And this dice brings me a brand new marketing position at Handiwork Games, a company offering a gleeful assortment of tabletop goodies, including games, mats, maps, cards, dice and dragons. The last one not literally.
It’s step away from FP, honing my focus to a much more specialist product range. And Handiwork’s stuff is gorgeous, giving me the chance to flex my marketing and social media muscles for something really pretty, and in an arena I know well. Seriously, this is the true heart of my personal geek journey, the place where I grew up – from my Uni days in the Eighties, all the way through those long, long years of CyberPunk and D&D, then White Wolf, right the way up to our current #ChickenCormyr campaign…
With thanks to Andrew Girdwood of GeekNative and Handiwork’s Jon Hodgson for the opportunity, I’m looking forward to new horizons!
As you may have seen, after seventeen years at Forbidden Planet, the company has made me redundant.
It’s completely knocked the wind out of me, bowled me absolutely flat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been done by the book – they’ve been two weeks considering my position, my length of service, my marketing skill base and all of the things – but, at the end of the day, my role no longer exists. So there we are.
It could be one hell of a lot worse – I have a solid redundancy package and no need to immediately panic – but seventeen years is one HELL of a long time. After that long, as some of you have already commented, it isn’t ‘just a job’ any more. I was there at the launch of the London Megastore, and of forbiddenplanet.com. I built the company’s social media Identity from the ground up (though the Insta-genius, isn’t me, sadly!). I’ve run the company blog and its client advertising locations. And I’ve set up and run hundreds, probably thousands, of store events. Big ones, little ones, group ones, solo ones, authors, artists, creators, directors, celebrities, personalities, film crews… it’s all been one hell of a ride. And even those events that I didn’t or couldn’t attend, I was always there in the wings, making them happen.
When you’re a single parent, you don’t get much of a social life. And those events, plus the dozens of conventions where you’ve seen me at the FP stall… they’ve always made up for that. They’ve been my outlet, my family, my community. And giving that up, I think will be the single hardest thing about all of this.
And my son – he’s known the company since before he was born. When he was a four-month bump, he attended a signing with Pegg and Frost, who were trying to make name my unborn child ‘Simon Nick’ or ‘Nick Simon’. He’s met his greatest YouTube and Doctor Who heroes, got to share MCM and all the big stuff… He’s absolutely devastated, bless him.
Now, there are advantages, obviously. Not commuting anymore is going to be a huge relief – trying to endlessly spin the plates of job and events and commute and child and school and publishers’ deadlines has all been incredibly stressful. (I hadn’t realised quite how much until lockdown started). I’m looking forward to getting some serious writing done (though I will have to find other work, obviously), and to not being so utterly frantic.
But – and forgive the marketing speak – I’ve been Brand champion for FP for a very long time. It’s a company that represents everything I’ve been passionate about, all my life. Being there to watching it grow, to watch it crest and ride that huge wave that’s brought geekdom into the mainstream, being a part of that wave… that’s been amazing.
I know this isn’t their fault. It’s only Covid, and it’s only numbers, and my redundancy is fair, and they’ve been nothing but supportive through the whole process…
So much potential for impact, reach out, promotional opportunities, and to really get back to the real fun, personal stuff that Twitter was about in the beginning. For writers and publicists, this is flash-marketing in a nutshell, brilliant.
So: Tweets are 140 seconds (any longer, and Twitter will thread your content), which allows you to read 120 – 150 words aloud. As yet, as pointed out by Adam Christopher, it’s not close-captioned, but you can write the actual Tweet before you send the audio-file, which gives you the chance to explain, tag, hashtag, your content – even if you won’t have space to put an entire reading (just for example). Your Tweets’ attached pictures will just be your avatar, against a suitably-toned plain background. You can also see that the avatar has a movable surround which indicates the audio file.
Trying a reading aloud – it’s actually got more space than you think it has. And, from a user rather than a techie PoV, it’s wonderfully simple and clear – just tap the icon at the bottom left-hand corner of your iPhone screen. (Only on iOS atm, sadly, but we can hope…).
