Angela Yuriko Smith
Marketing Without Marketing
When I wrote my last installment of this column it was March and the world was a lot different. My family had rock solid income coming in and low bills. Then the pandemic entered the scene with all its chaos, misinformation and pain … and without much warning.
For many of us (including my own family) expendable income has been reduced or dried up completely. Even those of us who were flush before the pandemic are feeling the pinch now. Many of us are looking at all the avenues of income we have access to. And suddenly, I’ve noticed, everyone has something to sell.
Here’s the problem: when people don’t have extra money, how do blatant advertisements make them feel? For me, I get annoyed. I’m already upset that my extra money is gone and I’m having to cut back on luxury items. Some people can’t even cover bare necessities right now. When we’re broke and you get hit with a blunt “buy this” notice, we typically have a negative response.
If I can no longer purchase the things I do regularly, a “buy this” marketing approach only serves as a reminder of the bitter truth. As artists, we never want anyone to feel a negative response to us or our work. That feeling of dislike can last long after the current pandemic becomes history.
I’ve heard you can’t squeeze blood from a stone* and that brings up another point. In times of economic stress, spending energy selling is wasted energy. When people don’t have money for their mortgage, will they feel comfortable purchasing random books?
The answer is most often no, but that doesn’t mean we need to scrap all of our creative dreams while we wait on a vaccine—or a miracle. Marketing yourself and your work is more important than ever, but the game has changed … again. If you’ve been in this industry for more than a few years, you’re used to it.
It’s important to remember the best marketing doesn’t sell a product, it solves a problem. Right now, many of us have the same root issue—insecurity about the future. Whether the insecurity springs from health, wealth, or relationship worries, it boils down to the same result. One of the few things we aren’t having a shortage of right now is fear.
This is actually good news for horror authors. Fear is our bread and butter. Fear is what we do best. Most important, fear is not, by default, a negative emotion. We don’t need any more negativity in the world, but we do need is a safe outlet for all the surplus fear.
I’ve said many times that horror is healthy. I’ve likened it to the mirrored shield that Perseus held up to face Medusa. When we can safely study our fear, we can figure out how to cut its head off and win. Now, more than ever, we need to be that mirror for our readers.
Marketing is more than just selling. It is how you build your brand and your public image. That’s a long haul effort. Times like this are golden opportunities to step above the fear and provide something of real value: entertainment. We give a few minutes of respite from reality. We can inspire and uplift. We boldly look monsters and pandemics in the face and live to tell about it. Readers need that right now.
Lucky for us, it’s easier than ever to reach those readers. We have blogs, social media, Discord, Zoom, and beyond. We can offer stories, play games, start writing challenges, host online open mics … all of it builds our brand for the future and provides something of value. If we can think beyond our current circumstances, we have an opportunity to elevate our readers, our genre, and by default, ourselves.
Just don’t expect it to be easy. Full disclosure: I have been paralyzed the last month. I’ve read far too much news and social media. I went from almost living on my computer to not touching it for weeks. It will be tough, but it will be worth it. And we are tough.
*I don’t think a horror aficionado came up with this saying. We are well versed with blood coming from stones in all sorts of ways.