Marketing and distribution: promotion Part 2

Marketing and distribution: promotion Part 2

The writers guide chapter 7

By Christy Dena

Arts promotion has changed in light of digital technology as well as generational and cultural changes. This section highlights some of the key areas that writers need to know about: online presence, social media marketing, virtual launches and tours, citizen marketing, and experiential marketing (including branded entertainment). 

Online presence

As discussed in the New Media Industry chapter the Internet is a significant distribution, marketing and creative channel. To ignore this situation is to forgo valuable opportunities: to be on the Internet means people can stumble upon you, find you if they go looking for you, easily pass on information about you to others, tell you what they think of your fictions, share the development of your projects and buy your products. The Internet is the easiest, and for many, the primary way people follow up information about something.

There are many ways you can have a presence on the Internet. Increasingly, publishers and production houses are creating micro-sites dedicated to a product, author or both. A creator can also utilise any of the free hosting opportunities out there. Blog software (diary-like websites) companies like Blogger and WordPress and more recently, Google offer free hosting. For insights into the online strategies and lessons of two Australian authors who run their own websites, see Max Barry and Paul Mitchell’s  profiles.

Just having a website is not enough. If you build it, they won’t just come. People need to know where you are, easily find you, or be notified of your existence. If people already know about you, it is because you’ve utilised every offline opportunity you have to promote your website or online presence (on business cards, book or DVD covers, radio interviews and print advertisements). If people want to find you, they will search using a search engine. When people enter a search term into a search engine like Google, it returns a listing of sites; the website listed first is dictated by two things: an algorithm or payment. ‘Search engine marketing’ (SEM) refers to paying for a preferential presence in search engine results. In most cases one only pays when someone clicks on an advertisement, and even then the amount you pay is mutable. The algorithm, on the other hand, can be manipulated or leveraged using ‘search engine optimisation’ (SEO). For instance, a site is assessed according to, among other things, how many sites, with what status, are linked to it and how often. This is one reason why it’s good practice to take the time to link to other sites. The following strategies also help with SEO and general promotion of a product.

Social (media) marketing

Content isn’t king. Context isn’t king. Contact is king.
Douglas Rushkoff (2008)

Before delving into social media marketing, this section will start a bit wider afield with social media.

Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio.  (wikipedia 2008)

Certain technologies have been specially designed to enable these activities: instant messaging programs, forums, blogs, wikis, bookmarking, social networks, online virtual worlds, networked multiplayer games and so on. All of these can be utilised for marketing in some way. Although certainly not the only areas, the following are two aspects to social media marketing.

Advertising through and with social media

When some people talk about social media marketing, they refer to advertising through or with social media. One of the logics behind this approach is the concept of ‘audience fragmentation’: or the idea that ‘consumers’ (audience, readers or players) are using a variety of media beyond traditional media channels such as television, newspapers, magazines or radio. A campaign that only utilises these traditional channels will not reach as many people, cannot be as targeted, and is limited by the kind of message or experience that can be developed. But now, one can deliver advertisements with banner ads, sponsorship, news feed marketing and profiling in social networking sites and beyond.
Banner ads
Banner ads are those advertisements one can see along the top or side of a webpage. They appear to operate similarly to print advertisements, except for (at least) two points of difference: firstly a person can act immediately on a call to action (by clicking on the advertisement and going straight to the website), and secondly targeting. Social network technology enables the ability to utilise personal information a user enters, and strategically deliver content to those users. The personal information is gathered (through anonymous automated processes) from a user’s personal profile. From this, marketers can target people according to their location, age, gender, marital status, political views, education level and interests. So, there isn’t one advertisement that everyone sees, but advertisements that the people targeted see. 
Like non-digital offerings, a person, company, product or service can sponsor digital content. This can include sponsoring a forum, blog or listserv (electronic mailing list) for a week or month, or even offering your DVD, book or game as a prize for an event or competition.
News feed marketing
When people log onto a social network, they can see a summary of the latest activity of people they are connected to. An advertisement can be placed amongst this news feed, once again targeted to the most suitable users. Although these advertisements look like other news items, the aim is not to deceive users, but to acclimatise to the context and be where people spend most of their time. (Smith 2007)
The above approaches still render the advertiser outside of the social network culture. One way to integrate is to jump in and be a part of the community. Creating a profile is free and can be used for a product (game, book, film, show), production company, individual on the production team (the writer, director, actor, producer, designer), or an individual or company that is part of the fiction (character, fictional company and so on). Which of these, or any combination of these you choose, is dependent on the people involved, the product and which audiences are targeted. A profile for a product (note: Facebook has special ‘pages’ for companies and products that are distinct from personal profiles), enables people to join and receive updates. Since the profile is product-specific, one may get to the point when they need to create another profile for the next project. While the writer can notify everyone of the change, not everyone will necessarily make the move. If one creates a profile for a production company, then all projects can be promoted; but even then it is important to maintain a personal side to the site, making the identity of the staff and the person who posts consistent.

