the start of season one, Kylar, falls from Big Man on Campus to loser after being beat down in the cafeteria by Miguel, his previous victim.

The only other show I can remember with this many deep, crossing arcs for major and minor characters alike is BREAKING BAD, a tragedy where Walter White is the hero and the villain, going from good to bad while meth cook Jesse climbs up from the gutter to redemption.

VERDICT: Put a gun to my head and I would have never expected the folks behind HOT TUB TIME MACHINE to pull off an amazing series like this. The structure of episode one is strong, supple and fascinating. Just a thing of beauty. If you haven’t seen it, give it a shot. Here is episode one, which you can watch for free.

The most epic and hilarious Crime Stoppers in history

Why is this so funny and perfect? Let’s take it apart and see why it sings.

1) The sheriff deputy is from central casting.

If there’s a factory where Hollywood makes police officers from small towns, Lt. Higgins is the man they use as the mold.

Even without the hat and the uniform, Higgins would look and sound like an officer of the law. It’s in his bones.

Also, his accent and the cadence of his speech is mesmerizing. I could not, and would not, improve it. And his name is perfect.

2) Telling details about the crime and the suspect.

Show somebody the surveillance video without any narration from Lt. Higgins and they’d be all, “Yeah, it’s some kid in a hoodie. Good luck figuring out who.”

Lt. Higgins doesn’t see grainy film and a kid in a hoodie.

He sees a six-foot-tall suspect in a camo hoodie, a man with a distinctive lanky gait.

If we gave Lt. Higgins more screen time, I bet he could dissect every frame of this surveillance tape. And we’d be educated while entertained.

3) Son, I’m gonna have a cheeseburger here, with fries and a coke

The beginning is good. The middle is interesting.

But the last two-thirds is the climax, and that’s what makes this little bit of YouTube footage into viral gold.

This is what slayed me: “Look at me son, I’m talking to you. The sheriff likes Stelly’s restaurant, and so do I. The food is good, and the folks are friendly. We’re gonna identify you, arrest you and put you in a small cell. After that, I’m gonna have a cheeseburger here, with fries and a coke, and leave a nice tip for the waitress. Meanwhile, your next meal will be served in a small door through a cell door.”

Then Lt. Higgins gets all CSI, talking about his detectives “harvesting DNA from the rock you used” and the perfect bootprint on the door.

The kicker: Lt. Higgins doesn’t need all that science evidence, because the suspect’s friends, they don’t like him much and will go for the reward money. Oh, that stings.

Verdict: Lt. Higgins should have his work duties changed so he records Crime Stopper videos all across America.

DECAY, a zombie movie made by real scientists

Not just any old scientists playing with beakers in the lab or whatever. No.

Brilliant boffins who work at the world’s greatest superconducting super-collider made this zombie movie, using the creepy tunnel parts of their fancy machine as movie sets.

I would actually watch this thing.

Not too shabby, scientist peoples of CERN — keep on making these things.

5 ways to make blog posts GO ALL VIRAL

There is no guaranteed method, no secret way, to make a blog post that causes the Series of Tubes to explode.

Anybody who says otherwise is a lying liar full of lying liaosity.

Because this is an art, not a science.

HOWEVER: There are things that are smart, and give you a chance.

yoda after the death star blows up
If your magical blog post causes the Series of Tubes to blow up like a Death Star orbiting the second moon of Yavin, then Yoda will celebrate by dropping it like it’s hot.

5) Swing for the fences

If all your blog posts are kinda the same — the same topic, the same length, the same tone — it’s a good bet none of them will ever magically shock the world.

Learn from PETA, which gets gobs and gobs of free ink and airtime by trying bold, crazy PR stunts.

Most of them fail. Sometimes, they get a little bad press for a stunt gone wrong.

But they keep swinging for the fences, because there is no real penalty for swinging and missing.

People only really pay attention when you hit that towering home run.

So PETA does the opposite of most non-profits, companies, politicians, authors, actors and would-be Famous Peoples: they don’t (a) craft a strategy full of bunts and singles, (b) assume all those bunts and singles will work 100 percent of the time, then (c) freak out when things don’t work out exactly according to the plan and (d) yell at their publicist for all those failures.

