Monday, August 17, 2009

marketing can kill

Kelley pointed me to this post on Nikki's Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily.

It's about how the stubborness of an arrogant and unimaginative marketer killed a good (excellent, if you believe the reviews) film, Bandslam. Bandslam is, apparently, an indie piece, 'Cameron Crowe meets John Hughes', which the Chief Marketing Git at Summit decided to position as High School Musical: But Better. He (oh, yes, the post names names) aimed at absolutely the wrong crowd--despite the pleading of everyone involved with the film. Oh, the CMG said, High School Musical was a hit, this will be too! That's like saying, Let's position this souvlaki as a burger, because burgers sell! It doesn't work. This weekend the film came out and, of course, just shrivelled at the box office.

When I read the article, my blood pressure fell. I swayed. The world turned grey: I empathised with the filmmaker. I know how it feels.

The Aud books were badly damaged by marketing.

Oooh, let's call it noir! the marketers said. Noir sells! The thing is, the Aud books aren't noir. The content and the marketing clashed. The sales evaporated.

The problem is, I can't honestly point to anyone and say: your fault. We all tried hard but no one--including me--knew how to describe them. (My helpful contribution: Well, if I could describe Aud in a couple of sentences, I wouldn't have had to write a whole fucking novel.) I'm biased, of course, an unreliable narrator, but in my opinion the Aud books are rich, literary novels about a woman who changes and grows. Novels with sex. Novels in which shit blows up. Novels about a woman who always wins.

How do you boil that down to a simple phrase? I don't know.

I think it would have been a lot easier if I could have published all three books with one imprint, with clearly related covers. But I couldn't because HarperCollins didn't want the second--because The Blue Place didn't sell as many as they'd hoped in hardcover. Hey, it sold more than 8,000 hardcovers, which doesn't suck; and the trade paper is in its 8th or 9th printing--but they were unhappy. So I sold the next, Stay, to Nan A. Talese--whose marketers, despite my protests, positioned it as noir. They seemed puzzled by the subsequent sales figures. Even so, Talese would have bought Always, the next one, but I decided to follow my Stay editor to Riverhead, in the hope that his Aud experience would help him help the marketers figure out how to sell it. I wish. The book got positioned as noir.

Ten years of Aud meant ten years of marketing nightmares. I wish I could blame someone, kick them to death and then set them on fire and call it good, but I can't. This is just how the world is: books and films need clear, unambiguous marketing hooks. Boy wizard fights evil and grows up! High school girl in soggy landscape must struggle with supernatural abstinence issues! Harvard symbologist with bad hair runs around missing all the clues!

So is this my fault? Maybe--I don't write simple unambiguous books. Is it the world's fault? Maybe--it could be a snobbery issue (suspense fiction can't be literary), it could be homophobia (eew, straight people don't want to read about dykes), it could just be that I'm not as good as I think I am. I just don't know.

Meanwhile, I'm determined that this will never, ever happen to me again. But my selling sentence for Hild definitely needs work: Life of a 7th-C woman, birth to death, doesn't exactly sparkle. But it's a novel, it's huge, it won't pour itself tidily into a bottle to be distilled.

I'm open to suggestions...

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