An individual can create their own profile, and therefore promote whatever project they’re working on. This type of profile, however, is more personal and requires a more active engagement with the community. Sporadic messages to everyone about your work without any non-work messages, renders a person an unauthentic interloper. Also, while people understand that it is not possible to answer every message or ‘poke’, one certainly needs to make an effort. Certain behaviours are considered typical in online networks, such as responding to messages and comments, thanking people for ‘link love’ and sharing information. It takes a lot of time and effort and a certain personality, and so is not suited to everyone. Fortunately, some organisations are engaging with social networks on the writer’s behalf. The Sydney Writers Centre, for example, has a podcast, Facebook group, Twitter account and comprehensive website. The Australian Society of Authors and the ACT Writers Centre have Facebook groups too, as do many screen-based training organisations such as AFTRS’ LAMP in Sydney and the Film and Television Institute in Western Australia.

The final example is creating a profile for a fictional character, company or product. This can be contentious if the fictional nature of the profile is not overt, but can be a fun and immersive way to promote a project. Joss Whedon’s webisode Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, for instance, has the character Dr Horrible microblogging (short posts) in character through Twitter. This is a seamless marriage of the real world and the fictional world of Dr Horrible, as the story involves a character that is actively blogging. The character’s promotion of himself is a natural extension. Despite the immersive and entertaining traits of this approach, it is not possible in all networks. Due to the creation of fake profiles with the intention to deceive, as well as the unclear nature of some profiles, some sites are banning or deterring such an approach.

Another factor in choosing a social media is the demographics of the technology or network. While many sites are designed to appeal to as many people as possible, some sites target certain interests (themed social networks) or certain ages. On the latter, there are social networks pitched at the baby-boomer generation, like Eons, Rezoom, Multiply and Saga Zone. Different social networks are popular in different countries. Orkut is the most popular in Brazil for example, not Facebook. A further warning, though: on top of being authentic and prepared for the time investment, is the proprietary nature of these sites. As filmmaker Lance Weiler (2008) notes, gathering contacts through such sites means you don’t retain the contact information yourself. Unlike an email list, the data remains with the website.

Social Media Optimisation (SMO)

Another aspect to social media is making content – whether it be posts on a website, videos, audio or profiles – optimised for sharing. The ideal situation is for people to want to pass on information about your project, so they will inform others of your work, but also because people are more inclined to act based on recommendations from trusted sources (such as friends) than from strangers (no matter how publicly well known). Of course, having great content is only the first step; if your online content is not optimised for social media it makes it difficult, even impossible, for people to share your information. Rohit Bhargava calls this technique ‘social media optimization’ (SMO):

The concept behind SMO is simple: implement changes to optimize a site so that it is more easily linked to, more highly visible in social media searches on custom search engines (such as Technorati), and more frequently included in relevant posts on blogs, podcasts and vlogs.
(Bhargava 2006)
Bhargava has offered ‘Five Rules of Social Media Optimization’:

1. Increase your linkability
This refers to the characteristics of the content, and how often it is updated. People are more likely to return to a site if it is updated often with content that is appealing and valuable. This content can be the actual fictional projects, teasers, or making-of information. Content that is spread widely is often referred to as ‘viral marketing’. ‘Viral marketing’ is one of those ideas that has, perhaps ironically, spread like wildfire. While the art and strategy of viral activity is tempered by the laws of luck and chaos, there are some principles that can guide the design and implementation. Marketer Seth Godin outlines the qualities that facilitate an idea being spread:

No one ‘sends’ an idea unless:
a. they understand it
b. they want it to spread
c. they believe that spreading it will enhance their power (reputation, income, friendships) or their peace of mind
d. the effort necessary to send the idea is less than the benefits.

