LTUE Part 4

This is the fourth post in my series recapping the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2017 writer’s conference held in Provo, Utah earlier this year. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

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Michaelbrent Collings

Michaelbrent Collings Presentation: Horror and Comedy: One Side of the Same Coin

Michaelbrent Collings’ mother was sitting on the front row and introduced him as, “My son” which was nice. Collings says comedy and horror are similar in that both are physical responses to socially unacceptable behavior. One makes you scream and the other makes you laugh. Low brow horror/comedy are based on physicality: slapstick, scatological, slasher, blood and guts, sex. High brow horror/comedy are more verbal, psychological, based on relationships.

“Tragedy is  when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall down an open manhole and die.” It’s horror when it happens to you, comedy when it happens to somebody else. He said the main difference between comedy and horror is lighting and lens length. A scene in which one person shoves another down a hill is funny if it’s well lit and we’re zoomed out. The same scene becomes horror if it’s dark and we zoom in. Close ups are more uncomfortable, tense. Looking at something from far away allows us to dissociate, care less about the character’s pain. In comedy, the audience can see the pratfall coming, but in horror, we don’t see what’s going to happen.

This was a really funny presentation. He related a story about when he was 10, sitting on the toilet reading The Shining. When he got to a scary part about the topiary coming to life, an earthquake happened which further terrified him. At one point, thinking someone in the audience had a question, he said, “Did I see a hand?” Realizing no one had a question, he said, “Can I get one?” The audience obligingly clapped, which was funny because he wasn’t expecting it.

He wrapped up by saying every comedy has a moment of true horror to pin you to the character. Something at stake that will destroy the character if taken away. Likewise, horror needs comedy to keep it from being too painful, to give readers a moment to step back.

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Chersti Nieveen

Chersti Nieveen Presentation: Cohesive Zero-Budget Marketing

Although the title was a bit misleading, since it isn’t entirely zero-budget, I was really impressed with this presentation. Chersti Nieveen threw out candy to anyone in the audience who participated. (At the book signing event immediately following this, I noticed several authors put out free candy in order to entice potential readers to come to their table, which I think is a good idea.)

She gave everybody a handout, which is good, because the presentation itself was so fast I didn’t have time to take notes. She went over the three rules of marketing. 1: People are generally selfish. 2: The Rule of Three (people are more likely to buy something after they’ve heard about it three times). 3: The 3-to-1 ratio (talk about your personal life and hobbies as often as you promote your book.)

The goal of marketing is to connect with people. Not just to your fan base, but also with fellow authors, librarians, reviewers, and potential readers. You need to figure out who your target audience is, what it is they want, and give it to them. There’s a lot of other writers out there, so you need to stand out from the crowd somehow. Why do people read books in general? What do readers get out of a book? Focus on the things you can control and don’t worry about the things you can’t.

You need to connect to your audience in a variety of ways through social media and through your book itself. People like humor, so it’s a good idea to be funny if you can. She mentioned an author whose newsletter was just funny comic strips. People subscribe for the laughs, start to think of the author as a friend, and some will eventually buy the book. Personalize responses to your fans. Discover what your brand is. Preorders are important for book rankings. It’s a good idea to have a street team who reads your book before it comes out and helps to publicize it with reviews and word of mouth.

When using social media, be yourself. Analyze the effectiveness of each thing you try. It’s better to focus on one social media outlet and do it well rather than spread yourself too thin by trying to be on everything. Do research on current trends and tips for the social media platforms you’re using. Don’t spam, remember the 3-to-1 ratio. Don’t share the same message with the exact same wording twice.

Don’t treat social media as a one way street, be sure to reply to people and do so as quickly as possible. Listen to what your customers are saying, ask what other books they enjoy. Don’t invest in social media too much, since any given platform could disappear like MySpace did. If someone makes a negative statement, the best thing you can do is ignore it. Any kind of response will just keep the negativity going. Don’t give anyone a reason to dislike you.

Be sure to reward fans with incentives (let Patreon subscribers read your work before anyone else does, etc.) Giving away your book is great, but people don’t put value in free things unless there’s hype. Figure out how much time and money you can put into something. Maximize your time to reach the most people. Look for long term connections to maximize investment. Reward customers for providing information (instant rewards for newsletter sign up, etc.)

I noticed a lot of these techniques worked on me during this conference. I hadn’t heard of most of these writers before going into it, but after seeing them on panels, hearing people talk about them, and seeing their books for sale (the Rule of Three), I ended up buying a bunch of their books. I started thinking about some of the writers as friends after hearing them talk about themselves and joke around on panels, even though none of them would be able to pick me out of a line up. Once I started thinking of them as friends, I naturally wanted to buy their books. So these techniques won’t work on everybody, but they certainly worked on me. Definitely something for the writers out there to try out.

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