Tag Archives: Marketing

PK’s Jaundiced Futurism: On Enhanced E-books Alternate Endings

Enhanced e-books will be a boon for non-fiction. Video, interactive diagrams, the ability to update in the light of new information or research. The possibilities are endless.

Fiction…umm…not so much.

I can see hypertext novels coming back into fashion, though they will have to do away with those bloody irritating links — not very conducive to immersion having every character name and artefact highlighted. I can see illustrations becoming prevalent, though there is a point beyond which the novel becomes a graphic novel. I can even see interactive databases for the more extreme world-building; think of Tolkien’s appendices as a searchable database.

All that I can see being useful for storytelling.

But I’ve read a few posts recently, on blogs and writing news aggregation sites, where high muckity-mucks in the publishing industry also mention ‘Alternate Endings’ as an enhancement.

Why? How does betraying the story count as an enhancement?

There are essentially three forms of storytelling now current in our culture. Interactive games, the media (films, television, graphic novels, radio, audio books) and text (novels, shorts, twitter, blog-stories, and so on. There are slight differences in distribution, but the medium is still text-based).

In games, alternate endings are a great idea. The player is the protagonist in the game, he or she is the one making decisions about how they play, so it’s not a bad idea to make those playing decisions affect how the game ends.

Play the game through, shooting everything with the biggest gun you can get. Not a bad way to play a game for the first time: while you work out how the game engines work. Play it through again, but being kinder to the game environment and to all those realistically detailed creatures you can kill. Some people claim to play Grand Theft Auto while going out of their way to avoid running down the virtual pedestrians the game designers place all over the virtual streets. I have no idea why you would do that, it isn’t supposed to be a simulation of driving in the city, but some people are just strange.

Between those two extremes, there are a multitude of possible choices that the player can make and each choice could affect the ending of the game. All good. All useful. All enhancing the experience and making you want to play the game again. If only to collect all the endings in the same way you used to collect gold rings when playing Sonic the Hedgehog. Obsessive, yes, but games can make you a tad obsessive — that’s part of their appeal.

In the media, mostly films it must be said, alternate endings are sometimes DVD extras. Twenty-Eight Days Later is the one that immediately springs to mind. No spoilers, for those who have not seen it, but I preferred the bleaker ending. I remember watching the film and feeling cheated by the ending they actually used. It felt forced. Please note this is before I even knew the alternate ending existed; once I found that on the DVD, I was even more irritated by the Hollywood ending they chose.

But, and this is important, films (and I suspect TV) are created in the editing suite. They are not created during principal photography. The actual filming simply gives the director options when the film is finally cut together. So much so, that many fine movie actors deliberately avoid giving the same performance in every take. They ‘wilfully’ (as Ian McKellen said about Ian Holm — when making Lord of the Rings) vary what they do to give the director options in the cut.

This is where the alternate endings that end up on DVDs come from. From this exact same process. The director may film more than one ending, because they don’t know how the story is going to play out, they don’t know if the pacing will work, they don’t know if the producers will accept a bleak ending, they don’t know until they have made the film. And since the ending is filmed and done and dusted, well you may as well stick it on the DVD as an extra. That’s a no-brainer.

In text — well novels really, yeah…look, I know these publishing execs have a great deal of experience and are, obviously, very smart people, but…um…have they any idea about how a novel actually works?

Just in case they need a heads-up, I’ll explain.

This is how a novel works. Every scene, every scrap of dialogue, every piece of action, every bit of fore-shadowing, every character interaction, every bit of weather, every setting, every damn thing that survives the editing process and ends up in the finished novel does service to the plot and make the ending of the story emotionally satisfying to the reader. That is a novelist’s duty. We don’t always manage it, but that is our aim.

