Jim Rubart

Since 1994, Jim Rubart has worked with clients such as AT&T/Cingular, RE/MAX, ABC and Clear Channel radio though his company Barefoot Marketing, but his passion is writing fiction. His debut novel ROOMS will be published by B&H Fiction in April. He's also a photographer, guitarist, professional speaker, golfer, and semi-pro magician. He lives in the Northwest with the world's most perfect wife and his two almost-perfect sons. No, he doesn't sleep much. You can reach him at jlrudini[at]comcast.net

Go Ahead, Insult Me

The risk of insult is the price of clarity.

                                       -Roy Williams

How many of you loved The Shack? How many of you can’t stand the book and feel almost insulted by its massive success?

How many of you tore through the Twilight books in a week? How many of you wonder how Stephanie ever got published?

James Cameron’s latest, Avatar, is smashing box office records, but not everyone is feeling the love.

Star Wars? Not everyone liked it. To Kill a Mocking Bird? Here’s what one English teacher said about Harper Lee’s masterpiece:

OVERRATED AD NAUSEAM, October 11, 2003. “This is not great literature, and I avoid teaching it at all costs. To Kill a Mockingbird is about as deep as a rain puddle.”

No matter the success of a book, movie, song, painting, restaurant, clothing . . . some people will be on the other side decrying the product. Is this good thing?

It’s a great thing.

Editors and agents say one of their biggest frustrations is seeing the same middle of the road story come across their desks. The writer’s craft might be solid, the story is fine, the characters are fine, it’s a fine, fine, fine story.

But fine doesn’t sell. Fine doesn’t stir up passion. And if you stir up passion about anything, there will be people on the other side.

When editors talk about a searching for a winning novel, they often say, “I’ll know it when I see it.” What does that mean? It means something that is fresh, something that surprises them, something that stirs emotions inside. And you can’t do that without the high probability that you’ll cause the opposite reaction in another editor.

“It just didn’t resonate with me. You liked that?”

Last month I finished securing endorsements for my novel ROOMS (releases in April from B&H Fiction.) Some authors didn’t get it. Others raved about it. I didn’t have anyone in the middle saying it was just okay. This is good!

Donald Maass says 80 percent of a book’s sales come from word of mouth. Eighty. People don’t talk about books they liked. They talk about books they loved or hated.

Think American Idol for a moment. Every now and then a pretty girl or handsome guy with a strong voice will audition, and I think, “She’s an automatic. They’re going to take him.” But Simon often says, “Sorry, you’re the same as every other pretty girl and good-looking guy with a nice voice. You don’t stand out.”

What am I saying? Our primary marketing focus should be on the content of our books. We must make them stand out in a sea of sameness.

I talked with Waterbrook editor Mick Silva about this issue a few days ago. Mick says, “I don’t want to do books that will be forgotten a month after they’re read.”

Advertising by Committee

It always scares me when a client of mine wants to “run the ad by a few people.” It means they’re going to show it to five or six other people to get a consensus.

Sometimes it helps. Someone will bring up an intriguing idea or angle on the ad.

But most times it becomes a problem. A big problem. Ads done by consensus never insult anyone. Everyone thinks they’re “fine.” Which means no one notices them and they blend into all the other ads and make no impact. The message isn’t clear.

Years ago I handled the advertising for Tony Romas in the northwest, a chain of family restaurants famous for their ribs. As I was developing the creative strategy for an upcoming radio campaign, I was brainstorming with a colleague. We started joking around, pondering a campaign where one voice shouts, “Got great ribs?!” And another voice answers, “Hell, yeah!”

After reading that, some of you are offended, and some of you are laughing. Yes, I insulted some of you, but if you had heard that, you would probably be clear on what Tony Romas is about and what they offer. If you heard it on the radio, odds are you’d remember it and even tell other people about it. Much stronger than “For great ribs, come to Tony Romas to eat.”

I hesitated to write this column because I don’t want this to be permission for you to say, “All those editors and agents are wrong; my story is great and I’m sticking with it!” No.

Often when an editor or agent says no, it’s due to craft not being up to snuff. That has to be fixed first, but once you’re getting good feedback on your craft and the criticism is more along the lines of “It just didn’t grab me” and other agents and editors are saying, “I think you’ve got something here,” then it’s time to give yourself the latitude to let your uniqueness shine through.

As the Irish saying goes “Love me if you will; hate me if you must; but for God's sake, don't ignore me.”

Great marketing starts with your content. And to make it stand out, you might have to insult a few people.