What It Takes

What It Takes

Don’t Cruise in the Eye of the Storm

By Callie Oettinger | Published: August 5, 2011

Outreach campaigns are like children. Each is different.

An example:

I have two kids. My son passes out on planes within the first few minutes and sleeps the entire way. My daughter is energized by being strapped into her seat and becomes that nightmare child who kicks the back of your seat the entire length of a five-hour flight.

I walk on the plane with both kids. I treat them the same way, but what works with one doesn’t necessarily work with the other. There are things that work with both of them from time to time, but in general, variation is the name of the game.

When I first started working with authors and publishers, the outreach was the same. There was one master list that every book was sent to and then a few variations. The variations had to do with the topic. If the book was about business, it was sent to business publications, too. In general the lists were heavy on book reviewers and traditional publications.

Then there were the bookstores. That was a routine, too. The outreach campaigns were shared with the bookstores. The bigger the campaign, often the better the buy. And if you bought real estate in the store—yes, those books on the front tables, on the ends of the aisles, facing out from the shelf and from behind the counter are chosen by money and not necessarily quality—that showed the stores that we were really behind the book. The stores wanted to know that we were going to push the books out to the press, which would share it with the readers, which would prompt the readers to go into the bookstores to buy the books.

Looking back it reminds me of “The old lady who swallowed a fly:

She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
she swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
she swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. . .

I did all of these things to follow other things that had always been done, but by the time I got to the fly, I didn’t know why I’d swallowed it all. The big chains were eating up the book market (Remember the movie You’ve Got Mail?), the indie stores were struggling, the media was the place for exposure, and I swallowed it all.

Then I landed my first military account and realized that the master list of reviewers wasn’t going to work. The military books were covered here and there by reviewers and mainstream broadcast outlets. In the weeks before 9/11, a network TV show producer told me “I don’t know what the Quadrennial Defense Review is, but if you have anything on Gary Condit or Chandra Levy, let me know.” And while the focus on the military changed in the coming years, during a 2004 BEA panel featuring reviewers talking about the best way to pitch them, one reviewer said she straight up throws the military books in a pile, as “just another military book.”

The same happens to other genres such as science fiction and romance. Unless that’s your thing, it’s easy to throw them all in a pile—after all once you’ve seen one tank, or spaceship, or Fabio cover shot you’ve seen them all, right? How could they be different? All military is about fighting, all sci-fi is about aliens, all romance is about . . . You get the picture. . .

So I started reaching out to the military outlets, but they weren’t in the database that my boss, and later I, subscribed to. I knew they existed because I’d seen them at home growing up. But they weren’t in the main PR databases. And when I started my own business in 2001, they still weren’t in there, but I subscribed to a database anyway because it was helpful to have those mainstream contacts.

But then Amazon.com happened.

And then all the book review sections started dropping out and the need to change became more obvious.

And e-readers took off.

And the big book stores chains that gobbled up a chunk of the indies started having some real issues, and I wondered why the indies hadn’t held out. (Sidetrack here: Can someone tell me where the Netflix version for books is at? There’s got to be some hybrid Blockbuster meets Netflix meets the library meets Redbox way to share books in a way that’s helpful to the libraries and those who want to rent or borrow books, and at the same time helpful to people who want to rent to own or buy outright, and then of course fair to the publishers and authors, too, right? Yes?)

And things kept changing.

And then things started sounding the same again, kind of like being in the eye of a storm—you experience the crazy weather, then there’s a calm in the middle of the eye, before it starts swirling in another direction.

Things were one way, those winds of change flew by, with the eye came the calm and we were all thinking the same—how to tweet, and post, and build followings, and do outreach, and on and on. And then the eye moved over and the other side of change came blowing by again, this time in the opposite direction.

And so what I know is that everything will work for someone and that nothing will work for everyone. I can’t count on the calm being real or just the eye of the storm.

I can tweet five hundred times a day for one client and once a week for another client and have the same outcome. I’ve read books advising against using programs like HootSuite, which allow me to pre-schedule tweets, because it means I’m only interested in pushing out info., and not being in on the conversation. But I know that I pre-schedule some tweets for the same reason I speak to certain friends once a week—love talking to them, but if I get on the phone with them every day, I’ll get nothing done. I’m interested in the conversation, but I haven’t got all day to hang out and see what pops up. And I know we need to change-up Steve’s boring black Twitter background, but I also know there’s got to be something different that someone else hasn’t done yet because most of the backgrounds are starting to look the same.

