Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Controversy Generates Attention (And Attention Generates Sales)

One thing I hear from a lot of writers is that they're worried their books might be too controversial. This might sound like a polite version of that too-edgy-for-you storyteller we've all seen in our writing circles, but sometimes it is a genuine concern. They're worried that, if certain aspects of their story remain how they are, that it could turn off potential readers. That's a legitimate concern, but I'd like to take a moment to ask you something.

Do you know what Assault on Precinct 13, Hereditary, and Cannibal Holocaust all have in common? Well, to one degree or another, it's controversy.

Holy shit you guys, you have GOT to see this!
Whether or not you have strong opinions about those three films in terms of quality, each one has moments in it that made crowds suck in their breath, and never stop talking about it. Some people were shocked in a good way, some were shocked in a bad way, but the louder the conversation got, the more people who weren't previously a part of it wandered over to see what the fuss was all about. And they had to buy a ticket just like everyone else.

This happens with books, as well. And while there's no shame in avoiding it if you feel it's bad for your brand (or puts too much strain on you as the creator), it's important to remember that anyone who makes a fuss over you is doing you a favor.

There's No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

Some authors are fortunate enough that their marketing efforts generate mostly positive buzz. They put a new twist on an old formula, get booped on the head by a generational zeitgeist (looking at you, Rowling), or just acquire a slow and steady growth in their readership. However, not all writers are that lucky. What they need is a boost to get themselves in front of a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise see their book, or if they saw it wouldn't be all that likely to check it out.

Take Patrick Wensick, for example.

Patrick who?
If the name doesn't sound familiar, he's the guy who wrote Broken Piano For President. As I mentioned back in my post Will Self-Publishing Work For You? Maybe... If You're Lucky, Wensick's novel spent a week in Amazon's #6 spot for best selling books due to his cover design. It's reminiscent of a Jack Daniel's bottle, and the manufacturer sent him a cease and desist letter. That letter went viral, with a lot of people arguing over whether the cover was or was not a big deal... but during that argument, Wensick picking up a lot of attention, and resultant sales.

Now, that controversy lacked a lot of the uglier aspects that can come with the territory. Particularly if you make points about sexism in fantasy, racism in science fiction, or really any combination of social issue and genre these days. If you get attention for those stances, unfortunately, there are a lot of ugly corners of the Internet that will stamp their feet and leave less-than-constructive criticism all over the place.

However, even when that happens, it leads to an equal-yet-opposite reaction. All you have to do is look at the outrage Anita Sarkeesian got when she proposed her Feminist Frequency project to look at tropes in video games. A truly staggering amount of hate came her way, but she reached her financing goal in a tiny period of time, and blew far past what she'd initially asked for.

Not everyone wants to take that risk, and that's a fair point to make. Especially in the era of doxing, online threats, and dangerous ideology. However, controversy can be good for you from a platform perspective, and from a financial one.

Just something to think about.

That's all for this week's installment of the Business of Writing. If you'd like to check out more of my work, you can find interesting projects on my Vocal author page. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support me, then you should consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron.

Or you could stop by My Amazon Author Page to buy a book or two!

1 comment:

  1. Great points! Polarizing readers can be lucrative. Personally, I'm not worried about guys like the Sad/Rabid Puppies. They aren't my audience, so if they get pissy when I publish, it's all good. Their negative nattering about a book or an author makes me want to check that book out!