Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Being Heard Over the Band

A week ago tomorrow (no, that’s not awkward at all, is it?), we ran an event. Let me first say it went pretty well overall, thank you all for your comments and best wishes. Let me also add that I barely got through this week. Monday afternoon, I felt the scratchy throat coming. On Tuesday, I made it to work but probably should have stayed home. Wednesday and Thursday were better, and today is better still, though colds have a tendency to linger, and I still feel a bit like I’m under water. Anyway…

The event was pitched to me as an ‘awareness raiser’. It wasn’t a fundraiser, but we didn’t want to lose money, either. What we wanted was, to borrow a phrase from the movie, Slap Shot, “Let them know we’re here.” To that end we had our name on everything that went out–the posters, the press releases, the ads in the paper, the ad on TV. When it came to setting up the event, we had more tables than anyone, and had the primary place in the exhibit tent. You couldn’t swing a dead cat around this event without seeing our name somewhere.

This was NOT our polka band

Yet at the end of the day, I don’t know that it worked. Oh, we had a couple hundred people come out, and most people–attendees, exhibitors and vendors–seemed to have a good time, but as an awareness raiser? As a generator of new memberships? Not so much. You see, it seems the principal draw on the day was–wait for it– the polka band.* Yes, that’s right, the polka band was the big attraction. They were a rock-n-roll polka band who have been around for years. A lot of people came specifically for them. I talked to people who said things like, “We saw them in Norwich last night,” and, “These guys are great; I follow them all over.” It was like talking to Deadheads back in the day, except these folks were even older than the band. These people came down, they paid their money, and they spent almost all day in the entertainment tent listening to the band (and there was some dancing, too). The good thing is they left happy; the bad thing is, they probably have no idea who we are as an organization.

And so I find myself thinking of the struggle of writers. Whether we’re agented or not, self- or traditionally-published, or not yet published at all we hammer away. We write the best stories we can and we send them out, or we publish them ourselves. And we try to build a name. We blog and we tweet and we Facebook, and we do this even if we’re fortunate enough to have a publisher that puts time, effort and cash into promotion and marketing, and we do even more if we don’t have that sort of publisher. We even do it when we don’t have anything published, because we hope it will pay off some day. All in the name of recognition and sales. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

In looking back at last weekend’s event, and thinking over much energy (and money) went into pulling it off, part of me thinks the best approach is to let the organization’s works speak for themselves. Rather than creating an event specifically to get our name out there, maybe we should just go on doing what we do, and send out press releases when we do something noteworthy. At this point, I’m no longer sure about the connection of this post to writing, except that the powers that be tell us we need to start building audience, name recognition, and–dare I say it?–platform before we’re published. That way, when we have our book launches and cover reveals and all that stuff, people will say, “Oh, I’ve heard of him! Let me check that out.” It’s a nice idea. The problem is, until we get to that point, we’re just one person of many trying to be heard over the polka band.

Have a great weekend, all!

Image of the Bavarian Sauerkrauts
*I should point out, while it’s kind of fun to make fun of polka, the band was actually very good, and the music itself–the traditional and non-traditional polkas both–are quite catchy.

11 Responses

  1. Polka bank Deadheads? That's hilarious! I used to play to accordian. Love that instrument.

    You know is a great example of epic fail in marketing. What will work? What won't? So much of it is a guessing game. You might get good numbers, but what do they really mean? Are people reading your books? Larry Brooks said at a conference that writers are too worried about people buying their books and should be more concerned about people reading their books.

  2. Why do you supposed that particular polka band had followers? Truly not because they played the same old, same old. Heck, people could hear that from any polka band. They were different, that's why. You just have to find out how YOU'RE different and act upon that. I go to conferences and conventions. I could easily blend into the crowd (get lost in the noise of the band), but I choose to wear these colorful sweaters my mother made for me instead. It gets me noticed (heard over the band) and starts conversations. It's not much, but better than nothing!

  3. There's a connection to writing in there somewhere!

    Really, I've been thinking about this a lot lately with all the talk about book cover promotion overkill on blogs. The thing is, people are influenced to buy more if they feel they have a personal connection to the writer, even if it's only through a brief conversation through a blog or twitter. I have to wonder how effective waving a product in front of strangers is going to be for sales when they have no idea who you are. Instead, promotion should be more about what that Polka band is doing right. Put out a good/innovative product, entertain and interact with your audience, and hopefully the people will show up for more. Er, just a thought.

  4. Overshadowed by a polka band? I'm not sure I'd admit that publicly.
    😛 Kidding.

    Great post. The moment this realization hit me was when I reached 1000+ Twitter followers…most of whom are writers. 0_0 Good thing I write mostly for the enjoyment of it and not fame or $$.

  5. At least Polka had it's day. Sorry that your event didn't get as much publicity for the organization but that happens sometimes. Be glad that you tried, it's better than sitting around wondering what if.

  6. And a good thought at that. Regarding the promotion overkill, it's an interesting thing: my impression is that people hate being marketed to on places like Facebook and Twitter (and are presumably running out of patience with it on blogs, too). So what's the next big thing in being heard over the band? I haven't a clue.

  7. There's a lot of 'preaching to the converted' that goes on in these parts, isn't there? Hmm, I feel the potential for yet another post….

  8. I think the point is to keep getting your name out there over and over again. A small business owner once told me you want people to hear your name because they're not going to remember the first 10-20 times but if they hear your name enough times, one day, when they need something that you have to offer, your name will be one of the first to come to mind. Who knows but I think there may be something to this. I think repetition is important. Especially in our 140 character attention span society these days. You want your name on every pen, tote and poster there is!

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