Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Enough To Put You Off Your Spaghetti

Once upon a time I was running a literature project and the Arts Council sent me on a marketing course. (This was where this particular tranche of money was going: not to any poverty-stricken writers needing to buy time to write, but in fees to the guys running the course and in putting them and eight of us art-worker geezers up in a London hotel for a whole weekend.) At the very first workshop, the very nice guy running it stunned us all with a beautifully graphic illustration of the marketing philosophy we were supposed to apply to our projects and were going to spend the weekend learning how.

He got a spaghetti spoon out of his bag (one of those flattish things with holes or slits or something). He said, 'Put up your hands if you like spaghetti.' All eight of us put up our hands. Then he said, 'How many of you eat spaghetti at home?' All of us except a gnarled and hairy editor of a poetry mag and a jumpered runner of a community literature project put up our hands again. 'How many of you do the cooking?' Only three of us put up our hands. 'Right,' he said, 'you are the three to whom I am going to market my spaghetti spoon!'

This was called IDENTIFYING AND TARGETING YOUR MARKET. There's no point targeting the wrong market, the smart arts worker whose husband did the cooking, least of all the hairy editor who never ate spaghetti at home.

This is the marketing philosophy behind the fiction-publishing industry now: identify an acknowledged need and answer it, give the public what they recognise and think they want, tap into established habit.

No one seems to have noticed that NOVELS ARE NOT SPAGHETTI SPOONS! Novels are ideas, language, emotions, stories you don't know you want before you read them and they enter your life for ever; literature is about surprise and enlightenment as well as recognition, and sometimes about CHANGING PEOPLE'S MINDS!

And anyway, I went on doing the cooking but I never bothered with a spaghetti spoon.
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