Building A Better Marketing Strategy

Good morning, sorry for the delay in blog posts … lots of things have been happening since we last spoke. But today, fewer things have happened so far, so let’s have some blog, shall we?

We’re going to look today at a fictional “company”, though you can easily make this about yourself as a writer, or you and your friends making a game or just you making widget cozies out in your garage. I’m not using the word company as to encourage a discussion of various LLC or S-corp models, in fact, I’d prefer to stay the hell away from that stuff (it’s confusing and people are quick to claim superiority, and really this post isn’t about which bureaucracy you’re engaging).

No, we’re creating a person/company so that we can talk about how that person or company tells other people about whatever they’re making – a book, a game, a thing.

This is not to say that a lot of people suck at telling others about what they’re making or have made, but a lot of people suck at telling others about what they’re making or what they’ve made. First, let’s cover three quick points:

It is NOT bad or wrong to talk about something you’ve made. Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people express varying degrees of some idea that discussing accomplishments is somewhere between “bragging” or “selfish”. I’m sure if all you did was talk about the particular accomplishment that might be bragging, but that selfish idea eludes me. Granted I hear that more from people who don’t like to take credit for what they do, the people who get mousy and small in the background, eager to minimize their accomplishments because they feel less deserving … but we’ll get there. For now, just remember it’s not selfish to talk about what you’ve done to someone else.

You have to do more than just talk about the product. Later today, after therapy, I’m going to make enchiladas. I’m looking forward to it. If I keep talking to you about the enchiladas, you’re going to get really tired of me saying enchiladas and really tired of listening to me extol the virtues of enchiladas and either ask me to talk about something other than enchiladas or stop listening to me until I stop talking about enchiladas, and hope that I don’t suddenly start every day with a rousing discussion of how great the enchiladas were back when I last made enchiladas in between hopes that future enchiladas are as good as the enchiladas most recently consumed. See how irritating that is? See how you sort of glazed over while I wrote enchilada over and over again? Do more than talk about your enchiladas.

Social media communication is a two-way communication, not street corner newspaper hawking back at the turn of the 20th century. It can be very tempting and very easy to lead yourself to think that in the social media age, everyone has to scream and draw attention to themselves in order to sell their products or get an audience. A lot of people use social media as their street corner, shouting at people who pass them by, then being angry when no one stops to toss them a nickel and pick up their product. For all the volume they shout with, it’s still a passive way to engage an audience. Also, it’s annoying and tends to be a lot like the enchilada discussion from above. Letting people respond, and then responding to them, you know, the way we have conversations, is going to build you an audience more than just haphazard shouting about where someone can go to sign up for your webinar about the power of a ficus or the book you wrote about how if you sit in your closet an hour a day, your perfect relationship will begin in the kitchen.

Now, bearing those three points in mind, let’s develop a strategy. I’m going to try and keep this plan open and applicable to ANY social media platform (I’m familiar with Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, though I recognize others may exist that I’ve never used or heard of).

1. Make sure you’re using the best way to engage the stream. For some media outlets, there’s an app or a program you can use to make corralling all the information better. For others, there’s only a website. But, there are tools you can get for your browser (like Social Fixer for Facebook, for example), that can help manage the flow. The hard part about social media and discussing your material is knowing where to start, so any tool that you can find easy to use, applicable and adjustable to your needs and something that doesn’t detract from your intended goal is worth at least trying.

2. Make sure your idea is appropriately packaged for the type of media you’re using. Twitter, for example, chops text past 140 characters, including links and people you’re addressing specifically. This has the remarkable affect of making the letters you type (therefore the words you use) very precious and puts a premium on specificity in communicating. If your social media presence involves family, then maybe that’s not the place where talk openly about topics that your family pretends don’t exist or aren’t a problem.