No one ‘gets’ an idea unless:
a. the first impression demands further investigation
b. they already understand the foundation ideas necessary to get the new idea
c. they trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time.
(Godin 2005)

In addition to this, people are more likely to send an idea if it is urgent (a short-term opportunity).

2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy

One way people find out about your content, whether it be on a photo-sharing site like Flickr, a blog or podcast, is through your ‘tags’. These words categorise your content with keywords and can be access from all over the Internet. Also, for people to be able to share the exact post or video you’ve created, they need to be able to link directly to it. Some specially-created websites are designed using software like Flash. This is fine, but sometimes the designers don’t make it possible for someone to link directly to a certain piece of content within the site. These ‘permalinks’ (permanent links) are crucial.

3. Reward inbound links

Acknowledging important inbound links is good manners. Although taking the time to go to the referring site and comment a thank you is good form, so are more automated methods such as making their link visible on your site by activating ‘trackbacks’ in blogging software.

4. Help your content travel

Making content easy to move greatly improves the process. This can be done with PDFs, embeddable videos, audio, slides and documents. Embedding means people can put it on their own website for viewing and as the original file is used, copyright is controlled. If content is copied, then it could be accompanied with a Creative Commons license. See the Copyright section for a discussion about these issues.

Usually people who post these embedded items link back to the original site as well, but it is good practice to make sure a website address is visible in all content. The further content is enabled to spread, the more likely it is that new people will find out about it. If all content ends with a call to action – like asking questions or prompts to contribute – people are even more likely to follow up.

5. Encourage the mashup

Making your content available for remixing encourages people to interact, invest time and share your content. This can be done in a number of ways. Some filmmakers, for instance, provide assets so that people can create versions of parts of their film. Examples include Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments (2007) and the Australian project Remix My Lit [http://www.remixmylit.com/]. Promotional remixes are covered in the forthcoming section on citizen marketing.

Additional ‘rules’ (more appropriately best practices) have been added to Bhargava’s list and links can be found in his online article (Bhargava 2006). Although there are many other aspects to social media marketing, this section will conclude with a prompt to write press releases specifically for any bloggers, podcasters or online journalists you may approach (which is an increasingly popular strategy). Shift Communications have issued a ‘Social Media Press Release Template’ that outlines the bare necessities: [http://www.shiftcomm.com/downloads/smprtemplate.pdf]. There is also a new site that has automated this template process: [http://www.pitchengine.com/]. See also the interview with Random House  for an insight into the social media marketing approaches they are implementing and considering.

Virtual launches and tours

Another way to leverage the Internet (and social media) is through virtual tours. Many writers are familiar with conducting interviews on radio stations to promote their project, but something not all writers are familiar with is how easy it is for them to be interviewed on podcasts. A podcast is a term to describe the delivery of audio or video content online. Due to low barriers to broadcasting, and major portals such as Apple’s iTunes, high profile, grassroots organisations and individuals alike can reach large audiences. So, rather than travelling to a location or waiting for a major broadcaster to call, an author can be interviewed on any number of these podcasts and reach a wide range of local and international audiences. To do this, a writer needs Internet access and free online chat software such as Skype (Skype also has special phone numbers that allow landline to Internet recordings, so it isn’t necessary for every person on the call to have Skype either).

As an example, in 2007 podiobook (podcast audio fiction) author J C Hutchins conducted ‘the first-ever cross-country, 50-state podcasting book tour’. Hutchins put the call out to podcasters in every state in the US, asking for a short interview in exchange for a shout-out from his website and the first podcast. This cross-country Skype tour (which could have been a multi-country Skype tour), was to promote the launch of his podiobook 7th Son on 07-07-07. Hutchins also launched 7th Son in the online virtual world Second Life, as did Cory Doctorow in 2005 with his book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. Such virtual launches enable people from all over the globe to share the event together in a digital space. Other tours can be arranged as partnerships with communities or technologies. Australian musician Missy Higgins, for example, recently engaged in a chat with her fans in the PalTalk community (Jasmine 2008). As for amplifying the reach of real-life launches and events, sites have also been created to promote offline tours, like Chris Anderson’s Book Tour for authors [http://www.booktour.com].