PETA knows most swings of the bat will miss. They’re smart about it. They don’t whine or cry in their IPA’s after hours, asking God why nobody prints their press releases. They swing hard. They know missing is part of the game. And they keep on swinging, knowing that all it takes is one solid smack of the bat to get their message through in newspapers, radio and TV around the world.

I did a bunch of posts examining how PETA and other folks do publicity right. Read them. It’ll make you rethink playing small ball.

4) Start with a killer photo

Words are great. I adore words, and I bet you do, too.

Treating photos as an afterthought, though, is crazy.

Because images are more powerful than words. They tap directly into a primal part of our brain and work all kinds of magic, bam, faster than you know it, all while your brain is still processing the first few words of the headline and such.

Every post should have one killer image.

Every post.

Snag a shot from flickr or morguefile. Snap away with your iPhone or Droid — or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, a Nikon of Infinite Beauty.

Use one of the online meme generators (they are legion) to add words to a fresh meme.

Better yet, find a photo and start an entirely new meme.

What if I told you ... how to get to Sesame Street?
Make your own meme already. DO IT NOW.

3) Embrace viral networks

Everybody basically has a blog, a Facebook page and uses Twitter — that’s pretty standard.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: that won’t help you go viral.

Blogs just sit there, really. Nobody except your subscribers will realize you’ve got a new post.

The Book of Face is social networking, not social media. Same with Twitter.

They aren’t designed, really, for things to go viral. Are they better than a kick in the head? Yeah.

For a blog post to really go viral, you need it to make noise on Pinterest or Reddit, Digg or Stumbleupon — those sorts of sites.

Because lumping all these sites under the term “social media” is stupid.

whuh?
What? Social networking and social media are not the same thing?

There’s social networking, where you make new friends and talk smack with those friends.

There’s social media, which sort of works as an alternative to mass media (papers of news, radio, TV) — but not really.

And then there are viral networks.

To make a blog post go viral, people who use viral networks must (a) see your post and (b) share it.

That means putting the right sharing buttons on each post.

It means joining a few of those viral networks to see how they work.

And it means using those networks to push sharing buttons on stuff your friends post, not just your own stuff.

This is where a killer photo comes in handy. Pinterest and other viral networks are incredibly visual. If your post doesn’t have an image, it’s basically impossible to post on many viral networks. Even if they let you post, I don’t suggest doing it. Because a photo is key.

2) Use the video, Luke

Moving pictures are even BETTER than regular old pictures, which are better than words.

Here. I’ll make it all simple with logic and such:

Video > Photos > Words

Find short clips on YouTube that illustrate your point.

Snag animated gifs that are related, and funny, and not gross or pervy.

Techno Viking does not listen to the prayers of men, or bloggers. He only wants to dance, and to crush his enemies, then dance a little more.
Techno Viking does not listen to the prayers of men, or bloggers. He only wants to dance, and to crush his enemies, then dance a little more.

There is no shortage of video clips and gifs. I am constantly amazed by the creativity of peoples on the Series of Tubes, and I tip my hat to them. You make me laugh, and learn things, because video is the most primal way of reaching people.

1) Wrap it all up with a head-turning headline

The Greatest Blog Post in the History of the Blogosphere won’t matter if your headline is something like “What I wrote this morning, after I had some Cocoa Puffs”

Give your post a great headline. How?

Bottom line, you want the headline to create interest by (a) raising interesting questions about (b) stuff people already care about, and I have to say  (c) if your blog is a thinly disguised diary, and eliminating the words “I” and “me” would cause the word counts of all your posts to drop by 20 percent, then yeah, that stuff isn’t really interesting or what people care about. Don’t do it.

Interesting questions include anything primal: life and death, love affairs and disasters, monsters and myths.

Stuff people already care about include books and movies, music and plays, stupid reality TV shows, politics, news, art, photography, stupid reality TV shows about celebrities and anything funny.

So what’s a good killer headline? Here are a few:

  • Top 10 things to do before Comet 1948A destroys Earth
  • Why JAWS and FATAL ATTRACTION are the same flipping story
  • If the Bachelor and Bachelorette are 0 for 40-whatever on engagements and marriages, is all hope for love lost — or is reality TV just an empty wasteland of vacuous, fame-chasing idiots?

Now, I’m kidding with that last headline. Bit too long.

On the other hand, it is unusual and would stand out. Bet you if I wrote a post with exactly that headline, it might make a splash. That last hed (journalism slang alert!) happily swings for the fences.

