As I have mentioned in my last few posts, “we are fans” is a sentence from AR’s mission statement that informs most of their actions as publishers. It drives their DRM policy, it dictates how they approach social media, and it’s even apparent in their “voice.” In this post I will discuss the tone with which AR approaches their public communications, illustrating how AR attempts to endear readers by talking with them on the same level.
The most apparent example of AR’s tone is in their oft-repeated phrase “SF, F, and WTF!?” This sentence can be found everywhere they have a presence, from their main website to their Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages. While their reasons including “SF” and “F” are clear, what does the “WTF!?” add?
For one thing, there are a couple of practical explanations. It refers to the fact that some of AR’s novels are hybrid novels that do not fit the traditional boundaries of science fiction or fantasy. The “WTF!?” also indicates that many of the novels have truly bizarre premises and situations (such as Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland) and are clearly not conventional fare. Despite these uses, there are many neutral terms (such as “other”) that could have taken the acronym’s place.
The inclusion of the “WTF!?” (and the interrobang in particular) is clearly done in a playful manner . It’s a clever, humorous play on the SF/F acronyms, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to their own admitted weirdness. I certainly don’t think it downplays the seriousness of many AR works. I would say that it communicates a concept (weirdness/unconventionality) that might sound stilted if explained with official language, but in using the slang of the internet the idea is immediately understandable and even a bit charming.
Another example of their down-to-earth tone can be found on their registration pages for the Robot Army. These pages are peppered with references to early 20th century army recruitment propaganda and general military lingo. Once again, the language is whimsical but not silly or self-depreciating. For example, the subject line asking for the readers’ format preferences reads: “What Sort of Intelligence Would You Like us to Supply You With?”
Such language adds a sense of entertainment to an advertising situation. While the Robot Army is a program that benefits select readers with free advanced copies, it is a marketing program meant to raise awareness and develop word-of-mouth for the company’s novels. Customer-company interactions that are founded on advertising tend to be uncomfortable for the consumer, who might feel that the company is being insincere in order to sell something. Adding a humorous tone and a bit of fun to the mix can ease this tension and make the transaction more enjoyable for both parties.
AR doesn’t limit this jocular tone to their web presence, however. On the back of every AR paperback, in the top right corner, there is a small column entitled “FILE UNDER.” In addition to containing the specific sub-genre of that novel (such as urban fantasy), there are 3-4 bullet points that describe the specific plot points or themes of that novel. These have always reminded me of the way many users tag posts on Tumblr; they’re way too specific to be genuinely helpful in terms of categorization, and they’re mostly done for a comedic effect.
In addition to adding the AR flavor to the cover, the column is genuinely useful in promoting the book. While the extreme specificity is amusing, it also highlights the unique nature of that particular story, which can often be difficult with a single-paragraph back-cover description.
While the image of the prestigious publisher certainly works for many presses, AR carves their own niche with their humble but witty approach to communication. It certainly gels with their catalog; while many of AR’s novels deal with serious themes, they are first and foremost crafted as pieces of entertainment meant to excite and engage readers. It also serves as a continuation of AR’s policy towards fan relations; that is, to keep the reader not only front and center, but to also involve them in the entire process. If AR hopes to impress, engage, and connect with fans on a level beyond businessman to customer, than speaking to their readers with complete sincerity is the only way to go.
In my next post, I will present a quick overview of AR’s genre imprints, Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A.