The Baseball of Writing

When writers pitch their products to their most likely consumers, it’s beneficial for them to have at hand multiple bits of rhetoric about their offerings and about themselves. Similar to when they sell manuscripts to presses, when authors sell their books to readers, they need to be able to adjust their diction and their use of explanations and examples to fit whichever group they are addressing.
Consider that a book about the Holy Land, when proposed to an audience of Zionists, gets pitched differently than does that same book when proposed to an audience of Jews who might, has v’shalom, feel unenthusiastic about Israel. The first audience is “friendly,” whereas the second one is “hostile.” Similarly, weigh that a book about parenting, when marketed to an audience of grandparents, gets offered differently than it does when pitched to an audience of pediatric health care providers. The first audience is interested in relatable anecdotes, but the second gloms to evidence.
Care must be taken when adjusting sales strategies to recipients’ demographics because the ways in which people perceive themselves and the ways in which people actually function are not always the same. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback explain in “Seeing Yourself as Others See You,” “others’ perceptions of you will differ in important and perhaps disconcerting ways from your self-perceptions.”1 It’s not only the difference between gatekeepers’ actual and idealized perceptions that flummox writers; it’s audiences’ differences between actual and idealized perceptions that flummox writers, too.
A publisher, might, for instance, profess that his or her vehicle upholds the “highest standards of literary fiction” only to broadcast, issues after issue, tosh. Analogously, readers might ban together under some highbrow banner only to be revealed to buy mostly titles that appeal to a much more common set of consumers. Namely, it’s audiences self-perceptions to which authors must pitch, not their actual habits.
Publicized self-perception, whether or not it’s stylized, is called “persona.” Pamela Vaughan writes in “How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business,” “[b]uyer personas help you understand your customers (and prospective customers) better. This makes it easier for you to tailor your content, messaging, product development, and services to the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of different groups.”2 People are self-important. “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”3 Beauty products sell because of who people think they are or can become. Likewise, book purchases take place because someone thinks they are intellectual, popular, culturally knowledgeable, or what-have-you.
On balance, labors exerted to zero in on an intended audience’s self-perception might prove moot since readers don’t only buy books, which they think would make them look good, or which they think would otherwise suit the personality that they are trying to broadcast. Rather, readers often buy books because those books are written by authors known to and loved by them or because those books have been recommended to them by dear ones.4 Nancy L. Erickson says in “Identify Your Book’s Audience (And Write For Readers Interested In What You Have to Say),” “[y]our audience is the people who will read and benefit from your book. Your market is the people who will actually purchase the book.”5 Books get passed around from reader to reader. Beyond library books and other instances of sharing books publically, is the actuality of sharing books privately, i.e. among family members, or among friends. Consequently, measuring numbers of readers is not the same as measuring numbers of sales.
Granted, buying books that are popular in small circles is another type of vanity, but it is a less anonymous form of self-importance than is being manipulated by strangers on an emotional basis. Whether readers buy titles because of vast social expectations or because of more localized ones, few readers counter those consumer inclinations with epistemic questions, in general, or with assessments of which goals or personal forces drive their purchases; it’s easier not to think.
Therefore, successful book marketing frequently becomes a game of catch; writers pitch to given audiences’ articulated beliefs, values, and attitudes, and, in turn, those audiences make a book a hit or not.  Limited success culls new types of pitches, on the part of authors. Complete success invites repeated, often pedestrian pitches. Marketing becomes a series of exchanges in which authors must pitch well enough to make their products appealing to their readers, but no so well as to “strike them out;” there is no “win” if there is no game, no exchange. Authors might detest the machinations required of them to play with their readers; nonetheless, if they seek earnings, authors often compromise their values even to the extent that their marketing leaves them rhetorically contorted.
Despite advice to the contrary,6 authors concerned with profits can’t merely create texts that they enjoy reading, or that they deem have ideological merit. Instead, they must offer their work to the public in “sexy” ways. Nicholas Tart expounds in “7 Things I Learned from Publishing a Book,” “[w]hen publishers look for new authors, the number one thing they’re looking for is somebody with an audience. Publishers don’t dump a lot of money into marketing a book unless it’s already selling. Whether or not the book sells is dependent upon the author’s ability to sell it.” 7 Although there might be many individuals involved in marketing a book, that is, although there might be many members of a baseball team, only one person pitches at a time. That player adjusts his throw according to everything he knows about the batter he faces as well as according to the instructions of his team’s manager. Skill is necessary, but not sufficient, to succeed.
People are vain creatures. Some of that big-headedness derives from unspecified stimuli such as social media or from associations with vast, nearly anonymous, groups. Some of those airs derive from localized “authorities,” such as friends, family, and other close cohorts. Both of those types of influences impact the personae people strive to maintain. Purchasing books is an element of that maintenance. It follows that authors seeking profits are well-advised to promote their wares to who readers think they are, in addition to whom readers actually are.
1. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback. “Seeing Yourself as Others See You.” Harvard Business Review. Sep. 16, 2011. Retrieved Jul. 16, 2018.
2. Pamela Vaughan. “How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business.” HubSpot. May 28, 2015. Retrieved Jul. 16, 2018.
3. Dale Carnegie. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Qtd. In Notable Quotes. N.d. Retrieved Jul. 24, 2018.
4. Gigi Griffis. “How & Why People Buy Books: The Results of a 355-Person Survey.” The Ramble. Jan 11, 2018. Retrieved Jul. 16, 2018.
5. Nancy L. Erickson. “Identify Your Book’s Audience (And Write For Readers Interested In What You Have to Say).” [sic.] Book Baby Blog. Nov. 1, 2016. Retrieved Jul. 18, 2018.
6. Hilary Mantel, et. al. “Ten rules for writing fiction (part two.) [sic.]” The Guardian. Feb. 20, 2010. Retrieved Jul. 18, 2018.
7. Nicholas Tart. “7 Things I Learned from Publishing a Book.” Income: How to Make Money Online. N.d. Retrieved Jul. 18, 2018.