So don’t worry about missing, and don’t place all your bets on some golden post.

Swing hard.

Swing often.

Swing true.

Because every time you shoot for something bold and spectacular, even if you fail, you’ll get better at it. And you won’t learn how to hit home runs if all you do is aim for bunts and singles.

Skydive from space — with Legos

It takes guts, monies and sponsors to float 25 miles into space and break the sound barrier skydiving down — then not going splat like the coyote in a Road Runner toon.

HOWEVER: I am equally impressed and entertained by this re-enactment of the space dive, done with Legos.

Say hi to HELLO by Karmin

Did you hear this song and swear it was Nicki the Minaj? I did. There aren’t many singers who can talk faster than the speed of light.

For a pop song on the radios, though, it’s not bad. And as a video, the visuals are interesting. They hopped on some kind of metal tube full of explosives, used time lapse photography pretty well and flew back home to get it on with Final Cut Pro or whatever. And it works out fine.

Also: this is the same singer who did that killer cover of LOOK AT ME NOW, which I think she did better than the original with Chris Brown and Lil’ Wayne.

I salute you, Karmin from Nebraska, and hope you keep on trying new things in Music Land. (Note: Her name is actually Amy, and she and the other main guy are from Boston, so the line she said about being from Nebraska is just literary license and such.)

Here’s how that movie should have ended

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

You’ve been there: sitting in a dark theater for two hours, with sticky unknown substances on the soles of your shoes and your wallet $23 lighter, and you’re thinking, “If the director and the seven different screenwriters given credit for this movie had spent FIVE MINUTES on the major plot holes in this stinker, it would’ve been a fine movie.”

All true.

This is why the folks at How It Should Have Ended have jobs.

Here are my favorites, and these are movies that I actually love (except for SPIDERMAN 3).

Big honking bonus: A recurring thing is cutting to Batman and Superman, sitting in a cafe while sipping coffee and talking smack about these movies and each other. I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.

How It Should Have Ended: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

How It Should Have Ended: THE DARK KNIGHT

How It Should Have Ended: THE AVENGERS

How It Should Have Ended: SPIDERMAN 3

HO HEY by The Lumineers

music video meme sound of music

This is a simple little song with a simple little video that still manages to ROCK THE HOUSE.

Also, I don’t really hear much of a difference between the Ho! and the Hey! parts, but hey, that’s artistic license and such.

Also-also: There’s something of a trend of Mumford and Son types, musicians wearing suspenders while playing folksy rock that involves (a) a banjo, (b) a bass and (c) harmonicas or whatever.

This is a good thing, though it will certainly snowball into some kind of trend where record executives start signing up folks bands with accordians instead of amplifiers faster than an aspiring writer can tell you about their YA series that is NOT inspired — they swear — by Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, because they have a school of witches, not wizards, and the zombies show up on page 392.

Also-cubed: As for the controversy over whether The Lumineers (original band name: The Night Lights) are singing “You’re my sweetheart” or “You’re my sweet home” — the answer is, “sweet heart.”

Here’s the video. Watch it. DO IT NOW, because YouTube / the Google needs your clicks and money or whatever before their stock starts doing the Facebook nosedive.

For word nerds around the world, the lyrics:

(Ho!) I’ve been trying to do it right
(Hey!) I’ve been living a lonely life
(Ho!) I’ve been sleeping here instead
(Hey!)I’ve been sleeping in my bed,
(Ho!) sleeping in my bed (Hey!)
(Ho!)

(Ho!) So show me family
(Hey!) Or the blood that I would bleed
(Ho!) I don’t know where I belong
(Hey!) I don’t know where I went wrong
(Ho!) But I can write a song
(Hey!)

I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweet

(Ho!)
(Hey!)
(Ho!)
(Hey!)

(Ho!) I don’t think you’re right for him
(Hey!) Leave the world it might have been
(Ho!) Took a bus to china town
(Hey!) I’ll be standing on canal
(Ho!) And bowery (hey!)
(Ho!) She’d be standing next to me (hey!)

I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart

And love, we need it now
Let’s hope for some
Cause oh, we’re bleeding out

I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart

(Hey!)
(Ho!)
(Hey!)

THE WALKING DEAD walks into Dumb Movie Land

Movies make people dumb.

