Monday, May 24, 2010

Marketing Lessons from Passionate Artists

Alexander Deineka--Young Girl--1935 This past weekend I ran into a couple of different artists selling their work.

The first time I was at (of all places) Walmart. There was a man in the parking lot, approaching different people with: “Hi there! Do you like hip-hop? You do? I’ve got something for you to listen to that I think you’re going to love.”

Yes, he was hawking his CDs in the parking lot of Walmart. I actually stopped what I was doing and watched him for a few minutes because he was so good at selling his work and so passionate about his music.

He knew his target audience. The people he approached were folks he’d sized up as they got out of their cars. He was smiling and enthusiastic and everyone looked like they were smiling back at him. (No, he didn’t approach me—I think he probably pegged me as someone who listens to lots of old ABBA songs.) :)

Then I ran into the second musician Saturday afternoon when I escaped to a coffee shop to get some writing done. I was surprised to see that a musician was setting up for a performance…it was only 4:00 in the afternoon and I think of coffeehouse music as a nighttime gig.

After I’d worked for a while on my laptop, he started playing some really interesting New Age music.

But, because his listeners were people who just happened to be getting coffee while he played, they weren’t exactly his ideal audience.

One guy actually kept his earbuds in and listened to his Ipod. There was an older man who looked irritated because he was trying to focus on his newspaper.

One member of his audience was a middle aged woman, completely absorbed in a pile of papers she’d brought in. And me. And, naturally, I was just in an agony for him because I’ve been at signings before and had similar turnout.

But he was fine. Oh, he appreciated the smattering of applause that I’d give him at the end of his songs (before I turned back to my writing…the whole point of why I was in the coffee shop to begin with), but he’d played those songs for himself. And if it was background music for the people who were there, then so be it.

To me, these two guys approached their music from two completely different places.

The first guy, in the Walmart parking lot, was just as enthusiastic as the second…just as passionate. But he was determined to get his music into listener’s hands so they could share his enthusiasm.

The second guy wanted to share his music, but in a very laid-back way. Really, he was doing it all for himself and if he could pull someone else in to enjoy it with him, then so be it.

I’m aiming for the middle of the road between the two.

I know who my target audience is. I read what they’re reading, based on bookstore sales. I write what I hope they’ll enjoy reading, based on what I know of the genre. To me this isn’t calculated…it’s my plan for sharing my writing with as many people as I can, and to continue working as a writer in the industry.

But the publishing world is a tough one. There are some quiet book signings. There are some mixed reviews and rough days. During those times, I’m—ultimately—pleasing myself with my writing. Have I tried my hardest? Done a good job? Have I told a good story? Am I proud of myself? That’s what gets you through rejections or hard reviews.

For me it’s a balancing act. I have to come up with a story that I’m excited about that I think will please people who read my genre.

Where is your focus when you write? How do you balance pleasing yourself and pleasing others (and, ultimately, producing marketable books)?