Business Musings: Events Versus Urgency
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog titled “Searching For A Sense of Urgency.” As usual, I uploaded that post to my Patreon page early, and received quite a few comments on it. Two were posted to Patreon for the other supporters to see, and one of those comments got me thinking.
The long post, “Searching For a Sense of Urgency,” focuses on the ways that the old scarcity model made us all choose how we would consume entertainment. For example, those of us who liked an author would have to buy a paper book when we saw it instead of when we wanted it.
The internet has changed that, not just for books, but any kind of entertainment. The urgency has changed from the producer being in charge of when a customer consumed the entertainment to putting the control in the consumer’s hands. For example, I wrote that original post before I saw Stranger Things season 4. In the interim, I watched the entire season over two weeks, because that season is 13 hours long. (Five hours longer than previous seasons.) Sometimes I could only watch for 20 minutes; sometimes I got to cram in an hour among all the other things I was doing.
But I wanted to watch it. I just didn’t have 13 hours over a weekend like some folks. Heck, I didn’t have two and a half hours to watch the last episode all at once.
I consumed the show on my schedule, not theirs, even though I still had to give up other things in my day to do so. Somehow I managed to avoid all the spoilers, which was my biggest fear.
My “sense of urgency” on the show was self-induced. I could have skated past the spoilers for a year or more if I wanted to. I did not. I wanted to see the show. But clearly, I didn’t have to watch it all at once.
I don’t have to do a lot of things the moment they drop anymore, and neither do you. As I mentioned in that blog post, older consumers have finally realized that, and younger ones have known it since they learned how to control their viewing/reading/consuming habits.
If you want to see more analysis, read the entire post. I’m not going to rehash it here.
Writer T. Thorn Coyle responded to the Patreon post rather quickly, with a long comment of their own. The comment got me thinking, and thinking hard, about what they had to say.
They pointed out something I had missed. They wrote:
I think you’re talking about a couple of things here.
The first thing I want to do is separate urgency from spectacle or event. Sure, they can work together, but they’re not synonymous. Yes, Kickstarter partially works because of urgency—clock is ticking—but mostly? I think it works because it’s fun. It’s an event people can participate in. Why do a charity run when you could just donate? the event itself is the thing. It brings people together, like opening weekend at a movie.
So event and spectacle lead to belonging. Shared experiences. That’s powerful.
Their response continues with a lot of good examples and their thoughts on the subject. If you’re a Patreon supporter of mine, give it a read. I do hope Thorn blogs about this at some point, so I can link to it.
I have no idea how I missed events. Events are important. Events get people to change their behavior to have fun, just like Thorn said above. Every year, I try to do a run for St. Jude here in Las Vegas. I fundraise for them.
I’ll be honest. I could fundraise for them at any point in the year. I could fundraise for a variety of charities that I support, such as Three Square, here in Las Vegas (which provides three square meals to people in need). I haven’t—at least not yet. Instead, I responded to one of their events and set up a monthly payment to them during the pandemic.
Thorn is right: events call attention to something that we might know about, but we’re not always thinking about. It works for charities, but it also works for books.
I’m sure Brandon Sanderson got a lot of new readers because of his multimillion dollar Kickstarter last spring. Not just because of the swag, but because of all the press coverage. Even though Brandon is a bestselling fantasy writer who publishes traditionally and indie, even though a TV show has been made from one of his projects, there are millions of readers who had never heard of him…or never paid much attention to him or his books.
The event, the Kickstarter that went into the millions, brought him to their attention. I know a lot of first-time Kickstarter backers joined that Kickstarter just to see what the fuss was about. If you looked at Brandon’s Amazon rankings during that Kickstarter, you would have noticed a serious uptick in sales—because people were discovering him for the first time.
A sense of urgency hadn’t brought the new readers to Brandon on Amazon. It was an awareness, brought on by the event. Readers bought the books, but who knows when (if) they’ll actually read them. And who knows how many other readers bookmarked his novels to buy later?
There’s really no way to quantify that.
What we do know was that Brandon’s Kickstarter was a game-changer for the Publishing category on Kickstarter. A lot of writers jumped in, and many made a lot more money than they would have just the year before.
Those writers bring their fan bases to this event-driven site, and then Kickstarter, with its algorithms, will alert those new users when there’s a similar Kickstarter or something that those users might be interested in.
Some writers have a real gift for creating an event around their book release. They spend weeks teasing the book, and then releasing bits of it, or having live chats or holding virtual parties on release day, giving away swag to whomever can prove that they picked up a copy of that book that day.
A lot of indie writers have done this for years now. I think about doing it, and even though I have a staff who probably could do it, I never do. I’m always moving to the next project. I’m also just not that person. Life is too short for me. I’d rather be writing or reading or studying. I participate in events that other people organize, but I don’t organize one for myself.
Which is probably how I missed Thorn’s point in the first place. Writing and publishing are not events for me. I understand that you can make the release of a book (or a movie or a game) into an event. I definitely understand it from a marketing perspective.
I just don’t do it.
Maybe I should.
And it was that should that made me Google “event marketing.” (I actually have books on this; Google was just easier.