Citizen marketing

Scrap the focus groups, fire the cool chasers, and hire your audience.

Alex Wipperfürth (2005)

A technique that has increased in popularity is ‘citizen marketing’: this is the idea that people will engage in marketing your product for you. Beyond word of mouth or ‘word of mouse’, it refers to audiences actively assisting you in your promotional activities. Sometimes people do this of their own accord, but more and more creators are overtly attempting to facilitate this happening, by supplying assets or calling for collective action.

Supplying assests

Another citizen marketing technique is to call for your fans to assist with manipulating bestseller charts by purchasing your writing on a particular release day. On 08-08-08, two authors in different countries were due to have their respective books launched. Upon realising they shared the same launch date, Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine decided to join forces and run a promotion called ‘Double Trouble’, as Morris explains:

Between our respective podcasts, mailing lists, and a media blitz spanning across podcasts and live radio shows, we’re asking our readers and listeners to buy The Case of The Pitcher’s Pendant and Digital Magic. Our goal is to get not one but two Dragon Moon titles into Amazon’s Top Ten lists.’

Authors Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood accomplished similar feats on their own Amazon Days (Sigler on April 1, Harwood on March 16), but this promotion will be the first time two authors are working together to dominate Amazon’s charts. […] A good part of their promotion is viral marketing: getting this date out across four podcasts, circulating both original and fan-generated desktop artwork, free PDFs offered before the print release, and encouraging listeners to spread the word thought blogs, Twitter, and other social marketing venues.
(Morris 2008)

Philippa Ballantine adds that ‘authors now have the ability to introduce works to audiences globally and build a fan base’ (Ballantine in Morris 2008). ‘This,’ she continues, ‘is particularly valuable to authors like me on the other side of the world. A promotion like this is not only innovative, but a great example to the publishing industry of podcasting’s potential as well as other Web 2.0 initiatives’ (Ballantine in Morris 2008). As part of their Skype tour, Morris and Ballantine were interviewed by Australian podcaster Eric Scaresbrook, on his podcast Erk Pod (2008).

For some fun ideas on what sort of promotional activities a writer can ask of their fans, check out J C Hutchins’ Ministry of Propaganda missions [http://jchutchins.net/site/conspire/mop-missions/]. To find out more about citizen marketing in general, see Ben McCon and Jackie Huba’s Church of the Customer blog and books [http://www.churchofthecustomer.com/].

Experiential marketing

Reason is out, emotion is in.
Timothy deWaal Malefyt (2006)

This quote from Timothy deWaal Malefyt of BBDO Worldwide refers to the shift that advertising has undergone: ‘a reprioritisation of experiential and sensory approaches to consumer marketing over traditional rational and cognitive approaches’ (2006). That is, the rational approach of providing facts and detail to persuade people to buy has been superseded by campaigns that trigger emotional responses. This also means providing experiences through multiple modes to ignite the senses. One way to implement this approach is to create compelling ‘trailers’ for media that don’t usually have trailers.


Video has become increasingly popular on the Internet. Trailers have a long history with films, but are now being created to promote books. Liz Dubelman’s VidLit is a successful book trailer company that started in 2004. Her clients included Random House, Time Warner and HarperCollins, who have now gone on to create their own book trailers [http://www.harpercollins.ca/trailers], along with Simon & Schuster’s Book Videos [http://www.bookvideos.tv/]. So too, individual authors have also been creating their own video introductions to their stories: check out Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You [http://noonebelongsheremorethanyou.com/]. Books aren’t the only traditional art form using trailers. In 2007, UK’s National Theatre started promoting their performances with trailers and have their own channel on YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/NationalTheatre]. And film trailers have seen some experimentation, such as Tartan Video’s 13-minute preview of Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2006), and Digiscreen’s ‘webler’ of Peter Greenaway’s The Tulse Luper Suitcases [http://www.digiscreen.ca/weblers/tulse/flash.html].