For author/creator events, this has massive potential for flash readings and/or mini-interviews – it’s the literary equivalent of the ‘hi-speed comics sketch’ that I’ve posted so many times. Very good for creators of words, rather than creators of images, to sample their own work to their fans!
Celebrity events are a bit trickier, because you have to play them by ear and you may or may not have the time – but again, this has so much potential. The idea of some of our celebrity guests delivering classic movie one-liners is just too cool for words.
The best thing, though: this really feels like a return to the earliest days of Twitter when things were still fun. When it was all about experimentation and discovery, and not suffocated by too much formality, or by too many trolls or grandstanders – yeah, you know what I mean.
Well done, Twitter, looking forward to using this in the field!
Yesterday, an article in the Observer talked about lockdown heralding a brand new start for the book trade. It tells us a great deal about stats and sales, and is very informative, as one would expect. But it got me thinking about events, about other marketing incentives, and about how books can learn from other disciplines.
In the of the virus and the lockdown, the landscape for book sales is shifting – we know this. Bookstores will need social distancing measures, festivals are unlikely to happen, and your basic signing event will need to change.
In part, this is always an organic process. The days of author-and-pen have been fading steadily for some time, replaced instead by panels and talks. More authors at a single event means more fans, more cross-pollination, more sales. People come to see one author and discover two more (the maths are pretty simple), and everybody wins. Obviously, there are still creators who sign and tour alone, but the rest of us mere mortals are better with wing-people.
And with the current climate, it’s inevitable this will change again. Without events, bookstore websites need to become the destination. Smaller and/or debut authors will be promoted more online – which means less expense and less stress for publicists. The ‘blog tour’ concept is already opening its arms to virtual conventions, and that means more authors, more placements, more content, and more reach out. Zoom panels are a thing, and bookshops or bloggers or both can host these – the possibilities are as wide as your imagination.
But we also know that this climate is difficult for smaller bookshops, and we’ve seen how they’re banding together to fight back against the Amazonian juggernaut. But – and hear me out – what if this cross-pollination can be taken a step further?
In my job, I overlap several different disciplines who all approach marketing in their own way. And there’s a quite frustrating tendency to think that comics people are separate from books people who separate from games people… but, here a thought: what if they’re not? What if your common-or-bookshop geek likes more than one thing at a time? What if they like comics and games as well? And what if book marketing has something to learn?
Amazon is a nasty, soulless giant, with no personal reachout. And this is what we need to exploit if we want to chase it away. We (as much as we ever can) need to offer that things that it can’t – not only the ‘indie bookstore’ personal touch of digital events and signings and involvement, but also the pretty, individual things that we all love to collect, that we can show off across our own social channels, and that make us happy under lockdown. The treasures that you’d only find in your corner store. Books can have collectible variants, like comics. They can have unique artwork, and signed, mini-print editions. They can have steelbook covers, like games, or they can come with figures, if the budget will stretch enough. And why stop there? Why can’t they come in locked boxes, in embossed leather bindings? Why can’t they come with special, exclusive ‘from-the-author’ content that varies from bookshop to bookshop?
(And suddenly, I’m having a wacky idea of a book published in bits, each bit to a different shop, but that might be an extreme case… hell of a trick to do once, though!)
Now, I get that lot of this is a money thing – badges and bookmarks and cakes (on my) are inexpensive, compared to a limited edition run of a hundred numbered steel jackets. But, as the move to (more) digital would seem to be a given, it would be fantastic if publishers and bookstores could find way to back that up!
Saturday morning at FantasyCon, I’ll be the one belting off the train at high speed and racing straight into the Conference Theatre for the ‘Fighting The Good Fight’ panel – the one where we talk about the battle tactics, the merits of cold steel, and how many Orcs one uber-Barbarian can really take down in a scrap. From the emails that have already been flying around, this promises to be a LOT of fun, and there may just be some propage…
At 2pm, you’ll fine me being rather more sensible, in Suite 2, and talking about book marketing. You know the stuff: social media, what works and what doesn’t, how much is too much and why you should never send a new follower a DM telling them to buy your book.
