Push through, pull through and who’s actually your reader

Okay, let me preface this by explaining that before I entered the self publishing business I had no experience in publishing other than adding to the slush piles of various publishers.  I did however have a pretty good business foundation, from employee to manager to small business owner. So as I studied the market and the business I naturally applied what I knew and noticed that basic business practices transcend business types and categories. One of those concepts is that of pull through/push through sale and marketing. So what is this concept and how does it apply to us as writers/publishers? I’m glad you asked!

Pull through/push through is a concept that mostly applies to a ‘mature’ marketplace, that is a market that’s been around for some time, like publishing. It involves the method of getting the product (book) to the end user (reader) in the most efficient and profitable way. In most cases this is accomplished through a middleman or a series of middlemen. The manufacturer (publisher) produces the product then sells that product (book) to the distributor or wholesaler (book distributor or book store) who in turn sells the product (book) to the end user (reader). So how does pull through/push through apply to this process? Again, I’m glad you asked!

In push through marketing the manufacturer focuses its attention on the distributor. He/she tailors its products for the needs of the distributor. It is assumed by the manufacturer that the distributor’s decisions are based on the needs and wants of the end user (reader). But the distributor has other concerns as well, such as inventory volumes, purchase order statements and other stuff. So the final decision may not always be made based on what the customer (reader) wants and need. Also,scant consideration is made as to if there is something the customer (reader) wants and need that is not currently available. So the manufacturer’s customer is the distributor. This is the person he/she must satisfy.

Pull through marketing/sales is different. In this case the manufacturer sell directly to the end user (reader) and creates the demand. The distributor will fall in line because the customer (reader) is demanding said product and in the end, the customer (reader) knows best. This type of marketing requires more effort on the manufacturer’s part but also gives the manufacturer more control over the end user (reader) market. It also allows the manufacturer (publisher) to introduce and create demand for new products (books).

Okay, I hope you’re still with me. So what does this have to do with you as a mainstream writer/independent writer?  Well, if you are a mainstream writer you are in the position of push through marketing. You are trying to convince the agent/editor/publisher to sell your story to the reader. So as much as you would like to think you are writing for the end user reader, you are writing for the agent/editor reader. You have to convince these folks that your story/novel is worth their time and effort to present to the end user reader. It is very important in this case that you spend more time meeting what the agent/editor requires in order to get your chance to be published. That’s why agents give you these long lists of things to do.

Now if you are an independent writer you’re in pull through mode. You’re dealing directly with the reader, writing your stories and presenting them any way you can. As we have seen many times, most recently with 50 Shades of Gray, if you win the end user reader everyone else falls in line. You’ve created the demand and everyone else wants a piece of it. Since you went directly to the source you don’t have to consider the other items that would concern the distributor, such as inventories or whether or not the reader will actually want this new type of writing or story. Pull through can be more effective for a writer but is challenging because it involves self marketing. Luckily social media had made that a bit easier.

And now I’m done. Whichever path you choose to publishing, take the time to study and understand the market and methods so your time won’t be wasted. It will help increase your chances of ‘success,’ whatever that means to you. Class dismissed; there will be a quiz on Friday.

Warriors of The Bright Country

This is a reprint of a blog I wrote for Blackgate last year. Enjoy…

In the West African bulge is a land known in pre-colonial history as the Sudan. This Sudan is not to be confused with the modern nation that bears the same name. It is a moniker which translates from Arabic to mean ‘The Land of the Blacks.’ This pre-colonial Sudan covered an area that stretched from the West African coasts to the borders of the Nile, running north along a border of grasslands known as the Sahel ‘the shore,’ and south along the beginning of the African forests region. Between these natural borders a wide variety of kingdoms and empires rose and fell, each one fueled by the Trans-Saharan trade with channeled forest gold to the north and desert salt to the south. This land was known to many of its inhabitants as ‘The Bright Country,’ and the blueprint of these mighty kingdoms was drawn by a people known as the Soninke.

So what do these folks have to do with heroic deeds? The Soninke warrior society possessed many similarities of warrior societies that developed in other areas throughout the world, from the chivalry of Northern Europe to the Bushido codes of feudal Japan. It was the Soninke who established the first of a line of great Sudanese kingdoms that began Ghana and continued to Kanem and Bornu.

It is here where we find the root the Sudanese warrior culture. A strict hierarchy ruled the Soninke, one that drew distinct lines between members of society. The horro, or nobles, were the highest of this society. A horro protected the virtue of his women and was generous to the poor and weak. His entire life was dedicated to upholding the reputation of his family and proving himself by accomplishing brave and honorable deeds. A young horro was trained in the arts of war and tradition from a young age. Once his training was complete he was given a horse, weapons and, most importantly, his own diaru. The diaru was in many ways equivalent to the bards of Europe, but he was also much more. The diaru was always at the horro’s side as his counselor, friend and praise singer. Soninke society did not allow the ‘knight’ to boast or speak of his own accomplishments. That duty fell upon the diaru.  A perfect story which explains the Soninke warrior culture is ‘Gassire’s Lute.’ Alta Jablow gives a good explanation of the role of the diaru in Soninke society while the epic itself describes the valor of the horro.

Soninke culture extended beyond the confines its own kingdom. Ghana had a significant influence on the kingdoms that followed it. Like Rome, those who stepped into its place emulated its customs. Much of what we know of Soninke chivalry survives in the tales passed on through storytellers.  Sundiata, the story of the first king of the Mali Empire, also reflects the Soninke tradition of honorable battle. Mali was a vassal of Ghana until its fall. The void left by the empire’s collapse was filled by Mali.

The tales that gives many clear descriptions of this brand of honorable conflict come from the Bambara and their kingdom of Segu. Many of their stories ring with the same voice of the Soninke. In their culture the ever present Diaru is called djeli. Many of the rituals of combat are described in detail in these stories. For instance, magic preparation was just as important as marital preparation. A warrior magic was considered stronger than his armor. If a warrior could demonstrate a stronger magic than is opponent a duel would not take place. It was common for a warrior to allow his opponent to take the first ‘shot,’ either with an arrow or a gun. Surviving the shot proved strong magic. Only if two warriors demonstrated equal magic would they resort to weapons. It was also dishonorable to fight an opponent who has admitted publically that he was afraid; there was no honor in fighting a man who has expressed his inferiority.

The culture of the warrior seems not to be confined to one particular culture or continent. Wherever the social conditions provide the means of development, this society seem to be the natural result. Just as the knights of old sang of the glories of Camelot, the horros of Ghana sang of the glory of Wagadu.

‘The fifth Wagadu will arise from discord to endure as the rains of the South,

As the rocks of the Sahara,

Every man will bear Wagadu in his heart.

Every woman will have Wagadu in her sons.

Hoooh! Dierra, Agada, Gana, Silla!

Hoooh! Fasa!’