Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In Love With Felicia Day

Let's make something clear first off. No, I don't want to date her avatar. I'm happily married, thank you.

Nevertheless, I love what Felicia Day is doing and what she represents, because I believe she represents the future of world culture--I hope. I guess it started with her addiction to World of Warcraft. After she went through that she took her experiences and turned them into a series of video shorts called The Guild. These went up on YouTube and elsewhere and then they went viral. If you have not yet watched The Guild, you've missed a treat.

In particular, pay attention to Season Five where the guild members are being courted by celebrities who want to learn how this Internet thing works. This probably reflects Ms. Day's experience as she was simultaneously a gamer and a working actress.

This is important, because folks in the existing media business understand the "what" of a successful promotion even when they don't grok the "how" of Going Viral. I didn't make this connection when I watched the season five episodes. I was too distracted by the incongruity of the "cool kids" sucking up to the "geeks." (I identify more strongly with geeks than with cool kids.)

Happily, fate gave me a second chance to take delivery from the clue train. The Reddit guys conducted a video interview with Ms. Day wherein they presented a number of questions to her. You can see the interview here. The third question was what occasioned this post.

The questioner points out the success of low-budget projects like Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog and The Guild then asks what are the leading roadblocks are now that having big financial backing is no longer the defining factor. Ms. Day's answer won a place in my heart alongside Linda Chorney.

She said, "The biggest challenge now is, What do you do once you've made something?"

(By the way, if you haven't had a chance to see Amanda Palmer's TED talk, take a look at it now. It is pertinent to the point I'm making. Go ahead. I'll wait.)

Each of these delightful people takes a slightly different path to the same destination: Going Viral. If you're thinking, "so what, I write books," please consider Felicia Day's question,

"What do you do once you've made your book?"

Your book might be a stinking pile of excrescent pornography. But hey, there's a market for that. You just have to make sure your work becomes known to your audience. And it is easier for the excrescent pornographers out there. You know who you are and you know others like you. All you have to do to sell to that market is to flash the appropriate trust cues and insinuate yourself into all the excrescent porn message boards.

Seriously, niche markets are good because you can readily identify members thereof. If you think that so-and-so's book is just Twilight fan-fic, then you'd better tell so-and-so to post on all the Twilight boards.

Humans sort ourselves into tribes. We choose things we're interested in and then we go looking for like-minded people. And when we find products that are tailored to our tribe, we're more inclined to buy it.

Here's an example. Consider Science Fiction. I love Science Fiction and have ever since I was a little boy in grade school reading the classics. The golden age of the 1950s produced the SF I love best. Yet, Science Fiction is a huge, huge market with millions of people following blue police call boxes and identifying their religion as Jedi. (Sith is cooler--it's just misunderstood.)

Because of my long-standing love affair with Science Fiction, I wrote some stories and had good luck selling them to Raygun Revival and other markets. Raygun Revival is a good fit because they are well suited to what I love most.

But I didn't learn from the fact that the SF category is far too broad to target.

I collected about a dozen of my best Science Fiction stories--time travel stories that form a coherent arc. The stories follow the career of a pair of time travelers named Sid & Nell. These stories went into an anthology called Finding Time. I put my current work in progress, Steamship To Kashmir on hold for about a year while I put a fine coat of polish on Finding Time. I hired Joanne Renaud to do art for each story and I hired Kemp Lyons to do a trailer for it. Then I put it out there with a big splash.

What did this accomplish? Modest sales and INCREASED sales of The Aristotelian. I had stopped mentioning The Aristotelian story once I brought out Finding Time. Yet, while sales of Finding Time have declined over the months, sales of The Aristotelian, have held steady!

What? How could this be?

Why is this? Because the market for mystery stories where the detective is Sherlock Holmes or Mycroft Holmes is much more easily targeted. I can find Holmesians more easily than I can find generic time-travel fans. (Maybe this is just a reflection on my abilities, not the shape of the market.)

Felicia Day speaks of the potential for finding an audience. She wonders, "Where is my audience?" And all day, every day, she works to get the word out there to that audience. For the Guild, she says 90% of the work is after the production is done. That's why she tries to target a specific audience, the narrower the more efficiently one can get the word out.

She tries to really think like an audience member, which is easy because she was a World of Warcraft addict. She tries to find out where is somebody who is going to enjoy her work. She asks, "Where are they on the Internet today?" "What kind of person are they?" If I were trying to find my ebook, how would I hear about it?

The key paradigm shift is to think from an audience point of view. She says "trying to force behavior on the Internet is like herding cats--if you are really intelligent about getting the word out then it will be much easier and it'll catch on and your audience will help you because they see what you are doing is grass roots and you don't have a big machine behind you."

That's what I've been missing. I have been needing my audience to help me and I've not done enough to ask for that help or encourage my readers to help. I may not know how to do this viral promotion thing, but I'll wager people who have bought The Aristotelian or Finding Time are a lot smarter than I am. My biggest challenge is just finding an audience.

Can you help me?


  1. I too am in love with Felicia Day. Ping! You reached me! That said, as a fellow author, I try to "build my tribe" on Twitter, looking organically at what I like - Dr Who fans, writers, people interested in love stories, etc.

    Your blog with lots of pics and links is nice - good work!

    michelefogal.com or @michelefogal

    1. Thank you. I think that more than anything our loves define us. Thus the Psalmist spoke of the blessedness of having the right loves.

  2. Finding an audience is difficult, and I wish I could answer the "how" question with some measure of confidence, but I must admit my platform is meager. I'm hoping it will grow over time as I continue to churn out new content with some measure of consistency. Good luck!


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