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A Marketing Handbook for Writers: Part Three - The Jigsaw Puzzle of Marketing


In the last article in this series, we pictured writing as the practice of digging attention-controlling channels to guide your readers towards the protagonist, along the line of the plot and then finally to the great ‘lake of fulfilment’ where the story achieves its success in the hearts of readers. For more about the craft of writing, please see the book How Stories Really Work.

In the earlier article, we weren’t looking at the craft of writing particularly - we were looking at how to successfully market a story. We caught a glimpse of how to apply the same principles that work in crafting a story to the wider world of marketing that story.

It is a case of taking the same series of actions you took firstly as a writer in writing your book, then as a tentative ‘marketer’ in showing your book to just one person, and then expanding upon those. This was a short series of steps:

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.

So marketing and writing are related. What is going on?

When you were engaged in the act of writing, something deeply mysterious was occurring, something which lies at the heart, probably, of why you are a writer in the first place: you were delving deeply into a part of yourself which we call the ‘imagination’, and drawing out from it images, shapes, words, ideas large and small, scenes, pieces of dialogue, fictitious events, spaces, actions, perceptions and sensations and everything else that you could find that seemed in any way connected to your story.

Perhaps we are wrong to call this part of ourselves ‘imagination’, only because that word now largely conjures up the idea of fantasy only. Imagination as a function can of course include much, much more than just those things which are clearly ‘imaginary’: while fantasy writers in their delving find dragons, science fiction writers find intergalactic spaceships, romance writers find moments of intimacy, comedy writers find jokes, thriller writers find mysteries, crime writers find motives and so on. All of it comes from the same place: that part of ourselves which is both connected and not connected to the physical plane in which we operate every day. Somehow, some faculty inside us selects out those bits which seem relevant to the overall tale, and discards or doesn’t even perceive the bits which aren’t relevant. Gradually, we piece together something called a ‘story’.

It’s the piecing together which we call ‘craft’. A well-crafted story is a jigsaw puzzle that has been assembled to form a complete and fulfilling picture for the reader, then disassembled and laid out along the line of a plot in the most satisfying way for the reader to assemble themselves as they read. A poorly crafted story is just a jumble of pieces which the writer hopes desperately will somehow come together as a whole picture at the end.

But let’s extend that analogy now to marketing the story.

Instead of the story being at the heart of this process, let’s see what happens if we replace it with ‘your readers’, by which we mean ‘the readers who want to read your book and who will buy, read and enjoy it’.

The part of ourselves involved in this magical stage could still be called ‘imagination’, only instead of imagining a story, we have to imagine a group of people. It’s a marketing imagination.

Where do we find our group of people? Well, we ‘delve’ for them in the same way that, as writers, we dug for the ideas and images to do with our story. Fantasy writers need to find a group which adores dragons, or whatever fantasy elements are in a particular story; science fiction writers need to find those who relish intergalactic spaceships; romance writers need to discover the group of readers who delight in moments of intimacy; comedy writers must search for lovers of humour; thriller writers have to seek out those who are fascinated by mysteries; crime writers must find those who are interested in motives, and so on. In the same way that our writing imagination is both connected and not connected to the physical plane in which we operate every day, so our marketing imagination looks for these audiences that are interwoven with our lives and yet also distant from us. We might know some of our potential readers personally; we may live on the other side of the planet from, and have never heard of, others.

Our marketing imagination - that tiny and perhaps shrivelled organ which is designed to find our particular public - has to get to work to select out those groups which seem relevant to our tale, and to discard or ignore those people who aren’t relevant. Gradually, we piece together a group of readers who will be interested in and enjoy our story.

It’s the piecing together which we call ‘marketing’. A well-crafted piece of marketing is a jigsaw puzzle that has been assembled to form a complete and fulfilling public for a particular book, then disassembled and laid out along the line of a campaign. A poorly crafted piece of marketing is just a jumble of pieces which the writer hopes desperately will somehow come together as a group readers at the end.

By far the bulk of marketing campaigns are just jumbles of pieces which have little chance of coming together over time.

How exactly does a good marketing campaign fit together like a jigsaw puzzle?

Stay tuned for further articles.

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