Branded entertainment

The traditional models of these businesses [advertising and entertainment industries] is under pressure, and one of the most significant ways in which businesses are coping with change is through alliances that benefit all sides.
Scott Donaton (2004, xiii)

Scott Donaton’s book, Madison & Vine: Why the Entertainment and Advertising Industries Must Converge to Survive, details the various ways in which advertising has moved from being peripheral to the entertainment experience, to being embedded or integrated with it. On one end of a branded entertainment continuum, if you like, is product placement within a book, film or TV show. In such circumstances, advertising can assist the writer in financing the project, or can be a call for a writer to graft the story and product together seamlessly. An example of the former is Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman’s Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 (Running Press Kids 2006), which has makeup product placement embedded as sketches by the narrator character. On the other end of this continuum are creative projects specially designed to promote a product or service.

These projects relate to writers in two ways: writers are hired to work on interactive branded entertainment projects, and writers can extend their own writing project with an interactive branded entertainment project. What the latter means is that writers are promoting their book, film, play or TV show by extending the story across other media such as websites. The belief is that a promotion is more successful if it is a credible aesthetic experience in itself. So, rather than copy-writing, the writer embarks on creating a compelling story that extends their main product, yet urges people to move to it.

Steven Hall embarked on such an approach for his debut novel Raw Shark Texts. He created an ‘alternate reality game’ that adapts part of the novel and thrusts the reader into the story world. The whole web-based event was written as an interactive version of part of the book’s plot. On the website [http://www.lostenvelope.com], the reader sees exactly what the protagonist experiences at the beginning of the novel. The reader can listen to the phone message and decipher clues which will lead them to Flickr, YouTube, ebay and other sites. Most of the immersive efforts, however, were actually directed towards marketers and booksellers, as journalist Rachel Geise explains:

For several weeks, novelist Steven Hall and his publishers have been playing games with me. First was the request, which arrived by e-mail, to take an online inkblot test (the results indicated a mild case of paranoia – and with what came next, no wonder). Then I received a typewritten letter in the mail with the ominous greeting, “First things first, stay calm.” It was sent to me by me, or at least, according to the signature, “The First Rachel Giese” and I advised myself to consult a Dr. Randle about my memory loss.

A few days later, yet another letter confirmed my membership in something called the Unspace Exploration Committee. That was followed by a message typed on a business card that read, “I need to speak to you,” and a telephone number. When I called, I got a recorded message from Dr. Randle advising me not to read any letters I might receive from myself and warning me not — “under any circumstances” — to read a book called The Raw Shark Texts.”
Giese, 2007

Another example is the ‘multi-channel marketing’ undertaken by Random House for John Twelve Hawks’ novel The Traveller. They created numerous fictional websites that are part of the story world told in the book, sites that had to be traversed by players to discern clues and establish plot. They also had women who were dressed up as the protagonist, attend BookExpo America. John Pitts, the marketing director at Doubleday (an imprint of Random House), commented on the campaign: ‘If you’re going to look to an industry for innovative and aggressive marketing tactics, it’s definitely those industries [film and TV] – not the publishing industry’ (Montopoli 2005). There have been numerous extended experiences to promote books, TV shows, feature films and games, all of which straddle successfully and unsuccessfully the fine line between creative content and marketing. For Australian examples of such projects see Max Barry’s use of a digital game, Hoodlum’s work referenced in Marissa Cooke’s profile, Isabelle Merlin’s use of blogs, and the case study of Ish Media’s project to promote Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow’s Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight (Penguin 2007).

Professional development

Digital marketing and distribution workshops and seminars are gradually being offered by more writers’ centres and production schools. The following is a sampling of forthcoming sessions planned in Australia:

In addition, many resources are available online. More are listed online at:

For up-to-date information about digital marketing and distribution courses and workshops being run in Australia, subscribe to the Story of the Future mailing list. Send your news, events or opportunities to storyofthefuture@australiacouncil.gov.au.

> Marketing and distribution promotion - part 2 references

Creative Commons License
The writer's guide to making a digital living: choose your own adventure by Fingleton, T. Dena, C. & Wilson, J. for the Australia Council for the Arts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.
For permissions beyond the scope of this license contact http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/about_us/contact_us.