Alternate endings will destroy what we have tried to create. They will make whole sections of dialogue nonsensical or irrelevant. They will make action scenes seem trite and unrealistic (because if we need alternate endings we can’t kill off characters that need to be killed off because we need them for the alternate ending). They will make foreshadowing a series of red-herrings that are never explained. They will make character interactions bland and boring (because everything will have to be left open to allow for different endings). Even the weather may have to be moderated so there are no extremes just to help keep the ending open. And of course settings will have to be rendered either very sketchily indeed or in so much detail that every single possible interaction between the character and the environment is possible.

Most importantly of all, we will be breaking our trust with the reader. Clever is not the same as honest. A writer seeks honesty, honesty to the prose, to the plot, to the characters. We seek to show the truth through the prism of our own understanding. Readers know this, that is why they read books instead of watching a film or playing a game.

Alternate endings are clever, even philosophical profound. Hmmm. Would they be nihilistic, existential, or solipsistic? I suppose that would depend on the author.

I’m not saying that a genius writer at the top of their game could not write a novel where the different endings actually enhance the story, where they alter the way it is read, where they change the way the reader understands the world. But I seriously doubt there will be many novelists of that calibre alive at any one time.

So, publishers, please, for the sake of the art-form I love, and the craft I have learned, and for my own sanity, stop talking about alternate bloody endings for novels.

Unless of course, you want to write the damn thing yourself.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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A Brand Is For Life?

This is about fiction writing not non-fiction.

We all know that publishers are not really the brand that readers worry about, though that might change in the future—if subscriptions take over from wholesale.

We all know that the author is the brand. The reader looks for the author’s name and then buys the book because they have enjoyed other stories by the same author.

But.

Is the actual brand the author, or the writing?

The writing is what the reader reads, not the author’s life-story. Does it matter who the author is, what they have done, how they view the world, so long as the story does its job?

I worry about being called a brand. I find this whole ‘writer as brand’ nonsense. I have two pen-names, Stephen Godden and T F Grant. One for Fantasy (Stephen Godden) and one for Science Fiction (T F Grant) because readers of Fantasy may not be readers of Science Fiction and I think it’s only fair to let them know what they are buying before they open the cover and look inside. Though, to be honest Speculative Fiction is a continuum, so there is a large chunk of either/or stuff in the middle. I suspect T F Grant will be the truly weird stuff, because ‘truly weird’ is pretty much the preserve of SF. Fantasy can be weird of course, but SF is weird based on science, that is usually mind-smackingly out there, when you come right down to it.

But even then, with pseudonyms, is the author the brand or is it the writing?

See, if you say the author is the brand then anything the author does affects the brand. There is a danger that the author’s personality becomes fixed, that they keep churning out the same stuff, because they are seen as a brand.

My personality is not a fixed point, my tastes are not fixed, and I reserve the right to change my mind about just about any thing at any time for no more reason than I feel like doing so.

But if ‘I’ am a brand then changing my tastes, my opinions, the way I interact with the world becomes part of that brand. Changing any part of it can lead to accusations of hypocrisy or—that old favourite of the ‘we-so-special’ classes—selling out.

That’s the problem with making your personality, whatever flavour it reeks of, part of your marketing process, part of your platform. You are telling people, ‘This is me. If you agree with my political views, my philosophical views, my lifestyle choices, then please buy my stories’. You are asking people to join your tribe and fight all-comers on your behalf.

Then you write something that is an exploration of some facet of the world that goes directly against what you have told your tribe you believe in, and maybe your viewpoint shifts because of the writing of that work. Because at heart that is what I—as a writer—do; I write about stuff that interests me, in a way that gets my juices going, all the while learning something new about how I see the world. Without that interest, without that excitement born of trying something I have never tried before, without that exploration, then I get bored and churn out monkey-chum.

But what happens is you write something that says the exact opposite to what you said in your last novel? What happens then? Your ‘tribe’ loses all faith in you because you told them that you were one of them. There is no room for flexibility if your brand is a fixed point. There’s a falseness to a brand, if it is built from artifice.

So my advice is to make the writing the brand. Write the best you can. Range far and wide across all the genres and sub-genres you want to explore, don’t be fixed spot, remain a moving target. Who you are is inherently part of the writing process, but don’t make it part of the branding process. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep without slumping into tedium.

