Marketing Your Book – What’s in a Voice?

Yikes. I like to support other writers. Not out of tit for tat, but just because it makes me feel good. If I don’t think well of a book, I either don’t review it, or I am very specific about what I didn’t enjoy about it and I am always aware that taste is subjective.

These days, selling a book involves more than courting reviewers and doing book tours. With social media and self e-publishing, there are more voices than ever and short video is one way authors are promoting their works.

I got a video recommendation through my daily Medium feed. It was about an artist’s reinterpretation of a classic on military strategy. It was something I had read because when it came out – or maybe, when it was rediscovered – it made a big noise with all of the yuppie stockbrokers in their suspenders, who probably read it in between yelling over the phone and power lunches.

I’ll leave the obvious questions alone – why do an artistic reimagining of what is now a not-as-popular book at this stage, for example, and just go on to the video itself.

Yikes again.

The artist made a good point about applying these military strategies to life problems other than trying to conquer a nearby province. And laying out those strategies in a graphic format to make them easier to grasp is another good idea. But the voice.

I am going to guess the artist did the voiceover herself. For some reason, she chose to apply an echo effect that made the whole thing sound like it was recorded in a public bathroom at the beach. Bad enough. But the voice.

No doubt the artist is a woman, not a child, a professional and productive visual artist.  But her voice did not say that. Instead, it said to me, “I’m a somewhat ditzy teenager and I want to show you my sparkly, sparkly new thing.”

Her voice in the video was youthful in the extreme, with all the squeaks and high tones that implies. There was very little range and very little depth. Certainly not enough range or depth to cover a subject like military strategies as applied to life problems.

Someday, perhaps, people will be able to overlook squeaky voices applied to serious subjects, but right now, they don’t. Study after study shows that little girl (and little boy) voices are not taken seriously. You may have the best mind in the world, but if you sound as though you’re a Belieber, you will have to put in some extra effort to get your thoughts across.

It isn’t fair. True. But life isn’t fair. Also true. Actors spend a lot of time learning to use their voices – learning to project, to expand their range, to give richness -depth – to them and to consciously choosing where to place emphasis and how to use silence. Most professional singers – those who want to be able to use their voices well into old age – do the same.

Because well-trained voices are a pleasure to listen to. We lean into them, we trust them more, we find them more believable. Voices that squeak, that bottom out like a boat on a riverbed, that constantly end on a question mark rise, that have popular culture inflections that take one back to high school days, are not trustworthy, are not believable.

And if you’re trying to sell a book, you should take that into consideration.

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