And I know that for Steve, when we’ve engaged more on Twitter, we’ve received more responses (catching people at different times), but that when we’ve posted more on Facebook, we’ve seen the opposite, with fewer people clicking through to posts we hope they’ll read because the posts have been pushed down by other information. So it’s better to focus on the A content even if it’s only once a week, than to push in the B and C content so that there’s more engaging—quantity/quality thing. And I know that when I post, I hate posting as Steve on his Wall and Twitter feed—hence the new SP Team add-ons (thank you Therese Cator for that suggestion)—because it’s important for readers to know whether they’re getting Steve or someone else on the team.

And I know that I can’t use Steve as an example of what other authors should do, but what they could do, because what worked for Steve isn’t going to work for everyone else. Steve has his own style. He’s found his comfort zone—that thing that works for him, that groove. He’s in it and “it” isn’t something that can be transferred. No direct overlay there. I can’t take Steve and tell another author to copy him. Won’t work. We’re back on the plane with my kids. I dress them the same. Feed them the same breakfast. Walk on the plane the same way. Everything is the same. But there’s that internal thing that isn’t—and one is sleeping while the other is kicking the bejeezus out of the seat in front of her.

And then I read a post from Chris Guillebeau about doing the right thing. Chris got me hooked on Google docs. Saved me. Lots. Of. Time. And. Reduced. Headaches.

And Chris says:

Sometimes the right thing doesn’t make sense to other people, which is why there’s no need to ask them about it. You know—you just KNOW—what it is. The next step is to do it, not take out a survey.

And then I think back to all the traditional days and there was something that one of the Chicken Soup authors said, about trying to do a few interviews a day. And I know he’s right. I know that the interviews aren’t the key, but the doing a few things that are right a day will work.

I know that what works for me won’t work for everyone. I know that when I think back to my post of two weeks ago and the comments that followed, that there are a couple of different ways to reach out to people and that just when I think I know the right way, there’s another way to consider. And it isn’t that I’ve let someone talk me out of my thinking, but a reminder not to cruise in the eye of the storm. Not to get comfortable. Not to expect both of my kids to sleep on the plane. Not to expect that the same thing that worked with other clients will work with Steve, or what has worked for Steve will work for others.

I know that there’s a lot I don’t know.

But I’m comforted in knowing that no two campaigns are alike. There’s going to be a lot of change. The change is scary and keeps me second guessing at times, but I know it is there and that’s the thing to stay on top of. Change. Mix things up. Don’t dress my kids in the same clothes. Learn to deal with the kicking on the seat (sorry if that seat happens to be yours) because I know that’s her variation on a theme.

Expect change.

Bend.

And if something isn’t working or if I’ve straight screwed up, then own up, straighten up, and move on.

Don’t cruise in the eye of the storm.

Posted in What It Takes

5 Responses to “Don’t Cruise in the Eye of the Storm”

  1. August 5, 2011 at 5:31 am

    It’s interesting to see how the “right” thing, or the formula that used to work, is such a moving target these days. What works or is right for the market changes, and also what works for us as individuals changes, too.

    It’s such a more fruitful approach to that you give here, to embrace that change–bend, own up, straighten up, move on, like you say.

    I’d love to hear a little about the other side of this, if there’s an area where sticking to your guns is in fact the best approach–like you describe Steve being in his comfort zone or groove?

    • August 10, 2011 at 5:12 pm

      I second this request from Baker – what resonated with me from this post is “never settle,” and I love that idea and abhor the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” approach. But it can be hard to tell the difference between being comfortable and settling.

      I think Steven has said he’ll go after the ideas that scare him, because that’s where the remarkable work is hiding. Callie, does that carry over to your work? When reaching out to people, do you look for the ideas that scare you?

  2. August 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Steve,
    Did you type that as fast as I read it it almost made me more crazy.

    You’re right!

    Thanks

  3. August 8, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    Steve,

    Like your books, I love reading your posts. Unlike most of the others though, I feel like you should take a nap after this one. You certainly added an emotional facet to your points of neither getting comfortable nor cruising in the eye of the storm. Sometimes I get caught up in that sort of complacency. Thanks for the kicks to the back of my seat!