I watched Dark City (again) last night, and since I’m somewhat of a cinephile, I check out all the little extras on the disk. Now, you may remember Dark City‘s original theatrical release, if you were paying close attention. I remember seeing the ads for it and wanting to see it. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the opening weekend, and in my area, there wasn’t a second weekend.
It hit the cineplex and sank like a stone, with nary a ripple to mark its passing. It has since enjoyed a certain success in video (I, myself, bought it on VHS, and more recently on Blu-Ray.) But when it was first released, it bombed.
One of the Blu-ray extras was interviews with the filmmakers, and the subject of its abysmal run in the theaters came up, naturally. One of the screenwriters said an interesting thing.
He blamed the New Line marketing department and said (in effect–I’m paraphrasing here) , “They tried to sell the film as something it wasn’t, and so the people who went to see it were disappointed and the people who would have appreciated it didn’t see it based on the ad campaign.”
I think he’s right. If you look at the original theatrical trailer and then look at the trailer for the video release you can see some striking differences. Yes, they are obviously trailers for the same movie, but the feel is very different. The audience went into the theater expecting a lot of whiz-bang action, and while there is some of that, that’s not the focus of the film.
That happens with books, too. Stephanie Meyer’s The Host is being sold as “Twilight with aliens” (and the film version certainly doesn’t help) which it isn’t–it’s not even close. Honestly, I read The Host basically by accident. My daughter was talking about the Twilight series, and I wanted to see what she was reading, so I checked the library. No copies of the Twilight books were available, but The Host was by the same author, so I decided to read that one.
As it happens, The Host is essentially Invasion Of The Body Snatchers told from the point of view of one of the aliens who begins to question the morality of what they are doing. It is a very cerebral novel, allegorical and asking some thorny questions about free will and what exactly “the greater good” means.
You’d never know that from the current promotional materials, however. It’s being sold as something it isn’t, and Twilight fans are going to be disappointed, while folks who would enjoy what it actually is are going to be turned off by the cover of the current edition.
This has been an issue for me in marketing Catskinner’s Book. I set out to write something that fell through the cracks between genres, and I think I succeeded. The most often used words in the reviews is “strange”, which pleases me to no end. I like strange, and I think I do strange well.
But not everyone is in the market for strange. I can relate to that–there are definitely times when what I want is straightforward simple entertainment. I own Con Air on DVD, for example. Some nights I want thought-provoking and enigmatic, and some nights I want sweaty guys with no shirts blowing shit up.
The point is that I think the goal of marketing is not necessarily to reach the widest audience possible, I think the goal of marketing is to reach the right audience. So I have always been a little hesitant about doing mass promotions. Yes, I do want as many people as possible to know about Catskinner’s Book, but I also want them to know exactly what sort of book it is.
I have some weird stuff going on in this book. I play with issues of identity and gender and morality and such. There is some ugliness in my book and the good guys don’t win because there aren’t any good guys. My main character murders people in the first chapter for money. The ending is deliberately morally ambiguous, and I leave a lot of unanswered questions. I’m not playing nice here, and I want people to know that before they download it.
Is there a market for my book? Clearly there is, I have a lot of very positive reviews on Amazon, and I have gotten a fair amount of fan mail from people who want the next book. But it isn’t for everyone, and it wasn’t meant to be for everyone.
There is a balance, I think, between selling a work to people who aren’t going to like it and not selling it to people who are going to like it. Good marketing should function as a discriminate function–sorting out the proper audience from the set of all possible readers. I’ll admit I haven’t found that point yet, I have been erring on the side of caution. As my circle of contacts grows, however, I am reaching out to more people, and they are reaching out to more people.
So we’ll see how this current promotion on Cu’s e-Book Giveaways goes. It’s a little different audience than I have tried to reach before, but Cuanam knows her readers and she thinks Catskinner’s Book will reach readers who will appreciate it there.