Most writers see ‘marketing’ as a distinct activity. You finish your book, you go through the rigmarole of editing, and you get it out there into the marketplace. Job done.
In fact, unless you are working closely with a traditional publisher - and in many cases these days, even if you are - your job is far from over.
It goes like this: you have an idea for a story. You are driven by that idea and the images that go with it to eventually sit down and extract from yourself a book, overcoming all manner of obstacles along the way, as we have seen in earlier articles. You sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that that is all over. Then, you imagine, some strange alchemy takes place in the limbo between you and the public, and your book begins to sell. If the alchemy continues, if the magic is strong enough, your book sells and sells and you make enough money to write another.
The principles of this all-important alchemy remain a complete mystery to you. By far the majority of writers have no clue about marketing and what occurs in that dark Void between their book being finished and it being sold. Even those assigned with the task of selling the book - traditional publishers, agents, marketers of all kinds - often don’t understand the secrets of this peculiar magic.
But the truth is that, if you have the necessary skills to be a good writer, you can develop the right skills to become a successful marketer too.
Note that I said a good writer: it’s a cruel but undeniable fact that a story has to meet certain minimum standards with readers before any marketing will work. It doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece, as your local bookshop’s shelves will easily tell you - but to sell successfully it needs to be accurately written (in terms of spelling, grammar, punctuation and so on) and it needs to be well-crafted. It’s on the last point that many stories fall down: you can get a book proofread and remove the technical mistakes, but if a story doesn’t have certain factors crafted into it, it won’t sell.
Let’s assume, though, that your story has no technical errors and is well-crafted. Provided that it can find its way into the hands of readers, it will be successful, then. But who can find those readers? Where are they? Why are they not responding to the ultra-sonic whistle of your book and approaching it in droves?
To understand what is happening, you have to go back to the beginning, to before you started writing your book. In that void, there was nothing; then there was light. You created something, and put in place the necessary elements to draw readers into the story (if you were applying the secrets of the craft of writing). You made the reader wonder what would happen next; you created a series of mysteries about what was going on; you engaged the reader with questions of morality; you struck the reader with meaning. In the end, the reader put the book down (you hoped) and felt fulfilled in some way. You did all that from nothing.
In other words, you dug some channels.
The craft of writing is all about digging channels. You want to grasp and hold the reader’s attention and so you dig holes and create channels leading to those holes. Attention flows along those channels to pool at certain points; enough attention flows and you have yourself a tidal wave of commitment.
If you have a well-crafted story, you have an attention-gathering piece of engineering - it’s as simple as that.
An accomplished story-crafter is a controller of attention.
Now extend those principles further afield: dig the channels outward, from your completed book into the world at large.
Channels at first funnel attention, as the prospect notices the book; then they funnel money, as the customer buys the book; then they funnel the book into the hands of the public as it is delivered to them; then they funnel satisfaction into the minds and hearts of readers within the pages of your book.
Do you see the flow there?
You may have experienced this in reverse - in other words, your book produces satisfaction in the mind and heart of a single reader (that may be yourself alone, but let’s assume it to be a person to whom you have dared show your book). Prior to that, you gave them the book to read - you delivered it to them, in other words. You only delivered it when they made a commitment to read it (whether or not they handed over any money to you); and just before that, you must have said something to them in some way which persuaded them to pay attention in the first place.
And even before any of that, you selected that person - somehow, out of all the people in the world - to be the one to whom you were going to show the book.
Let’s flip that around into the right order:
1. You selected someone to whom to show your story.
2. You intrigued them in some effective way.
3. You got their commitment to read your story.
4. You delivered the book to them.
5. Your story satisfied them.
Are you beginning to see how all along it is the power of selecting and channelling which is at work? Even in the depths of your story, written by yourself alone, without any reader present except yourself, the act of writing involved selection and channelling. You selected a theme; you chose a protagonist; you guided attention using various tools; you used language to hold and grip attention all the way along. In that way, it is to be hoped, you produced a story which would fulfil readers.
How exactly do you build these marketing channels?
Stay tuned for the next in this series.