Some of you may be familiar with the term ‘organic farming’. An alternative agricultural system which originated early in the 20th century, it arose largely in reaction to rapidly changing farming practices and now apparently accounts for 70 million hectares globally. It is defined by the use of fertilizers of organic origin and places emphasis on older but often forgotten techniques such as crop rotation, biological pest control, and mixed cropping, allowing the use of naturally occurring substances while prohibiting or strictly limiting anything synthetic. Basically, it’s an integrated farming system that sets out to achieve sustainability while enhancing soil fertility and biological diversity. In the last couple of decades, the market for organic food has grown to over $63 billion worldwide.
What does all that have to do with writing?
It’s used here as an analogy to help writers understand something about marketing their books.
Agriculture was practiced for thousands of years without the use of artificial chemicals which were first created during the 19th century. As they were cheap, powerful, and easy to transport in bulk, they became popular quickly - but while beneficial in the short term, they ended up creating soil compaction, erosion, and declines in overall soil fertility, as well as health concerns about toxic chemicals entering the food chain.
Storytelling is similarly an ancient practice. The rise of literacy and traditional publishing meant that throughout the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, readers enjoyed a surfeit of books in hardback or paperback form. But the rise of the internet brought with it concerns parallel to those felt in agriculture. Using tools readily available to almost everyone, it became possible to not only write and publish a book, but to make it available to vast populations. Beneficial, yes: but also potentially saturating the market with products of less value.
This super-saturated market situation brought with it aggressive and somewhat artificial marketing techniques based on algorithms, social media advertising and ‘pattern interruption’, whereby a marketer seeks to disturb and grab attention in some way and thus try to get more sales. One of the effects of these mass marketing approaches is to force books to be compacted together in genres and sub-genres — a categorisation process which inadvertently could lead to crushing originality and creativity. Erosion in terms of quality was certainly observable, as the verging on illiterate gained access to the same markets as the highly literate. Super-saturation can also lead to a suppression of the desire or purpose to write, as the individual author feels overwhelmed and apathetic about ever reaching a viable readership.
Just as organic farming promises a return to older and arguably healthier methods, so organic marketing is a trend towards a different way of selling a writer’s work. Alternative marketing systems, like anything else alternative, arise when conventional or accepted systems fail. Organic marketing is defined by the use of what might be called ‘natural communications’ between friends, family members and colleagues, rather than an attempt to reach total strangers. An organic approach emphasises techniques such as gentle promotion, casual but careful placement of products, and a natural ‘winnowing’ of literature based on what readers actually want or need. It’s an integrated system that sets out to achieve sustainability and viability for authors while enhancing creativity and cultural diversity.
Intrigued? Stay tuned for more.