Not the people watching movies, unless that movie happens to be TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 5 or whatever, in which case yes, your LSAT scores will never be the same.

No, I’m talking about characters in movies.

Characters in books sometimes do stupid things, but not usually. Put that same character in a movie and they turn into absolute idiots.

This is true for romantic comedies (bumbling fools in love!), action movies (no henchman can shoot, and no heroine or sidekick can avoid getting kidnapped by the villain) and especially horror movies, which deserve a post all their own.

If a person with a functioning brain cell rattling around their skull wouldn’t go into the spooky abandoned house where people keep disappearing, you can bet the movie character will march right in. Does the hot young teenager know that a serial killer is chasing down and killing hot young teenagers? Well, she should definitely wear high heels and fall down six times while the psycho chases her.

There are websites dedicated to listing the stupid things that movie characters do.

However: I want to pick on THE WALKING DEAD, a zombie shebang that’s on the Glowing Tube.

As a fan of zombies, I am aware of this show, and though I haven’t watched every flipping episode, I kinda keep track of things by recaps and reviews and such. It’s a good show and not at all stupid.

So why did a smart show have their characters get so idiotic in the big series finale?

Here’s the setup: the non-zombie hero peoples are holed up at some farm, and the big finale is a battle that happens when the zombies show up, en masse.

What made me want to throw things at the YouTube clip is how the zombies happily marched across the fields and surrounded the farmhouse.

No, no, no.

If you or I are hanging around a farmhouse during the zombie apocalypse, the zombies won’t ever march up on us from every direction. Why? Because we’ll get busy, real quick, using all the tools and equipment that any decent farm has the second we arrive there and take inventory of the place.

First thing we do is fire up the tractor or backhoe and dig a long ditch around the farm.

Second thing we do shove the dirt we dug up into a berm, a rough wall. So they fall in the ditch, and if by some zombie magic one of the undead gets out of the ditch, he’s gotta climb a wall.

Third thing we do is put a barbed wire fence on top of that berm.

Fourth thing we do is find some fuel and make Molotov cocktails.

If there’s a working tractor, this sort of thing takes a day or two.

And it’s worth it, because now a single Farmer Joe type with a flipping .22 rifle can stand on top of that berm and pick off zombies all day while he sips moonshine. Because there’s no way a horde of zombies is magically getting past the ditch, the wall and the barbed wire. It’s not happening.

Zombies can’t climb.

Instead, the heroes of THE WALKING DEAD go on foot (to get nom-nom-nommed) and drive around in cars trying to blow away zombies. Which isn’t smart, either. Shooting from a moving vehicle may look cool, but you have a much better chance of hitting a moving target when you’re not bouncing around, too.

Bottom line: If you really want to survive a horror movie / zombie apocalypse, please use your noggin first and your trigger finger second.

COUNTDOWN by Beyonce and some genius student in a snuggie

OK, so it’s one thing to take (1) one of the most talented singers in the solar system and (2) a bunch of professional backup dancers, set designers, choreographers and film peoples to make (3) a great music video that probably cost more money to make than you or I will ever see, even as we tour a secret Federal Reserve money factory that creates Benjamins by the bucketful.

It is quite another thing for a whippersnapper student, with no monies, to shoot the same video on his iPhone or whatever and edit it on his computer — doing the EXACT SAME VIDEO, frame for frame, effect for effect.

This kid is such a flipping genius that his blue snuggie, just by osmosis, has earned two doctorates in Applied Awesomesauce.

For musical peoples, here are the lyrics to COUNTDOWN.

Boy!
Oh, killing me softly and I’m still falling
Still the one I need, I will always be with you
Oh, you got me all gone, don’t ever let me go
Say it real loud if you fly
If you leave me you’re out of your mind

My baby is a 10
We dressing to the 9
He pick me up we 8,
Make me feel so lucky 7
He kiss me in his 6
We be making love at 5
Still the one I do this 4
I’m tryna make us 3
From that 2
He’s still the 1

There’s ups and downs in this love
Got a lot to learn in this love
Through the good and the bad, still got love
Dedicated to the one I love, hey