3. Organize your idea. I am a verbose guy. I can talk and talk and talk most days, and ramble pretty effectively, swerving through conversations and through the thickets of ideas. But when it comes to social media, that rambling can often distract from the goal of informing people about what’s going on or what I’m trying to make available to them. So, if I’m tweeting about Noir World, I’m using the hashtag #noirworld and I’m tweeting from the @noirworldrpg name, so that the message has a specific start point and isn’t lost between my personal tweets about cooking or art or burritos or whatever. Even in spaces where I can write and write, organization keeps the reader focused.

4. If you’re intimidated or believing (mistakenly) that you have to stoke these fires everyday, schedule your social media engagements. For many people, the idea of sitting at the computer “doing nothing” or “not taking care of other responsibilities” can be frustrating and intimidated. Excuses fly that people are too busy, not smart enough, that they don’t have anything to say or that they think no one will listen, or insert-your-own-here. What I suggest to people is that you schedule your media. Maybe every Monday, you tweet about the weekend, and what you’re writing. Maybe every Thursday, since you leave your dayjob early, you can write blogposts about how writing scares the snot out of you. You’ll have to have a good sense of your schedule to make this stick, but scheduling this stuff can take a lot of the intimidation factor away.

5. The media isn’t out to get you, it’s a tool you use. Somewhat related to #4, I’ve lately seen a lot of people say that using social media isn’t good because it exposes them to all kinds of fraud or idea-thieves or some kind of evil internet criminal, which I imagine is some creepy guy with a mask on, staring at a computer, waiting for someone to type “cumquat” so half a world a way, the diamond store gets looted. Yes, while there are douchecanoes and dickwagons and all varieties of coochnuggets who will steal or lie or be jerks, that isn’t the majority of people. Not unlike going out in person, most people at your grocery store for example, aren’t planning on infiltrating your hard drive and only taking the manuscript for that faux-memoir about your life as the child of trained assassins. Instead, like a shovel, a broom or that hedge trimming thing you got that one year when you really wanted a Playstation 4, it’s a tool, to be used competently and respectfully, else you’ll hedge trim your toes and face off.

6. You can admit you don’t know what you’re doing. Not everyone knows what they’re doing. I, for example, absolutely suck at gift wrapping, asking my soon-to-be-wife about things I’m embarrassed to talk about, and tying knots in balloons. If you’re following me on Twitter, or reading this blog, you’re well aware that I will talk about what I’m doing wrong just as easily as what I’m doing right. This has two purposes: a) it makes me human and relatable b) it helps me choose my words carefully and curate messages large and small so that when I do have something to say, I know how to produce it and disseminate it. Also, frankly, I’ve become so used to sharing my life in a transparent fashion that I can’t easily go back.

7. Don’t mistake silence for failure. There are millions, if not billions of people on the internet at any given time. Some people are there to look for pictures of naked attractive people, some people are there to move their digital orc from continent to continent, some people are there to tell you all about their new inspiring Google Hangout about how the best teachers for flirting are single people. A lot of what gets said out there is not responded to. Sometimes this is more a function of population and reach than how the message is crafted, but often it’s a combined effect of packaging ideas poorly and not aiming them to interested parties. So when the world does not beat a path to your door, understand that while what you have to said may be exactly what could help them, maybe how they heard it or how you described it or to whom you said it, warded it off. Silence is not failure. Silence is opportunity for retooling and development.

8. Stock your media with who you want. Let’s say your product is a book of some kind. To get support (not sales, just support) for your efforts, it would make sense to have people who write or have written similar things in your social media streams. If you want to get advice on crowdfunding, you should make sure to talk to people who have succeeded at it. If you’re thinking you should just grab all the people in the world and sort of force-build an audience, you’re going to get frustrated quickly. Audience building is a function of investing passion and creative juices into things you make, and then sharing the journey and the results with others, then repeating that in the most transparent ways possible, so that you’re showing yourself to be a person who makes awesome things, not a sales-o-tron 9000. Audience isn’t a number, you don’t “win” if you have X number of friends or followers. Audience is community. Audience is customer and supporter and critic and fan and friend and loved one and some enemies and the disaffected and new people. Audience is grown organically, like Groot.

