Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why Katniss is a Feminist Character (And It’s Not Because She Wields a Bow and Beats Boys Up)

WARNING: If you haven’t read the books yet (and really, what have you been doing with your life if you haven’t?) this post contains spoilers.

When The Hunger Games hit shelves in 2008, its feisty main character quickly earned the “strong female character” seal of approval from fans of young adult lit. Hot-tempered, bow-wielding Katniss is fiercely independent, scornful of feminine frills, and barred off to any emotion that could render her vulnerable. Essentially, as one blogger pointed out recently, she’s the anti-Bella Swan, a golden girl for all those YA readers who like their female protagonists to do something more worthwhile than choose between two men.

But amidst the flurry of excitement over Katniss’s complete and utter BAMFness (to use the technical term), it’s easy to forget what keeps her alive is not superior strength, speed, or intelligence, but rather a characteristic that no one else in the arena embraces. Ultimately, it’s not the weapons Katniss wields but the relationships she nurtures that save her life.

And I’m convinced that she’s a feminist character not because she wields a bow like Bella never could, but because while in the arena she learns to recognize, value, and eventually embrace feminine strengths. It’s her ability to find strength in other women — and to support them in return — that makes the girl on fire a feminist.

[Read the rest of this article on]Link

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Ira Glass on Storytelling and the Ambition to be Good

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Give yourself permission to create something that disappoints you. Then create more of it. Create lots of it.

It's the only way to get to that wonderful work inside you that's dying to get out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Authors and Publishers Can Learn from the Hunger Games Marketing Campaign, Part 2

Who's going to the midnight showing of The Hunger Games tonight? By show of hands? Pretty much everyone, from the looks of it, and with the brilliance of the movie's marketing plan (on top of the obvious brilliance of the books), it's no surprise.

Last week we started talking about how savvy authors and publishing pros might learn from the movie's fantastic marketing plan—first by building a bridge for existing fans and then by creating extra content to entice new ones. (If you missed Part 1, click here to read it now.) Now, let's talk about how to bend the odds in your favor by putting that extra content to use!

3.) Have a plan for all of your extra content. Lionsgate created an enormous amount of the content fans could go crazy for while pulling The Hunger Games together, but what made the campaign so successful was the careful order in which the studio released materials, and its impeccable timing. The studio started small, feeding conversations among fans, announcing the casting of minor roles, dropping the names of the major stars, and releasing the first character posters. And they built up to larger releases like the first photos from the set, short video teasers and new platforms for fans to talk, the first tracks from the movie soundtrack, and eventually full trailers released at just the right time to go viral in an explosive way. The bigger the content, the bigger the venue that released it; articles started in smaller publications and back-page arts sections, but by the time of the first promotional images from the set, major media outlets were hosting content exclusively and exposing it to whole new sets of potential fans. Fans couldn't have forgotten the movie was coming if they tried, and new people were introduced to it every day.

Why it matters for books: Lionsgate created lots of content right away, but they held their cards close to their chest and doled out one at a time, building tension much the way an author structures a good plot. By giving fans small bites of content but hinting at more to come, and by gradually building up to their biggest content, the studio created a near-constant feeling of excitement. Publishers and writers can build similar anticipation into their own marketing plans by strategically working up to the release of their own biggest content, like covers, trailers, and sample chapters. And strong fan interest in early releases can help convince sites with even bigger audiences, or audiences that haven’t yet been introduced to the series, to host the release of major materials and spark an explosive response.

4.) Work with what existing fans love to gain new ones. Throughout the planning and creation of the Hunger Games movie, Lionsgate has brought new fans on board by targeting what existing fans liked. The best example is the film’s soundtrack; though a Hans Zimmer or Howard Shore type might have been the obvious choice, the studio turned instead to fans’ favorite artists to build an unexpected tracklist. The soundtrack targeted the favorite singers of the series’ teen fans (from Taylor Swift to Arcade Fire), giving them one more hook to buzz about. Then the studio announced tracks from bands popular with a slightly older and decidedly different crowd (see mainly: The Decemberists), and existing fans squealed while a new and huge musical fan base got their first doorway into film fandom. Very smart indeed.

Why it matters for books: Marketers and savvy authors must know their audience. That means knowing not just who they are but also what they like beyond a specific book. Can a tour be arranged with the audience’s other favorite authors? Could you create a playlist for the book including some of their favorite bands? Can their favorite song be in the trailer? Can an artist fans love do sketches of the main characters? Can a Pinterest board or Tumblr of images in the theme of the book draw fans’ interest? The brilliance of all these plans is that they’ll appeal to an existing fan base, but people won’t need to be a fan in order to get something out of them. You’ll know you’re doing it right when an existing fan finds that extra content and it reminds them of a friend who may never have heard of the author or book—and bingo, you may just have earned a new fan.

What do you think of the Hunger Games marketing campaign? Any more tips or ideas based on everything that’s been done?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt (A Tuesday Muse)

Imagine this quote in a new context.

Who says this, and to whom?

What event is being described?

How does the event–or the explaining of the event afterwards–change everything for either the teller or the listener?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Authors and Publishers Can Learn from the Hunger Games Marketing Campaign, Part 1

Two weeks before its release on March 23rd, The Hunger Games movie is already expected to do as well in the box office as—if not even better than—the final Twilight movies. It’s expected to gross $100 million in its opening weekend alone, and $275 million over the length of its run in theaters. In Fandango’s twelve-year history, it’s never even come close to selling as many advance tickets as it has for The Hunger Games. Fueled by the pre-movie buzz, the paperback of the first book—by no means a new splash in the market, having been out for two years already—is outselling the year’s biggest book hits. And the excitement is only growing.

