Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Marketing and The Problem with Ethics

Ethics are such pesky, pesky things.

Over the last few months, I've worked my way down the checkboxes of every possible marketing strategy I'd brainstormed for my recent book.  The Believer's Guide to the Multiverse is a fine book, or so I'm prone to telling myself, one that ain't perfect but that I feel solid about.  The concept is cutting edge and both spiritually and culturally relevant, and it was a joy to both write and have edited.

What's been less robust is the outreach.  Not in the effort, but in the result.  Oh, sure, friends have bought it, and folks who know me personally have bought it.   But each and every one of the other  approaches I'd considered and then implemented have crumbled.

The folks I know tenuously through social media...not longstanding net friends, but loosely affiliated acquaintances...just haven't been interested.  There, even free review copies offered to online conversation partners have just not been picked up.  Most folks have other theological fish to fry, and more significantly, other and more deeply established connections that have more meaning to them.

I am, if I am honest with myself, just not a well known person.  I'm not a brand, that's for sure, but it's deeper than that.

This has nothing to do with others, but rather, comes as I reap a harvest I have sown.  Or in this case, not sown.  For most of my ministry, I've prioritized life/family balance.  That means I live considerably more slowly than my frazzled colleagues, and I would not change that.  But it also means I've stepped away from the conference and meeting travel that creates both family stress and collegial connection.  By choosing not to travel so that I can be a consistent and (mostly) nonanxious presence for family, I've not created that network.

And that delimits the depth of interpersonal engagement necessary for a network to be created, and that delimits reach.  It is, as they say, what it is.

This has been coupled with the challenge of eBook publication.  Most review outlets simply do not take them seriously, even if they've been edited by a competent and gifted professional and capably produced.  Eventually, this will change, but now, it's the reality I've encountered.  With one or two exceptions, every outlet I'd expected to at least look at the book has balked.

No reviews mean no buzz.  No buzz means no sales.  It's simple.

So at the end of six months of outreach, I went down my list and found only one brainstormed outreach option left unimplemented: the subversive metamarketing gambit.

I'm reasonably sure this one popped into my brain way back when because I know that what sells books is controversy, and honey child, there's controversy to be had in the Believer's Guide.  Or there would be, once it got past folks who know me into the hands of thems that don't.

Here you have a book that suggests a completely different view of Creation, and openly and unabashedly expresses tolerance for other faiths.  Were I better known, this book would have drawn net-trolls like flies to honey.  New atheists and fundamentalists alike would find it appalling and unacceptable.  Much angry and indignant bloggery would have ensued.

And so, a ways back, I'd laid out a multistep plan.  It was an outline for a wee bit of mischief making, involving anonymously sending draft copies of the book to those I know would seriously freak out when then encountered it.   The list included "discernment" ministries, the professional gadflies of my denomination, particularly volatile atheist bloggers, and the like.   I know their buttons, where they lie, and how to trigger that furious response.  I have, drafted, letters that would invoke that Pavlovian response, calling out the dogslobber of umbrage that is so easily invoked every time you ring that bell.  Press the button, out comes outrage.  Lord love the internet.

Sure, it'd mean my Amazon reviews would suddenly go waaaay negative.  But it would also generate energy and chatter, and energy and chatter sells books.

I found myself considering that plan again last week, and I came to two conclusions.  First, it was so crazy it just might work.  And second, there was no way I could actually bring myself to do it.

Because to do it, I'd have to manipulate others.  Sure, they are others who are not my friends, and whose worldviews threaten the heart of the Good News.  But they are, nonetheless, human beings and children of God.  I have a clear and discrete ethical obligation towards them, one that my Teacher simply will not let me ignore.

I do not like being manipulated, therefore I cannot manipulate.  I do not like being embarrassed or deceived, therefore I cannot embarrass or deceive.  Period.

Beyond that fundamental imperative, there's also my understanding of the balance between means and ends.  Sure, getting an idea I care deeply about out there is an important end.  But ill means do not truly serve a good end.  They just never do.  If you cannot fold your ultimate purpose into your means, then you need to reconsider your approach.

So that outside the box gambit, as tempting and tastily mis-cheee-veee-us as it is, must be set aside.

Ah well.