I hope these ideas help. I know they’re not a step-by-step medium-by-medium breakdown, but I can’t give that to you, because I’m not you, I am never going to be you, and I can’t play to your strengths as well as you can. So tailor this. Jeet Kune Do it, taking what works for you and discarding what doesn’t. Just don’t ONLY sell your book and appear heartless.

 

Happy creating and marketing.

In The Late Hours …

I should be asleep. I should have been asleep an hour ago, but I fell down a winding hole of Robin Williams clips and Carson monologues and some random infomercials. I meant to be asleep, and I wanted to be, but I was also wrestling with the words you’re now reading. And I’m sorry if you’ve heard me talk about these things before, or if your evening was just a deluge of tweets and posts of all flavors and I understand if you’re tired of it and you just want me to go back to talking about commas or pacing or book blurbs or whatever. I promise I will soon, just please either be patient with me here, or come back next week. At least, I hope you come back. Hell, I hope I come back – there are loads of times I feel like I’m shouting in the Grand Canyon trying to get people to read what I say. It’s frustrating and scary, and at times I leave with more questions than I started with. But I keep doing it, because the alternatives are pretty lame.

A lot of what I’m about to say is going to be expanded on at GenCon, but I thought that something should be said now, because it’s late and I can’t sleep and I feel like someone’s kicked me in the heart.

At five minutes to midnight as I write this, it’s been 190 days since I tried to kill myself. Clearly, it didn’t work, but it’s been 190 days since I last thought that the pain of living was greater than the joy of living. Granted, 191 days ago, I could not have imagined any of the life I have now, since I didn’t have the relationship I have or the appreciation for how much can and has changed since then. That’s the funny thing about severe suicidal depression, it muffles and mutes any sense of appreciation or perspective or joy or interest. The naked pictures on the internet don’t arouse. The comfort food has no taste. The music seems too loud or too out of tune. The point of things seems dulled and worn down. What’s worse is that you know these things are supposed to be provocative, rousing your senses and urges and drives, but like trying to move through rising tidewaters, you just can’t seem to make the amount of headway you perceive you’re supposed to be making, or worse, you feel like you’re not making the headway you think other people are wanting you to be making.

This becomes pressure, and when you don’t feel like you’ve fallen into some morass of sharp needles and bleak colors, that pressure would probably push you to greatness by challenging some sense of who you are and who you could be. But down in that hole, the pressure seems like one more pair of hands suffocating you. Keeping you down. Holding the life from you until there’s nothing to do but surrender.

I’ve gone through a lot in the last 190 days, most of it I’ll start talking about way more openly post GenCon (that’s when many cats come out of many bags), and if I had to rank in some perverse Buzzfeed or Thought Catalog article the mental anguish and suffering, I’m putting suicidal depression as a lock in second place, with an easy shot at the title as number-one contender depending on factors as variable as the breeze, email subject lines or whether or not I have enough milk for Cocoa Krispies.

What I’m saying is that there’s this wellspring, this open fount of hurt, this constant sore that weeps lies and doubt to us, and there isn’t an easy fix. You can’t just “get happier” or “stop being depressed” or “focus on the power of the Universe” or whatever hokum gets said by the discompassionate or ill-informed. The toxicity of it might be a matter of chemicals, but those chemicals produce feelings and those feelings produce behaviors, and behaviors yield habits and habits beget personality and lifestyle. Yes, there are little pills I take every morning, and many doctors I see on a regular basis both to give me more little pills or just to listen to me navigate living while hurting.

That’s significant, the use of “while”. Life doesn’t get paused, work doesn’t stop, things don’t just wait while suffering rolls through like the evening bus to the big city. You can tell plenty of people “they have to understand” and request kindness and compassion, but outside of the tasks others ask of us, outside of what we seek to do professionally or socially or whatever-ly, those who suffer and hurt have to request kindness from themselves, for themselves. It might be easier to tell someone to walk the earth and meet every human on the planet within a calendar year.

