Reaching the right audience

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.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Reaching the right audience

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    Excellent perspectives; especially the idea that people who love complex cerebral films can also sometimes want to just watch the world burn.

    I really like the literary concepts of vampirism so I read and watched Twilight to see what spin Meyer put on it and whether the studio brought out other aspects; the book is better than some supernatural romance but did not, for me, really engage with the concept as much as it could. Given how complex The Host is in comparison I wonder if the shallowness of Twilight was a deliberate choice to catch a popular market.

    I am not sure if cinemas are interested in finding a market that likes a film; once people have bought a ticket based on the trailer they are unlikely to seek a refund. DVD releases on the other hand are selling to people who want to watch a film again (who will buy without the trailer) and people who did not watch it in a cinema, so there is possibly a marketing advantage in the trailers for each being different.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I don’t like the way that films are judged on the receipts of their opening weekend–that really is a measure of the marketing campaign more than of the film itself. I am old enough to remember when “Held Over For X Weeks” was the benchmark of success. These days if a film doesn’t make back its production costs in the first 72 hours it’s considered a failure.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        It seems counter-productive too; many films that will not do well on the initial weekend could do well through word of mouth between people who know each other’s tastes, whereas the films that everyone saw straight away might have already been seen by the people who will watch them.

        Given how many screens even small cinemas have these days it seems odd that they do not let things run a little longer.

  2. WOW, Misha you really understand marketing. Bad marketing is used to create a demand that actually doesn’t exist otherwise. Great marketers do not do this. They employ the four P’s to create awareness and thus direct customers to where their needs and desires can be best satisfied or serviced. Thanks for your incites.

  3. I love Dark City and I also love both of those trailers. One thing your post made me think about was how some works of art create their own audience, an audience did not really exist beforehand, so in some sense you can’t necessarily blame the marketers, who were only doing what they do. A work of art can turn out not to be something other than what it set out to be, or what the money people thought it should be. And so you end up with your “cult” type works. I notice in the second trailer how they picked up on some of the iconic moments from the film (“sleep now”), moments perhaps made more resonant by the audience than by the writers/actors/directors themselves. A lot of these things are hit or miss. Many interesting movies and books etc have been commercial failures, but some went on to enjoy an afterlife, as it were, a long tail, a second chance, a resurrection. Only when the thing is out there in the world can it find its way – that’s why the artist not only needs to make the work in the first place, but to let it go, set sail, and help it along if they can. Catskinner is out there now on the great waters – I hope it has a fine, long journey!

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