Essentially, get the hell out of the way. Let the writing do the talking.

Brands are fragile. They are a shared delusion (like cyberspace: *tips hat* to Gibson). I’m a real person. I’m robust. And I reserve the right to change whenever I feel the need.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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The Agony of Marketing

Well here we are then. My first ebook is published by Firedance Books. ‘Tales of the Shonri: City of Lights’ is out there on Amazon for people to buy. Lovely, ‘triffic, spun gold dreams flying across my forebrain, but then…ah…yes…now I have to market the damn thing.

I’m not what you would call a natural salesman, well not for my own work anyway. The idea of saying, ‘Please buy my work,’ to perfect strangers makes me come out in a rash. I’d much rather just bang it out there and leave it for people to find, but that really isn’t going to work these days. Too much other stuff out there, too hard to get noticed, and I can’t just leave it to other people to do the hard yards. ‘Put up or shut up’ is the phrase that springs to mind.

All marketing is just generating word of mouth. That there is a truth less spoken, but garnering word of mouth is not that easy when you are up against millions (yes, millions) of other writers all trying to do the same thing. This is what led to the sock-puppet/paid-for-reviews debacle that firestormed its way across the net. Writers get desperate and when they get desperate they get stupid. Though I seriously doubt it is just self-published authors doing this sort of thing. Traditionally published writers have been thrown to the marketing sharks for quite a while now, so cast the mote out of your own eye before you start casting aspersions against others.

Would I sock-puppet? Nope. I’m so painfully honest that I even give my real name to chuggers. Would I pay for reviews? Nope. That’s like cheating on a test. So up here on the cloud of the virtuous I’m left thinking: What do I do? How do I generate word of mouth? Oh dear god, I have to start putting meself about don’t I?

I actually have a lot of theoretical knowledge of marketing, lots of bookmarks from the Book Designer [http://www.thebookdesigner.com/] and others. I’m even part of the marketing team for Firedance Books. But doing it for my own stuff is another thing entirely.

For instance: I suggested that the blogs on this site (originally posted to http://firedancebooks.com/blog/) should be reader-facing. Is my first blog on this site (that’ll be…um…this one) truly reader facing? Not really, it’s more a mea culpa. I kinda assume readers might be interested in this sort of thing, because, to be honest, right now writers and readers are all in this together. Writers want to get readers and readers want to find stuff worth reading. It’s the chum filled waters of author-discovery that is causing all the problems. The sharks are attracted and us poor so-nice-it-hurts people had better learn to punch them on the nose.

Readers and writers have to work together on this. If you read something and love it, put up a review. If you read something and loathe it, put up a review. If you read something and meh you don’t care really, put up a review. Give them five stars, one star, however many stars you think it deserves, but spread the word good or bad.

Because without reader judgment the whole system will break down. Writers can only put their stuff out there, try to attract some attention, go on sites like GoodReads (don’t spam over there, folks, they really don’t like it) or try to get a respected book blogger to review their work.

But there are millions of writers all trying to do the same thing, which makes for a bottleneck. There are only so many book bloggers, there are only so many books that any one person can read on sites like GoodReads, there are only so many ways to generate word of mouth.

I’ll pledge to you now that I will never be underhand about my marketing learning curve. If I screw up then I’ll put my hands up, no point in being all David Cameron about it. Make a mistake, admit the mistake, don’t make the same mistake twice is my modus operandi. Make a mistake, brazen it out and treat everybody else like an idiot, really doesn’t appeal.

And here is the web address of my new hub website [http://stripminingmobius.wordpress.com/]. Just launched, new on the block, a work in progress. Marketing see, you gotta have a hub.

Readers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your ‘sleb biographies, but take pity on the poor writers; a lot of us really aren’t cut out for this and we’re are just doing the best that we can.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘Firedance Blogs’: http://firedancebooks.com/blog/

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Filed under Marketing, PK's Pleasant Pomposities