Because in this era of narcissism and criticism and outrage and activism and -phobes and -ists and who knows what else, so many standards are erected, like crystalline frameworks across yawning chasms. As if spider silk lines can stand up in a hurricane of our own making. As if we can offset our own pain by turning the pointy bits outward, as if the spears aren’t double-sided. So many people say, “I feel like I should be doing something despite this mental illness.” or that “I need to be better than it.” It doesn’t know you’re competing. It is not winning some race ahead of you. It is as much the course as it is your fellow race runners. It’s so tempting and easy to judge yourself (or others) based on these moments of pain or limitation, to underestimate or belittle or compound situations. It’s not like people who hurt don’t know they’re hurting. It’s not like people who hurt don’t know that this state can confuse, scare, frustrate or anger others. It’s not like people signed up for this gleefully like they’re trying to get advance movie tickets. No one camps the box office to get front row seats to doubt, anxiety and a sense of pervasive failure.

The unreasonable countermeasures seem reasonable because the reasonable measures seem passive or insufficient. They’re not. Taking care of yourself when you’re hurting is one of the hardest things I can imagine, and something I frankly suck at. I skip meals. I get clingy and codependent. I get bored. Or grouchy. Or mopey. But taking care of myself is how I keep moving. It’s how I don’t let the things I want to do or am doing slip into some nebulous space of “one day I’ll get back to them”, instead of pushing myself, pressuring myself to show other people that I’m more than an illness or bad spell or a moment. It’s taken 190 days to realize that in order for me to show that, I don’t need to be Hercules, I just need to be me. No one is asking me to bear Everest on my back, they’re asking me to take on no more than I can comfortably. I interpret the request as some mandate to take on so much, but that’s a function of skewed perspective and having spent so long being gnawed hollow by hurting.

I get asked a lot, “Well, what hurts?” because I don’t have physical chronic pain and I suppose people are looking more for something obvious to indicate “Aha, yes, John is in fact hurting.” Or maybe it’s just a matter of being able to see the hurt, so that it can be bandaged or iced or Advil’ed. But what people see are the scars on my wrists and arms. What they see are my sad eyes. What they can’t see is how I feel at times like the good things – the sun, love, warmth, comfort, happiness, color, all those abstracts and concepts that make people smile – are in a constant countdown and that despite all my efforts to hoard or overdose, there will come a time when the inventory is gone, and I will be left with memories of months past. Memories in place of sensations. Good times will seem ages away, all ghosts and phantoms, as if you’re speaking about someone else. And that hurts. That leaves an ache and a weariness in some sick slug trail right through the core of me. (I’ve described it as having my sternum cored by a hot ice cream scoop while drowning and watching puppies suffer.)

What I do is talk about this. I talk about it a lot. I talk about it so that someone somewhere can read it or hear me say it and feel like they are not alone, even if just for a moment. I cannot think of anything better to offer someone other than the kindness of saying “You don’t suffer alone, you are not forgotten or overlooked. You are not worthless or useless. You matter, and though you hurt now, you don’t have to shout from the Grand Canyon and think no one has heard you.”

This hurt is real, and it is scary and it is a sorcerer of lies and tilted perceptions. I do not know if my voice cuts through any of this, if anything I say lets you know that it is possible to make it through one day and ten days and one hundred and ninety days. None of that is easy, even on the days when you can be kissed or have ice cream or get presents or see a friend. But you can do it. You can do it if want, and I sincerely hope you want to.

