By Gayle Carline
By quantity, I write more humor than mystery, simply because, since 2005, I’ve provided the Placentia News-Times with 600 words every week, telling some story about my family in the most exaggerated, and hopefully funniest, way possible. And yet, when people ask me what I write, I tell them I write murder mysteries.
I try to say that with a demure smile.
I’m guessing there are probably 100 mystery writers to every 1 humor writer. Just go into any bookstore and look around. “Mystery” gets its own section “Humor” gets one shelf. So why do I want to align myself with an ocean of writers, instead of trying to be the big fish in the smaller pond?
The problem with being a humor writer is that comedy is so subjective. Everyone recognizes that Hamlet is a tragedy, even if they are not moved to tears. However, if I walked across the room, tripped spectacularly and fell in a heap, some people would gasp and rush to my side, and some people would help me eventually, after they stopped laughing.
Because some people laugh at slapstick. Others laugh at erudite, New Yorker stories. There are people who love bawdy humor, who love puns, who love knock-knock jokes, etc. If you write something which appeals to one of these groups, they will pronounce you funny. The rest of the folks, however, will not say, “Yes, I recognize it as humor, but it’s really not my style.”
They will say, “I didn’t laugh, therefore, it wasn’t funny.”
Therefore, you are not funny. You big loser.
Even if you feel confident in being humorous within your group, and you are a good writer, humor is very difficult to write. When I’m writing my mysteries, my character can trip over a table or the table without too much trouble. Action is more forgiving. In humor, though, one word can make or break the joke. One example:
Erma Bombeck released a book of her columns called, I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression. Funny title, yes? What if the word “the” was replaced by “my”? Suddenly, I Lost Everything in My Post-Natal Depression isn’t so funny.
It’s now a sad, yet ultimately redeeming memoir (that we’ve all seen before).
So now I’m consumed with my new book, checking to see if it’s on Amazon yet, and now is it on Barnes & Noble? I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway, and I put a Media Release on my website. I’ll be talking about it briefly on my own little two-cents-worth blog. If you’re a writer, you know the drill, and how everything else falls away while you’re taking care of the bird in your hand.
So how do you market humor? Ideally, you’re looking for that subset of people who laugh at the things you find funny, and trying to avoid the people who don’t get you. The straight approach of “Read this book, it’ll make you laugh,” doesn’t always work. Maybe some people will think it’s funny, but others will take it as a dare. I love to laugh, but when I see ads for books or movies that tell me they’re “uproarious”, “hilarious”, “gut-bustingly funny”, etc, I want to run the other way. Mention “zany” or “wacky” and I’m in the next county.
Here are some of my rules for marketing:
1. If you’re writing humor within a genre, market the genre. My mysteries have a lot of humor, but I’m afraid if I brag about how hilarious they are, I am just begging for a snarky beatdown. Instead, I describe my mysteries as fun romps. I allude to the humor, as in, “it’s got a little humor in it.” That way, either readers like the story and don’t get the humor, or think it’s funny and I’m being too modest, or don’t like the story anyway, making it a moot point.
2. If you’re writing straight humor, compare it to someone else’s style. This doesn’t mean you’re copying them. It means you write in the tradition of Robert Benchley, or David Sedaris, or Tina Fey, etc. Or perhaps, like me, you write Erma Bombeck-style, slice-of-life humor. It’s like saying the password, opening the door, and finding your people.
3. Market your sense of humor. This means writing your ad copy, your press releases, and all other marketing materials in your “funny” voice. If you write a blog, you should include your humor there. If you have a website, same thing applies. This goes back to the first rule of writing: show, don’t tell. Don’t tell your reader they’ll laugh if they read your book. Show them the funny!
4. Last, your marketing kit should include plenty of steel wool. Scrub yourself with it on a daily basis. You’re gonna need thick skin for this business.
Hope you enjoyed my little rant, and if you don’t get my kind of humor, it’s okay. If you can’t say something kind, say something snarky, right?
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