Snowpiercer is an awesome movie (in my geeky opinion). It’s original, thought provoking, and unexpected, despite the very common post-apocalyptic world setting. And yet…you probably haven’t heard of it.
Why, despite casting Chris Evans as the lead and an amazing performance by Tilda Swinton, was it only in a handful of theaters for a couple of weeks!? And what can we as writers learn from this approach for marketing our own stories?
1. A Marketing Budget Can Affect Your Sales
As writers, we all long to see our names plastered throughout bookstores, our hardcovers glowing beneath a spotlight behind every store window. But in case you didn’t know, where your book is placed in a store can be determined by a budget. Yes, most of those coveted spots in the shops actually cost your publisher money to have your book there. Then there are all the other advertising and social media costs, book tours, and so on…
For reasons that have already been explained (better than I can) here and here, Snowpiercer was given a very limited North American marketing budget. Less exposure, less buzz, meant less people even knew to go see it! If people don’t know your book even exists, they can’t buy it, can they?
2. More Sales Don’t Mean More Money
Instead of spending a lot of money on things like posters, distribution, and advertising, the distributors released Snowpiercer in select theaters to create initial buzz then pushed the movie to VOD (video on demand) very quickly. While the profits were lower than if it had remained in theaters longer, there were fewer costs involved, making the overall return better (in theory, because we’ll never know for sure, will we?).
But do you see a correlation here?
In publishing, the return on digital-only can be much higher because the publisher’s overhead is less. That means more take-home for us authors, too. It just makes financial sense. While this is our art, if we want to make a career out of it, we also have to consider the business end of things. However, it’s a tricky game trying to predict if a novel will have that mass-market appeal or if we might reach our target audience better through alternative methods to traditional print publishing. Unfortunately, I’ve misplaced my crystal ball, so I can’t tell you the answer to that.
3. Word of Mouth Works
Thanks to positive reactions to the movie, Snowpiercer’s release was eventually expanded to more theaters. However, the results were still not what you’d expect. Maybe the marketing decisions and quick to VOD release was the “kiss of death,” but a good movie is a good movie, right? And people will talk (Snowpiercer is rated at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, after all).
Even if your marketing campaign isn’t backed by a big budget, hopefully your readers will speak louder than dollar signs. That’s where positive reviews will boost your readership – friends tell friends, librarians order it, bloggers recommend it. At the end of the day, write a good book and they will read it, just like I watched a great movie and now you’re hearing about it.
4. There are Alternatives
Just as the movie industry has had to adapt in recent years, so has the publishing industry, and thankfully, there are so many new options for us writers. Times are a changing and we need to change with them. Seek out new avenues for promotions and opportunities for targeting your audience.
What filmmaker doesn’t dream of “blockbuster” status just like you dream of your book being in that window? But let go of those pre-conceived notions and you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome, because, let’s face it, Snowpiercer has done a lot better than you might think for never having heard of it here in the North America. And now hopefully, you’ll watch it too.