It is my hope that when the roles reverse, and I’m hurting again, that someone offers me a reminder that I am not alone, that I am hurting but help and love and care are available, that I need not think surrender and death are the only balms to pain. I have to keep that hope, because without it, the hurt flares like an angry volcano, and I’ll never get to relax. I have to keep the hope that there is love and care for me, and that my friends, and partner and colleagues and maybe even my detractors can recognize the value people have and that awareness of that value is so often what we seek, that we can matter and maybe that takes some fraction of some percent of the pain away for some sliver of a fraction of a second. I have to hope that I am loved for more than my deeds or credits or writing. I have to hope because the alternatives are lame.

I leave you with this: Help is available. It might be embarrassing or shameful or tough to endure, but you can get help. You are not alone, and you need not be silent. You’re not braver for staying quiet. You’re not a better person for handling this without assistance. Loving yourself might sound impossible, and I can swear to you that some days it feels like trying to make fish into camels, but you can do this. I believe in you.

 

See you at GenCon.

Just Before Takeoff …

I originally started this post with a roller coaster metaphor, then there was the roller coaster incident over the weekend, so I thought I’d play it relatively safer and use a plane metaphor. Not because there haven’t been plane tragedies lately, but because the feeling I’m about to describe is most acute for me on planes.

Imagine you and I are on a plane. Doesn’t matter where we’re going. Doesn’t matter how long the flight is. No, I don’t care if you make me take the middle seat, I’ll be happy to have two arm rests. Now let’s assume we have plenty of leg room, because you and I are travelers of distinction, and because this is our imaginary plane, so we can just eliminate the row of seats where the unshowered guy and the screaming babies sit. Cool? Great.

The captain, who can sound either like Picard or a smooth jazz radio station DJ (your choice), makes his announcements and we all watch the safety video. And then we’re told that we’re like number 30 in line for takeoff, because while you and I are travelers of distinction, our imaginary plane isn’t. Which is sort of bullshit, and I totally blame you for not making us fly in a private jet staffed with curvy redheads who serve us milkshakes and potato skins. But anyway, we’re waiting on the runway, and The Moment strikes.

This Moment is best described as an acute feeling of having the middle of your stomach pulled through your groin by a sharp hook, then looped back around between your kidneys then squished back into position upside down after a vigorous shaking. Compound that with a baby dual-wielding blowtorches at the back of your mouth and just above your stomach and you get a sense of what I feel in the moments before the plane reaches its cruising altitude. I’ve had this feeling for maybe two decades, and it seems to crop up only when I’m flying. Other people tell me they have it when speaking in public or when they have to talk to their boss or they had it randomly in conversations when things got dicey. Whenever you have it, it sucks.

I bring this up because two days from right now, right this second from when I’m writing this, I’m going to be sitting in an airport, waiting to get on a plane. Sure, unlike all the other times I’m not going alone, but I’m still going to get on the plane.

See, The Moment is just a Moment. The same way that you reading this sentence is a moment, the same way that you trying to figure out if it’s too early to start thinking about lunch is a moment, the same way that pouring your coffee in the morning is a moment. They pass, is what I’m saying. And not all of them are scary. Unless you’re afraid of coffee pouring or lunch or something. Then yes, those moments are scary too. But you know what I mean.

Identify your Moment. Say it out loud, give it a name and a set of conditions. Do you want to melt into the space between floorboards when you have to talk to someone you believe to be “a big deal”? Do you try and do everything in your power to avoid giving the presentation at work? Do you stare at pages morning after morning, bleary eyed and tired, unsure of why you’re writing or convinced it’s not any good?

It’s just a Moment. It passes.

Do I believe that? Not always. Which is why I carry this in my wallet.

 

They totally pass

They totally pass

You can get yours right here, for easy printing and reminding.

When you find those scary Moments, remember they’re just as temporary as you let them be.

 

Gen Con fast approaches, and my schedule is action-packed. If you’re attending, I hope you have a great time, and if we’re lucky enough to see each other, may our interaction be delightful for everyone involved.

Happy writing, whether you’re attending or not, but seriously, you’re going to miss some awesome panels.