Pied Pipers and Gingerbread Houses

Art for art’s sake

Was having a discussion earlier about marketing, with a couple of great authors who advocate social networking in marketing, creating fan pages for stuff relevant to or similar to what you sell, yada yada yada. It all sounds cool and funky and modern at first. And, er, blatantly sneaky…

Personally, I think you need social skills to use social networking, and a lot of time on your hands for the admin. I’d rather sell books in my sleep with no effort on my part whatsoever, but then I guess I just like my sleep better than social networking sites.

Something was bugging me though. Something saying at the back of my mind that I’ve seen it all before, heard it all before, and it’s not modern or funky at all.

Then I remembered ‘Timeshare’. Where you’d get a free holiday, but basically had to sit through their hard-sell sessions. And those ‘youth clubs’ you’d get invited to as a youngster, which were all good fun until they mentioned Jesus. After which you didn’t get out of the door without knowing you were going to Hell, but who gave a toss anyway, at least Hell would have a bouncy castle on which you didn’t have to feel guilty about keeping your shoes on, while cussing and swearing if you felt like it.

And half of the kids’ fairytales warn of the same thing. Don’t go into the Gingerbread House, it’s a trap. Don’t follow the Pied Piper. You’re being led up the garden path to meet a sticky end. And not the good sort.

Basically, it’s a way of avoiding paying for formal advertising. Call it dishonesty if you want, or ‘grooming’ *BLECK* nasty word, unless you work in a stables. Come hither, Facebook folks, and ‘like’ my fan page about Harry Potter. The next thing you know, I’ll be recommending books you’ve never heard of, muahahahaha… no Harry Potter freebies or competitions here, just badly-edited thinly-disguised fan-fiction promotions…

I read another blog post recently, with any luck I’ll dig out the link so that I can credit Red Bonsai or whoever it was, about ‘old media’ being what works. Posters on the rail platforms and the Underground. TV and radio appearances. Sunday broadsheet literary supplements. It’s true. Last stand-up comedy gig I went to, was after seeing it advertised on the London Underground. But that costs money, and apparently the time and money is better spent on paying an office full of typing monkeys to play on Facebook and Twitter all day. For a month’s worth of that, they could pay for a poster on the Underground, and catch all the folks who are actually buying stuff, instead of just rounding up all the others who are also playing the social networking game.

It’s so overcrowded now, most of the mutual follows are from people in the same business. Indie authors get followed by indie authors. SEO experts follow other SEO experts, hoping to scam their ideas off them.

I’m not against having your own fan pages, of stuff you really like or recommend to others. But there’s a difference between indulging in a love of your own, and setting up a coconut shy covered in big fluffy teddy bears which only gives away penny sweets if you have a go.

Who do you think JK Rowling promoted herself as while looking for a book deal? “Hi, my books are like Enid Blyton meets Terry Pratchett. I run the Blyton Meets Pratchett Fan Club, which people join and they get a weekly newsletter all about me and my own writing.” No? Good. I don’t think she would have done that either. Do you think it would have been as successful if she had started out that way?

Or those youth clubs… Come and talk about Jesus! You might also get a beaker of weak orange squash and five minutes on the bouncy castle in your socks! But the Jesus part is compulsory!!

If you think you’re talented, or have something worth selling, f***ing tell people you are up front. Don’t hide your personal trainer diet leaflets in Happy Meals packaging.

So you have stuff to sell, good for you (and for me). If you don’t think it’s worth advertising properly, or being honest about, just think about what other associations you’re going to attach to your product if you go the sneaky route.

Instead of becoming the next Rowling off the back of your own talent, you too could be the next Timeshare in heaven…