Or you can find me reading from Ecko Endgame at 4:40pm… plus ther are wicked rumours that Titan Books may have some advance copies, so be very very nice to Lydia, and she might let you sniff the pages.
The one place you won’t find me is behind the booksellers’ table. Because it’s not Forbidden Planet and they’re likely to ask me what in the ever loving fuck I think I’m doing monkeying with their till.
Find the rest of the gleefully awesome FantasyCon programme here!
Raymond E Feist tells a wonderful story about how, when ‘Magician’ was first released, he went round all of his local bookstores ensuring that they sold their copies, and therefore ordered more. I get the impression he’s told this tale more than once!
With this noble legend in mind, I can’t exactly guarantee that my local bookstore will conjure similar vast and ongoing magic… but bless the manager of Waterstones in Sutton for being so supportive!
I’m not actually doing the hunt (what the fuck would I do with a Faberge Egg anyway?), but I do walk a lot and I stop to admire them when I see them. They’re absolutely beautiful, and, like the elephants last summer, they’re an amazing way to showcase artists and to help a charitable cause.
It got me thinking about the really sharp graffiti marketing that Orbit did for Simon Morden’s Metrozone series – there must be a way that authors can do this too. Sentence fragments on billboards, on tube trains, treasure hunts to piece them together – I don’t know.
But sure as eggs are – well – eggs, there has got to be a way to make this work for us too…
I’ve always baulked at ‘RT to win’ competitions – no bloody imagination, cheap and soulless marketing. They’re lazy, they don’t actively involve the customer (you know, the way we all learned to do at the beginning) and they show a sad absence of any kind of personal touch.
Over on the FP twitterstream, you’d more usually find me doing something stupid (never!). I’d ask a question, and invite – and retweet – the best answers, turn it into a game that everyone could share and play. Yeah, idealism. Got to love it.
They’ve always done quite well – they’ve been fun and they’ve given the FP twitterstream its quirky humour which has always been its strength.
Yesterday, I succumbed. Swamped with catch-up and signings and Gods-know-what, I actually did an ‘RT to win’ – to win this, in fact.
And it went batshit.
Over five hundred retweets, over two hundreds new followers – and ‘Forbidden Planet’ became a city-wide and nation-wide trending topic. Massive Social Media win – look at that, I’ve become some sort of Viral Wizard (sounds itchy).
Viral Wizard or no – I feel like I’ve sold out. There was no creativity involved in that competition, no personal touch other than a couple of humour tweets. It was easy, it completely ran itself and the massive amount of reach was largely due to to the VERY cool prize (thank you PGW).
Success it may be – huge – but I feel almost like I’ve cheated.
I used to like watching Buffy – I own it on… actually on VHS… and I’ve watched it to absolute Undeath.
But by every Mother of God am I sick of fucking vampires!
It was with a huge cheer, then, that I read Neil Gaiman’s comments in the Independent this morning – kicking back against genre and marketing saturation, and against the de-fanged and de-balled castrato-vamp that we’ve all learned to loathe. He’s right, they’re like cockroaches, they’re everywhere – and we’ve had enough.
And not only Gaiman, bless him. He’s backed up by Sam Stone and Graham Marks… and even Ms. Meyer herself has had enough. Could it be – finally – that the public backlash is finding its teeth?
I get marketing trends – hell, I’m supposed to, I have to follow and ride them for a living. But when does a trend become a dictation? When does it stop being something the audience want – and become something they’re told they must like? Working where I do, I’ve been on ground level with marketing a motherlode of Vampire merchandise… and you can guarantee that, for every Twilight-Sparkly-Box-Souvenir that we’ve promoted through our Social Media net, we’ll get a kick-back of customers who’ve all reached their own saturation limit.
And so I ask: have we now reached the point where our media consumption is being utterly dictated by its buying trends – and where those very trends are set by a nation of proto-teen consumers? Just who is in fucking charge here anyway?!
Please – enough with the ‘safe sales’, already, and enough with the sheep-herding; enough with the force-feeding of pulp and enough with having our consumption controlled.
Let’s give the Vampire back his teeth… while we open out, and embrace the full scope of our genre.