Both book and film can chalk their incredible recent success up to a versatile and inexhaustible marketing push by Lionsgate studios. And though we might have little hope of matching the blockbuster studio’s budget, much of what’s made the studio’s push so successful can easily be applied to publishers’ and writers’ own promotional campaigns. Here are just a few elements you can adapt:

1.) Create a bridge for existing fans. When Lionsgate inked a deal to bring The Hunger Games to the big screen, the series was already a hit with teens, reporting more than 150,000 sales and boasting a fan frenzy that came close to the Twilight and Harry Potter series. But with three years between the movie deal and its big-screen release, Lionsgate needed a way to keep the film on fans’ radars. By creating a “bridge” of content the existing fans were hungry for already to lead them to the new content in theaters, Lionsgate turned what could have been a setback into a chance for existing fans to spread their fervor through word of mouth.

Why it matters for books: When an author has an existing fan base—whether from social media popularity, recent recognition in the media, or another successful novel or series—one of the biggest challenges to bringing a new book out is carrying the author’s popularity over to a new title. Though most marketing campaigns focus on attracting new fan bases, they still take care not to lose the hard-won fans that already exist—and getting a reader to pick up an author’s second book can be harder than you think. Writers and publishers must approach the gap between initial buzz and the new book’s publication strategically by bridging content. The most successful bridges give existing fans more of what they already love and want (whether it’s the books’ smoldering love interests, the author’s snarkily hilarious style, or the writer’s off-the-page personality) while at the same time introducing concepts and characters that will appear in the new book and tying back to the upcoming new release.

2.) Create extra content… Lionsgate made every landmark on the route to a finished film a spectacle for fans, building buzz around everything from the choice of a director to fan input on casting calls and auditions and finally their strategic release of casting decisions, one name at a time. But it was the extra materials the studio generated—everything from posters featuring each individual character to viral social media content from social networks to name generators —that really held hungry fans’ attention. Part of the brilliance of the Hunger Games marketing campaign is that much of the content released to build excitement would have needed to be created for the films anyway—like music for the soundtrack and clips of Katniss in the arena. Put it all together, and fans had plenty to munch on while they waited for the movie to release.

Why it matters for books: Not every publisher or author has the resources to build whole social networks or schedule a photo shoot for every character, but there’s a world of possibility available nonetheless. Consider hinting that one character from a previous series will show up in the new book, and allowing fans to guess which one. Introduce your main character with a short story in their voice, or give fans a story about an existing character that made them clamor for more. With a little creativity you can put together “dream casts,” interactive games and contests, early reveals of content and images, and more. The key is to delve into what makes a book—or an author’s previous books—appealing, and find an efficient way to create more of that content than will be needed in the finished book. By re-purposing material for an early buzz-building release online, publishers and authors can make a new release visible and appealing without an unmanageable investment.

But plop all that extra content up online at once and you're likely to find it's wasted; truly good content needs an innovative and strategic plan to succeed. Next week, we'll talk about what that plan might look like! Check out Part 2 in this series to find out more about how to bend the odds in your favor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Muse: Hugo's Big Machine

Today's muse is a clip from the movie Hugo, which was both visually stunning and incredibly well-written:

What's your reason for being here?

Many apologies for the lack of a non-muse post last week! I'll have something cool on the blog soon to compensate.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday Muse: The Earth from Space

At the risk of stating the obvious... our world is pretty incredible:

It amazes me that you can see thunderstorms and the aurora borealis so clearly from space. It amazes me how much of this earth we have marked with our presence, and how visibly. That the lives we lead can feel so tiny individually, but the sum of the parts is enough to literally light up the world from outer space.

What amazes you?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What IS a Feminist Character, Really? (A Bit of a Love Letter to Kristin Cashore)

I thought I'd write a post today about how, in the midst of all this talk about what isn't really a "strong female character," about what isn't a feminist character, we—myself included, perhaps myself most of all—risk falling into the trap of scrutinizing female characters more closely than men, criticizing them more often, and thus reinforcing messages that can hurt the feminist cause more than they might help it. About how we risk widening a rift when what we need is mutual understanding of all women, of all men, and of all the everything in between, in all our wonderful and utterly dumbfounding complexity. About how, while it's necessary and important to examine tropes, to pick apart their underlying themes and put them back together with a better understanding of the messages we absorb from them, if that picking apart leaves us without a single female character we can feel proud of and sure of, then we are lost. How if we spend all our time figuring out why we shouldn't love female characters, we will do exactly what we accuse others of, and fail to love women.

I was going to write that post.

And then I read Bitterblue. And I was reminded of the wonderful feminist thing that is Kristin Cashore.

Her main characters are all strong women. They all have power. They are also all broken, haunted by these truly terrible pasts. And they are so wholly, completely, complexly human that they defy simplification. They refuse to be tropes. None of them—women or men, primary or secondary—can be ignored. They seem to live and breathe, and they offer windows—some of the only broad, clear windows I've ever encountered in literature—into what it really is to be a woman. They are human.

These are the characters we need. It's not enough to say "strong." It's not enough to say "flawed." They must be whole. They must be human. So that each of us, in reading them, can feel what it is to be a human who is not ourselves.* So we can all understand each other better for it.

*That said, it would be remiss of me to ignore the fact that all of Cashore's main characters, and in fact almost all of her secondary and tertiary characters, are people of considerable privilege and with the power to command nations. They are primarily members of the dominant race in their respective kingdoms, or, in the case of Fire, they have powers that compensate for the prejudices of those around them by providing them with some control over others. It isn't quite enough to give us both women and men who are whole and human—we also need to see whole, human characters of all genders who are underprivileged in other ways, so that their unique perspectives can be forefronted and understood as well. I hope you understand that I don't intend to criticize Kristin—I believe that she has the skill and the humility to do those tales justice, and one day I truly hope to see them from her.