I found a lot of reasons that event marketing works, at least according to all the marketing gurus.
There are a lot of different kinds of ways to make event marketing work. First, there are different kinds of events:
In person events which include conferences, trade shows, meet-ups, and appreciation events. (Appreciation, where you do something to benefit the customers you already have.)
As I write this up, I realize I’ve done a gajillion of these over the decades, particularly when going to sf conventions was the best way to have an sf writing career. I still go to a few things, such as the Licensing Expo. At the Licensing Expo, for example, a lot of companies hold events to bring in an audience that had come for the Expo, and to piggyback off the attendance.
Writers can and should do this if they’re that kind of person. I keep thinking that there are trade shows WMG might want to attend (such as the Christmas trade shows for the Holiday Spectacular).
But there are huge tradeoffs on in=person events. They have to be financially worthwhile, particularly when you or your staff is investing so much time into them.
Always remember that time is money. That’s really critical for the in-person things. In 1992, Dean and I went to 26 conferences. It was not worthwhile, because of time lost. (And exhaustion, even though we were thirty years younger than we are now.)
It was one of the few ways we had of generating revenue, but when we calculated time into the equation, we lost money.
So there needs to be a real cost-effective analysis that goes into any in-person event—even if you’re “just” sponsoring someone else’s event.
For example, here’s how to do the analysis. This year, Dean and I will be speaking at 20 Books Vegas. It’s here in Las Vegas, and we’ll have a ton of friends and business colleagues in town for the event. In other words, we’d be at the event anyway, so we might as well give an hour or two of our time to talk to the attending writers.
Online Events seem easier than in-person events. You don’t have the travel costs for one thing, but you often have the time costs. I finally dumped appearing on other people’s podcasts for free because I realized that I never got enough return from them (that I could see). I wasted hours of my time and since I calculate my hourly rate, that ran into thousands of dollars lost in the years I was doing podcasts.
What are online events? Whatever you can come up with. The aforementioned podcasts, including limited series that you might want to do on your own.
Webinars, live streaming one of your in-person appearances, recording your fiction and releasing those recordings on a regular (or irregular) basis.
Online events include holding a Kickstarter or participating in a bundle. They include setting up a Facebook chat or doing something as small and simple as a countdown clock on your website.
There are more and more opportunities all the time. And what you do is limited only by your imagination.
As I was writing this, I read an article in The Hollywood Reporter about an unexpected visionary move by NBC News. They wanted to bring Gen-Z who didn’t watch news into their fold. So in 2017, NBC launched a Snapchat daily news show called Stay Tuned. It was weird, it was risky (at least to the older folks running the network) and it worked.
I’m talking about that kind of thing. Something you couldn’t have imagined five years ago, and yet it might work now.
Events of all types grow your audience in unexpected ways. You tap into other people’s audiences, but the event itself might actually have an audience of its own.
Does all of this bring readers to writers? Yes, but not always in ways that can be quantified. As always, the best way to get new readers is to write the next book.
But…as you’re thinking about events, use a two-pronged analysis.
Sometimes I attend an event to learn something. I do that with the Licensing Expo and I did it in 2019 with the Consumer Electronics Show. At that point, my attendance was about figuring out whether or not the connections and the things I learned would benefit my business. (Yes, on Licensing. No, on CES.)
Mostly, though, I participate in events that will benefit my writing and grow my reader base. We do Kickstarters at WMG. We participate in bundles, like Storybundles. I often contribute a reprint short story to some event that is set up to grow readers by giving them samples of the work.
If the event takes my personal time—like making a video or participating in a panel—I usually say no. I want to be able to use completed work. I will promote on my socials and do what I can, but I really don’t want to give up writing time to be on someone else’s schedule to participate in something that benefits them but might not benefit me.
Although, as you can see from the St. Jude note above, that’s not true with charity events. I participate in those whole-heartedly, but those are never about my writing.
They’re about me giving back to the community.
So…this is all a long-winded way of saying that you can build excitement in your work in ways that don’t use urgency. They build awareness by making something fun for the community of readers that you have already built.
I must thank Thorn here, because I had missed this entire field. They’re right. It’s an important tool in the business/marketing toolbox—as long as that tool doesn’t interfere with the writing itself.
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“Business Musings: Events Versus Urgency,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Not quite an event, but i think the reaction videos (and the unboxing ones) represent a different part of consumption. I am not a video person but there seem to be a lot of reaction videos/activities around watching someone else consume media. With the decoupling of tv and movies from you must watch schedule we have lost lost the communal watch habits. And it turns out that we want them (not miss- part of what seems to drive the reaction videos is a generation that never had to worry). We want to express our opinion at the time we consume the media. Previously this would have been in a group, watching together. Now there is some opportunity to do so with the streaming shows, but the urgency is gone, so it is harder to gather.
It can also shift our watching patterns- i might want to watch some of the shows out there, but no one in friend circle does and it makes it hard to discuss.
One of the other things you have to be careful with is that urgency doesn’t slide into firefighting. Given how a lot of day jobs, everyone seems to want us to react, react, react. The urgency is very much of a culture itself these days. I’ve found myself rebelling against it, That shows up in my marketing too.