Category Archives: Advertising

What, are you kidding? We got ourselves an e-book here!

It’s live on Amazon.com.

You can get it for the Amazon Kindle, and if you don’t have one, you can read it on a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android or Windows Phone 7 with Amazon’s free Kindle Application.

And it’s only $0.99, for a limited time.*

So check it out on this site’s new Store page or on Amazon itself.

And remember: You folks are my 401(k)!


* That is, until Desperate Measures is released.

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The Endorsements

Here’s a kind of off-beat thought. It all started when I picked up a huge bottle of Coast body wash at the local drug store, picking the brand because I was familiar with their bath soap, and because the bottle held more than the competing brands and was at least a buck cheaper.

When I got into the shower with it at home, I noticed that on the back of the bottle was a profile of a professional surfer. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but last I checked this nation was still the land of opportunity, so God Bless America, we’re the land of the professional surfers. The information made the back of the bottle look like a baseball card, I suppose, if professional surfers appeared on baseball-style cards. Maybe they do.1

So this made me wonder where all the endorsements from professional writers are. “Margaret Atwood for Coast body wash.” The mind boggles.

Seriously, though. Where are the endorsements by and from writers? Occasionally I see the image of Mark Twain hawking something. And in the 1980’s Stephen King and Robert Ludlum each appeared in commercials for American Express that poked gentle fun at the genres they worked in. Ludlum’s was the better of the two – King’s was loaded with puns,2, but as it turns out, that was the only one of the two I could find on the Interweb. I guess that speaks more about King’s reputation now versus Ludlum’s – whose post-mortem writing career is still going strong thanks to ghostwriters.3

I suppose the reason we don’t see more of them is because writers are fairly anonymous beings on the whole celebrity scale of things. That was the appeal behind that 80’s American Express campaign – the whole reason for the line “Do you know me? Many people don’t!” that populated these two (and other spots). In later years AmEx would also use Martin Scorsese and M. Night Shyamalan. Directors used to be relatively anonymous, but not so much any more.

And perhaps that’s the point. For a celebrity endorsement, the product people and their ad agency want someone recognizable that potential buyers could connect with. Barring that, bringing in somebody to whom customers could make a logical connection – all those basketball players for Nike shoes, insert name of NASCAR driver here for Quaker State motor oil, and by logical extension, whatzizname the professional surfer for Coast body wash, because he had to rinse off all that sand with something.

So what should writers endorse?

There are too many writers who could have endorsed bourbon, and made getting a lifetime supply a part of their compensation package. Typewriters would have been logical at one time – Isaac Asimov had three IBM Selectrics in his house, one in case the other broke down, and the third in case the second broke down. Stephenie Meyer could do Public Service Announcements for abstinance.4

What about me? What kind of products would I endorse if Madison Avenue came calling?

Well, it’d have to be something I used. The Pilot G-2 pen would be a good place to start. It’s the best selling Gel pen in America, and for good reason. You get nice, crisp lines out of it without a hint of blotchiness, it’s a wonderfully smooth writer, the ink colors are vivid, and the pen itself has a nice rubberized grip at the business end. I like the G-2 so much that when I had a custom pen made for myself, one of my specifications was that it take the G-2 refill cartridge. There’s Scrivener, a smokin’ hot piece of software for writers that recently made the jump from Mac to PC. And then there are Apple computers in general. And something to read them on: no, not the iPad. The Kindle gets my vote.

Of course, one thing about celebrity endorsements. When you bring one on board, you run the risk of having at backfire. Like Pepsi and Michael Jackson5. Or Pepsi and Madonna. Or Pepsi and… well, never mind. This is something that can also backfire at the local level, as the people at my agency are learning in the wake of the downfall of a local celeb.

Never mind the celeb backfiring on the product. What about the other way around? Did the recognition King and Ludlum got from their adverts eat into their writing time. And introvert that I am, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be disposed to kindly to the fan who shows up at my door, interrupting writing time for an autograph or wanting to know the way to San Jose or whatever. But that’s getting into different territory, and is a subject for a future post. If I dare.

  1. And if they do, then God Bless America!
  2. I was going to say “bad puns” or “corny puns” but decided that was redundant.
  3. Which means that featuring Ludlum in an American Express spot would end up with something truly scary, not like King’s spot, which was almost parody.
  4. Bram Stroker could have, too, for that matter – the Vampire/STD connection is as much a part of their tradition as coffins and holy water.
  5. A literal backfire.

The Writer and the Day Job

So… as I said recently, the Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the world get advances in the tens of millions of dollars, and their publishers don’t make their money back on the deal. But they have a star to hang in their firmament.