Still love the way he talk, still love the way I sing
Still love the way he rock them black diamonds in that chain
Still all up on each other, ain’t a damn thing changed
My girls can’t tell me nothing, I’m gone in the brain
I’m all up under him like it’s cold, winter time
All up in the kitchen in my heels, dinner time
Do whatever that it takes, he got a winner’s mind
Give it all to him, meet him at the finish line

Me and my boo and my boo boo riding
All up in that black with his chick right beside him
Ladies, if you love your man show him you the flyest
Grind up on it, girl, show him how you ride it
Me and my boo and my boo boo riding
All up in that black with his chick right beside him
Ladies, if you love your man show him you the fliest
Grind up on it, girl, show him how you ride it

Oh, killing me softly and I’m still fallin’
Still the one I need, I will always be with you
Oh, you got me all gone, don’t ever let me go
Say it real loud if you fly
If you leave me you out of your mind
My baby is a 10
We dressing to the 9
He pick me up we 8,
Make me feel so lucky 7
He kiss me in his 6
We be making love at 5
Still the one I do this 4
I’m tryna make us 3
From that 2
He still the 1

Yup, I put it on him, it ain’t nothing that I can’t do
Yup, I buy my own, if he deserve it, buy his shit too
All up in the store, shorty, tricking if I want to
All up in the store, shorty, fly as we want to

Ooh ooh ooh ooh
Damn I think I love that boy
Do anything for that boy
Boy!
Now I’ll never be the same
You and me until the end

Me and my boo and my boo boo riding
All up in that black with his chick right beside him
Ladies, if you love your man show you the flyest
Grind up on it, girl, show him how you ride it
Me and my boo and my boo lip locking
All up in the back because the chicks keep flocking
All that gossip in 10 years stop it
London speed it up, Houston rock it

Oh, killing softly and I’m still falling
Still the one I need, I will always be with you
Oh, you got me all gone, don’t ever let me go
Say it real loud if you fly,
If you leave me you’re out of your mind

My baby is a 10
We dressing to the 9
He pick me up we 8,
Make me feel so lucky 7
He kiss me in his 6
We be making love at 5
Still the one I do this 4
I’m tryna make us 3
From that 2
He still the 1

Book publicity: The case of the hitchhiking writer who gets shot

media strategy saturday meme

So this West Virginia photographer is hitchhiking around the country, writing a book about kindness in America, when he’s randomly shot by some man in a truck.

That’s news. Ironic and interesting, with a mystery thrown in: who shot him, and why?

The police arrested a man in a maroon pickup who matched the description. Reporters wrote all kinds of stories about this writer / photographer, Ray Dolin, and his book idea.

Those stories turned out to be wrong. Turns out, he shot himself.

Protip: shooting yourself is never a good way to (a) promote a book idea, (b) win back your ex-girlfriend or (c) make a sweet YouTube video.

Difficult doesn’t make it good

While in the Belgium, home of the world’s finest chocolate and 250 types of beer — 250! — I saw something that made me think.

No, it was not the beer. Though the beer was excellent.

This is what made me think: a concert on BBC or PBS or whatever with a violinist doing an insanely difficult piece.

Now, that wasn’t the exact piece. This YouTube video is something close, though it’s far less technically difficult and far more enjoyable. You should’ve heard the crazy thing, and seen her beat that violin like a dirty rug.

Was her technical skill amazing?

Oh yes.

Did she make faces like she was passing a kidney stone?

You have no idea.

Did the music move me at all?

Not one bit. Hated it.

The forest for the trees

Here’s the thing: creative people tend to focus on developing the most difficult technical skills WHILE IGNORING THE BIG STUFF.

  • Journalists learn all about headline counts and press law, but nobody questions whether the inverted pyramid is the right structure for the next 12,023 stories they’ll write.
  • Writers spend months or years cranking on novels, but if you put a 9 mm to their head and counted down from five, they couldn’t boil that novel down into four-word pitch — or logline, tagline or headline.
  • Figure skaters put all this time and effort into triple-axles and whatnot, despite the fact that only professional skaters and judges can tell the difference between a triple toe loop and a triple lux-whatever. The only thing we average people know is  (a) whether the skating is fun to watch and (b) how many times they fall down. Also, (c) how you can consider this a sport when the winner is determined by faceless judges, not who runs the fastest or scores the most points?

Now, I’m not saying that you should ignore your technical skills, whether you’re trying to break into Hollywood with your zombie high school musical or become the next Johnny Rotten.

