In search of an audience

Saturday, April 2, 2011

9:30 AM. So, guys, we’ve gotten a little feedback from your query about publishing information, so far from each perspective rather than a synthesis, which I take as a good thing. I’m going to add Charles, as an author and former bookstore owner. Is this conversation what you have in mind?

Well, it’s your way of doing things. It could be done in other ways – would be, by other people.

Since I am not other people, I guess we’re stuck with my way, aren’t we?

It’s okay with us, we’re only pointing out that your way has unique advantages and corresponding disadvantages. A collaborative approach casts the net widely – but it therefore is slower and less focused. Yet “less focused” has its advantages, including the ability to gradually sense and hone in on more elusive perceptions and connections, rather than jumping to the most evident thing, which is always going to be the nearest to what already exists.

Okay. So?

So the original perception – via the remembered part of the dream – was that you seek a more mobile memory. You might look again at that phrase and realized that it means not only the means of publishing information, but the means of keeping yourself (yourselves) connected, grounded, flexible, during fast-moving times. Suppose – on an economic level – that you had invested all you owned in Beta or even in VHS-format products, and had refused to change your bet even after it had become obvious that technology had moved on? It isn’t quite that way with books – and yet it is absolutely that way in terms of contacting your audiences.

You can see just from your initial responses that the system of communicating ideas is in pieces. To some extent this is fortunate, as it prevents censorship. But it is also unfortunate, since it means that those who get their information through different media tend to get different kinds of information, with little cross-feed. Think of talk radio. Depending on which station you tune to, you’ll get a very different idea of the world. What if, to get those different views, you had to not merely retune the radio, but switch to a different medium for each new viewpoint? One for radio, one for broadcast TV, one for cable, one for Internet e-mail, one for Internet websites, one for twitter, etc. The disconnect would be huge, almost absolute – and yet that is (somewhat) the case with publishing.

Do book readers use twitter? Do e-book readers listen to talk radio? Do cable TV watchers do e-mail? Of course they do. But still, each kind of user has a different pattern of usage. Each has its own flavor, so to speak. This is merely “know your audience” brought to a different level, or looked at differently.

The trouble with specialization of knowledge or of interests is the tendency toward tunnel vision. You should know! But if you have several specialists talking, bridging specialties, you have the chance to see more broadly and more deeply at the same time.

Generalities, here. Anything more pointed?

You want insults?

I said pointed, not barbed.

Let’s put it this way, then. In a fragmented culture, any accepted way of doing things is going to be the result of appealing to a significant number of a given fragment. It does not mean that it will cross fragments. Anything that does cross over has enormous potential. But you can cross over by calculation or by inadvertence. If by calculation, the effect is greatly enlarged if suitable preparation has been made for the larger numbers. If by inadvertence, either the world wants your stuff (which is likeliest) or you have inadvertently stumbled into a formula. But nothing that happens “by accident” has the power of an equal something that has been planned.

And therefore?

And therefore an ounce of analysis is worth a pound of inadvertence. Instead of meaning by “know your audience” know who wants to hear what you have to say, it will work better if you mean “know how those people may be found, are likely to be found.” Do you find hard-shell Baptists on twitter? You don’t know. Do you find potential audiences among hard-shell Baptists? You don’t know that either, so you are compounding unknowns with unknowns.

And the solution is?

Some of your potential audience – anyone’s – will be most easily attracted by a presence in one place, others by a different place. If you can’t distinguish in advance which members of which groups might want to hear your message, maybe you should learn to put up the message in different ways as you do when you write books, columns, and also blogs, only deliberately.

Get out of the book ghetto, I see.

Well, as part of getting out of the new-age ghetto, or the liberal-politics ghetto, or the self-help ghetto or whichever comfortable corral of the like-minded that you may have chosen.

Interesting. All right, I’ll send this around and we’ll see.

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