And the mid-listers – the ones you see on the bestseller lists and don’t recognize, or the ones you don’t see, but who have enough of a following to hit sell-through on their novels – they are the publishers’ bread and butter.

But for everyone who is making it as a writer of novels, there are thousands like you and me at the bottom of the pyramid, still writing, still striving. Why do we do it? Some of us are still reaching for the brass ring, some because we can’t help ourselves. And for some of us… both.

What of our bread and butter?

For those of us who haven’t made it yet, we have two choices. We can either spend our time writing under the largesse of some kind of money stockpile – something we’ve saved, a government grant we managed to cadge, a working spouse, or a little nest egg from a rich relative.

Those of us who can do one of these things are the lucky ones (although not quite as lucky as the ones who can live off of their novel earnings). I know a writer who tried to make it while living on an inherited nest egg. Unfortunately, his growth as a writer didn’t move fast enough and the money didn’t hold out. In spite of a couple of journeyman novels published by a small press, he ended up having to resort to other means, – although later he was picked up by a major publisher, but he didn’t hit the midlist heights.

I got to do the thing with the working spouse for a time, and I blessed her every day for it. I didn’t hit the midlist during that time, either, although according to my agent, I was “a solid midlist author” – but that may have been typical agent hyperbole. Anyway, my wife’s gestational capability kicked in, and I voluntarily said I would resort to other means.

And those other means? A day job, of course.

It’s a time-honored thing. Somehow we think less of those folks who wrote brilliantly from high school on and wrote their breakout novel in college. Or the pampered wife of the moneyed husband, who turned to writing to ease the boredom of her soul, and mirabile dictu! She turned out a bestseller!

No, the stories we like are Stephen King, finishing Carrie in the closet of a mobile home after his wife fished the manuscript out of the garbage. John Grisham, tied to a soul-crushing law firm, writing A Time To Kill on legal pads in stolen moments. J.K. Rowling, taking her last few pounds and pence to buy time at a coffee shop where, for the price of a tea, had a table available to scribble out the adventures of a boy wizard.

When I started shooting for a day job, I aimed at advertising. Why? Because first, it was something interesting to me. Second, I always planned to make my living as a writer, and this seemed a good place to start – even if my plans were to make my living writing novels. Third, I had done a lot of research on advertising in high school, and I saw a lot of interviews with copywriters who said they had basically taken that job so they could make a living until their novel was done.

Those poor, poor fools. And what about me, the poor lad they led astray?

One day when I was working on the college paper, the editor and I were talking about our futures. The editor, a wise sage and good friend, made the suggestion that I should get a day job that did not involve any writing or creativity at all. His theory was that, after a day of being creative on demand, I would be drained and too emptied out to work on a novel. I thought that was a great theory, although I didn’t particularly relish the thought of being a plumber.

That might be the case for others – certainly, it’s something you want to think about – but it never did seem to effect me that way. It’s like there was a two-way switch in the Writing Box in my brain, and it allowed me to easily toggle from DAY JOB to MY NOVEL. And, during the time I worked at The Place Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken, I found a third setting – MY NOVEL (OVERDRIVE) – because I was determined to write my way out of that place.1 Maybe you’re that way, too. There’s only one way to find out.

I have actually had more interference from everyday life than the stringent requirements of a job. My writing life looks more like Mr. Holland’s Opus than any of the other movies I’ve seen about writers. And I’ve always defaulted to family in matters of time, because it just wouldn’t be worth becoming a Fabulous, Bestselling Author (TM) if my mother, my wife, and my kids all ended up writing books about what a creep I was in real life.

So if you have to have a day job to support your writing jones, take heart. For one, look at it as a rich source of material. When I worked at a Sheriff’s Office, I was occasionally asked by Deputies when I would write my Big Novel about life in Law Enforcement. “Never,” I would joke. “When I leave here to become a bestselling author, I am going to forget all of you.” Of course, the first novel I wrote after I left was The Mushroom Shift.

There’s one other benefit, too. Haven’t you ever looked at the author’s biography and seen stuff like, Dirk Manly has been a salmon fisherman, a Disney tour guide, a Manhattan taxi driver, a hotel detective, and sailed around the world on a tramp steamer. This is his 150th novel. Didn’t you feel a little twinge, like you should be doing all of that to build up your writer’s cred?

Guess what, my friend? You are. You are.

Remember that next time you’re forced to say, “Would you like fries with that?”