The point is, technical skills come into play late in the game. Without working on the stuff that nobody teaches you — the short, pithy, publicity side — nobody will see your amazing technical wizardry with words, film or electric guitars hooked to amplifiers that go up to 11.

Here’s little kids playing Metallica, with far less technical skill. (Metallica is secretly easy to play.) Yet I enjoyed the heck out of this and would happily listen to it again, while you would have to deliver suitcases stuffed with purple euros to get me to listen to the violin craziness again.

 

TAKE ON ME by A-Ha

If you were alive, and breathing, you remember watching this on what we used to call MTV, which played these things called “music videos” instead of endless reality shows starring people from New Jersey who tan a lot.

Sidenote: Sir Tans a Lot would be a funny name for a rapper who made fun of The Situation.

Three things: (1) the hair makes me laugh, (2) the effects seems cheap now and (3) the storytelling in the video is much better than the lyrics of the song.

Check out the lyrics below.  I’ve read them twice. Saw the video a zillion times. The video sort of makes sense. The lyrics, not so much.

TAKE ON ME

by A-Ha

We’re talking away
I don’t know what
I’m to say I’ll say it anyway
Today’s another day to find you
Shying away
I’ll be coming for your love, OK?
Take on me, take me on
I’ll be gone
In a day or two

So needless to say
I’m odds and ends
But that’s me stumbling away
Slowly learning that life is OK.
Say after me
It’s no better to be safe than sorry

Take on me, take me on
I’ll be gone
In a day or two

Oh the things that you say
Is it life or
Just a play my worries away
You’re all the things I’ve got to
remember
You’re shying away
I’ll be coming for you anyway

Take on me, take me on
I’ll be gone
In a day or two

 

Two insane illusions turn beauty into ugliness

Science tells us that beauty is all about symmetry, which is a word that I can spell.

That’s because a symmetrical face proves that you have good genes. A lopsided face full of scars and whatnot proves that you have bad genes, bad hygiene and possibly got into a fight with Mr. Green Jeans.

So, your brain’s need for supermodels from Sweden with great genes and symmetry also makes you very, very susceptible to this illusion, which is seven separate flavors of awesomesauce.

Beauty to ugliness illusion

As a bonus, the same evil researchers in white lab coats put together the same illusion featuring a bunch of celebrities, which will change how you think of Tom Cruise forever.

Celebrity faces – distortion illusion

Movie trailer madness: WILD WILD PLANET

Before the invention of YouTube, you’d only find gems like this at estate sales in Hollywood. And the only way to play such treasures would be if you owned a 8mm projector, eight-track tape or some other obsolete technology brought to you be the number 8.

HOWEVER: We have the technologies today, and just like Christmas in July, they give is insane film clips and trailers of things that Should Not Exist, But Somehow Do.

The trailer to WILD WILD PLANET is awesomely, ambitiously bad. Take a peek.

My favorite bits:

  • the four-armed thugs who look like offspring of a Terminator-Matrix union
  • the women who know kung fu and how to disappear
  • the twisted plan by some man to transmorgify into a half-man, half-woman using transporter tech stolen from the U.S.S. Enterprise or whatever

The ’90s and ’00s (oughts? oh-oh’s?) brought us movie after movie where the heroines are tough women in black leather catsuits with guns. Maybe this all started with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, but it’s taken off ever since.

As this movie proves, tough women (good or bad) in ‘the ’60s and ’70s movies didn’t wear black leather catsuits. No. They wore red flowing polyester. If red flowing polyester wasn’t available, they wore bright orange or green.

If anybody actually WATCHED this movie, as in paid actual monies and rented it or whatever, please shout.

Also: if you are brave or crazy enough to fire it up on Netflix or whatever, please report back on what happened to the crazy man with the mustache.

Music Video Monday: Some White Girl

Now, this is interesting.

She just cranks this out, like it’s effortless to sing beautifully while spewing 150 bazillion words per second.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know the song.

I do know this: some record company exec with half a brain should SIGN HER UP.

The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

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.

Viral math formula from social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who is a Muffin of Stud.

Go read up on Dan the Zarrella, especially this post: Viral Math: R-Naught and Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. He’s a brilliant man, dedicated to using real science and math to get things done, and he hates the whole unicorn-and-rainbow advice out there about the series of tubes.

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.