In Hollywood a film’s success is determined by it’s opening weekend box office.
I’m not saying it’s any indication of the quality of a film. But it’s the indicator everyone uses. Though I have a world of thoughts about why it isn’t a good idea for studios to base their business model around opening weekend box office, I can also understand why it’s the common currency in the industry.
Because box office figures are quantifiable (and therefore much easier to compare than something like artistic merit or Oscars). And they’re relatively predictable. There’s always the long shot no one sees coming or the huge disappointment (that sometimes everyone sees coming). But I didn’t work in marketing and even I can say with reasonable accuracy how much a film will make on Saturday and on Sunday, given the Friday numbers. And I can take that opening weekend and project about how much it’s going to make during its theatric domestic run.
The thing about opening weekend, though, is it isn’t really about the film. I mostly knew this but Joss Whedon clarified it so well before The Avengers opened.
“The first weekend is your job, the second weekend is mine. If the story is compelling, if I got it right, if people want to come back to it, yay!”
Opening weekend is about the marketing. Is there enough awareness of the film? Have the trailers and posters sold a film that audience want to see? Has the marketing reached all four quadrants? Or is it targeting fans of the source material or older audiences or just women? All of that marketing work has to be done before the film opens in order to generate the best possible opening weekend box office.
But that sort of thing doesn’t matter with books. I’ve been reading a lot of posts and articles about marketing and promoting books since I decided to self-publish and almost all of them emphasize early awareness. Getting book bloggers to review months in advance. And starting your social media networking ages before the book comes out.
I’m not questioning the strategies, just the timing. No one is going to judge my book based on opening weekend sales. Why does it matter if book blogs review my novel months before it comes out or months after? That first weekend or month even aren’t going to be any sort of indicator of how much the novel will make throughout it’s shelf life.
There is some merit to the idea of having lots of sales in a very focused period of time, especially on Amazon to help a book hit one of their top selling lists and generate more notice. But there’s nothing precluding that sort of coordination months or even years after a book’s been released. In traditional publishing bestseller lists are also determined not by the number of books but by the time span in which they sell. But, again, as longs as books are on the shelf for people to buy it could hit the NY Times list months or years after it first comes out. I just don’t see a need for a lot of pre-release marketing.
In fact, I prefer post-release marketing for one simple reason – if you bring the book to someone’s attention they can buy it. Admittedly, I may be way off base here because I’ve never actually done any of this (just yet). But one of the pieces of advice I read online is to do what would work on you. When I find a book I want to read – I want to read it. If I find it and have to wait two months before I can buy it or check it out from the library I’m likely to forget about it by the time it’s actually available. Even if I do remember, it’s almost guaranteed I’ve lost my initial enthusiasm for the book (unless it’s a sequel).
It’s more of a strike while the iron is hot sort of philosophy but it just makes sense to me that if I’m going to put effort into helping people find my book, I want them to be able to take immediate action and do something about their interest.
And when my book is turned into a film, then I’ll focus the marketing on opening weekend.