  1. And it worked. My agent sold Ferman’s Devils which got me a contract to write the other half (which became Boddekker’s Demons), and my boss used that sale as one of many bogus charges to get me fired because she thought all writers made Stephen King’s money.

Battle of the Super Bowl Ads, 2010 Edition

Word Watch: Weasel Words

W is for Weasel Words. This is a term used in advertising that describes a bit of copy that circumnavigates the facts in general by telling a little bit too much truth.

Here’s a dandy example of Weasel Words taken from my home freezer, on a package that was opened and sampled once and deemed inedible:

BUFFALO STYLE
BONELESS CHICKEN
WINGZ

Glazed, Wing Shaped
Chicken Breast Pattie Nugget Fritters
with Rib Meat

Notice the quaint misspelling. It’s as if they were told by the FDA that if they called these products “wings,” they could be sued. Or perhaps that really was the case.

This reminds me of how I used to tease my wife that Velveeta wasn’t real food. First, I reasoned, is that it wasn’t kept with the other cheeses. Second was that I once saw a description on the box that defined it as “cheese food product.”

And this is the profession in which I make my living.

Another note of note: Added a couple more entries to my post of Great Quotes You Won’t Find In Bartlett’s.

Listening: Love and Money, “Shape of Things to Come” (via iTunes shuffle play)

The Up Tour

The following was delayed from a lunch hour posting by Blogger’s server woes, and I feel like it has lost some of its immediacy. But here it is anyway.

Hitting the hard stuff to get through today: a grande skim latte from Starbucks. When I get them, I usually get decaf, but I didn’t get back from Cleveland until 12:55 a.m., and didn’t get to bed until shortly after 1:30. The alarm went off at 5:55. And I’m not a 21 year-old college student anymore.

That still didn’t stop ideas from popping into my head while doing the morning routine. It’s surprising that my brain still got enough sleep to give me lots of plot points and dialogue, so many that I had to sit down for a couple of minutes and write them into my Palm. In fact, the same thing happened yesterday morning. Yesterday’s session was really intense. The ideas were coming so hard and fast during my shower that I was scared I would lose them before I could get to my Palm (note to self: invent the ShowerPalm). It’s odd, but after 11 novels, I don’t remember anything like this happening before. This book really is at Critical Mass. It’s writing itself even when I’m not at the keyboard.

As for the Peter Gabriel concert: Randy and I got there about 6:45, with showtime scheduled for 7:30. They weren’t letting anyone into the arena because they were still setting up the stage. Cynical me, I thought this was a ploy to move concessions and PG merchandise. After all, wouldn’t they have had a sound check this afternoon, and wouldn’t that have necessitated a complete stage? When they finally let us in, the crew was still working on building a translucent house around the drum kit and sinking it into the floor. Apparently the stage was done, but all of the Gabrielan effects and props had to be put in place, and they didn’t want to spoil the show by having the crowd watch the assembly process.

The Blind Boys From Alabama kicked the show off about 8 p.m. I could have watched them for the next 3 1/2 hours. They were amazing, wonderful, great. Remind me to run out and buy their CD where I don’t have to pay $20 (at the PG souvenir stand) or $18 (Starbucks). Next up were two African musicians whose names I cannot spell or pronounce. I’m glad I got to see them, but I’m also glad it wasn’t them playing all night.

PG came on just after 9 and played for 2 hours and 40 minutes, counting killed time for encores and some clumsy set changes (I’ve seen smoother set changes in some high school drama productions). For me the standard for building and changing sets during a concert is in the film Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads). But I digress.

“Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

As I told Randy, I don’t think I would have liked the show as much if I had paid the $86 admission price for the tickets (I got comps from one of the radio station reps I work with in my other life as an ad man). Most of the songs were dark brooders, and he ignored a substantial portion of his work (the 2nd, 3rd and 4th albums). He looked a little on the chunky side and didn’t move as gracefully as in the Secret World tour concert video. Okay, he’s well into his fifties… but then so is Mick Jagger. And while most of the players were top-notch, his daughter was only adequate as a backing vocalist (especially when you consider luminaries like Paula Cole and Joy Askew previously held the mike).

There were still classic Gabriel moments; the evolving stage that dropped a giant egg that hatched a ball, which became a giant crystal, which ended up being used by PG as a giant hamster ball during Growing Up. And he did do Secret World, a song I never appreciated until I heard the live version.

I guess this tour reflects the mixed feelings I have about the Up album. Still, he’s following his own path, and I respect that. Overall, I’m glad I went. As I said, the price was right.

NP – Peter Gabriel, Up
(of course!)