In earlier articles about marketing for writers, we learned that marketing is largely the same as writing.
‘What??’ I hear you protest, especially if you haven’t read the earlier articles.
It’s true though: just as our imagination selects out key elements from the depths of our imaginations and then places them in a carefully crafted sequence to build an effective story, so does marketing select out key publics from the populations of the planet and then places a campaign in a carefully crafted sequence to build a following.
The marketing sequence goes
1. You select a group to whom to show your story.
2. You intrigue that group in some effective way.
3. You get that group’s commitment to read your story (usually through a purchase).
4. You deliver your story to them.
5. Your story satisfies them.
If your story is well-crafted, then step 5 can result in the group getting larger of its own accord, as word of mouth spreads. In fact, a truly great story creates a kind of ‘positive feedback loop’ and selects its own larger group: all the intriguing and committing is done by those readers who love it, telling their friends about it, who then go on to tell their friends and so on. So the very first thing is to ensure that you have is a story which is capable of generating such a word of mouth response. If your work is in any way mediocre, your public will grow in a mediocre way, if at all; if your story has real ‘zing’ - which usually means that it contains all the elements of a successful story, well crafted together (as outlined in my book How Stories Really Work) - then your public will grow exponentially and without much input from you.
But let’s take a closer look at step 2 above: how exactly do you intrigue a new person in an effective way?
Well, you’ve selected them out in step 1, so perhaps you have placed a well-positioned ad, or a forum comment, or a free gift in a news feed to grab some attention - these things are not trying to persuade so much as to simply appear in front of the ‘right’ public. People with a strong enough need for your kind of work will click on them. In a group of fantasy readers, for example, someone sees your latest novel about the inner life of dragons. The topic might be quite similar to some others around, but perhaps your unique take on dragons, or a particularly interesting cover, or a spicy blurb, has prompted enough motion for their fingers to twitch and click your link.
Remember, the purpose of marketing is to create motion towards acquisition, as outlined in earlier articles.
But at this end of your marketing channel it is still shallow. What you need to do quickly is deepen that channel.
When a person clicks on something, he or she needs to see something immediately which will make them want to read on. What is that something?
Put in the broadest possible terms, they need to see themselves.
Your link must lead, to some degree or another, to a mirror.
Just as in your story, you worked to make your protagonist in some way identifiable with your ideal reader (or it is to be hoped that you did), in your marketing you need to now present the prospect with something that will make them stick around and then go further, something that they see part of themselves in.
When someone clicks on your link, they need to see themselves looking back out of the screen. They need to see something that chimes with something in their own reality: perhaps it’s a blurb, or a review, or a picture, or a description. Whatever your link leads to, their need, which may at first have been weak, needs to be amplified. The product of this early step is that the person’s need is made strong enough to prompt further motion.
‘But,’ you may well ask, ‘what exactly do I put at the end of my link that will make the prospect feel that he or she is looking at themselves?’
To which I ask you in return: ‘How did you create your protagonist?’ Your protagonist is the same figure, in many respects, as your reader. Those who read Jane Eyre identify to some degree with the novel’s heroine; those who read Captain America comics want to be like the hero of them; those who watch Shakespeare’s Macbeth want to feel what the tragic hero of that play feels to some degree; those who read action thrillers want to be in the shoes, to some extent, of the protagonist of them. If we drew a Venn diagram showing your book as one circle and the reader as another, the area where those circles overlap would be the protagonist.
And so it is with marketing: if we drew two circles, one being the world of the prospect and the other being the world of your story, what is in the overlap?
Put that at the end of your link.
It might be a short description of your protagonist, or a picture of them; it might be a blurb which captures sympathy for them; it might be a glimpse of the wonders that your protagonist is going to experience.
Whatever in your story was designed to engage reader sympathies, distill it and put it here, at the beginning of your marketing chain.
Wherever you then lead your prospect, you must magnify that basic need by pointing out
a) the dangers or threats or challenges facing your protagonist, and
b) the satisfaction that others have gained from reading your story, using, where applicable, a testimony from a happy reader.
The loss you may feel in expending so much energy and finance trying to ‘convert’ people en masse to buying your book is a symptom that you are viewing and using marketing incorrectly.
So what if thousands of people browse past your website every day without even stopping to look? They were never prospects anyway.
Only those who do stop and look are prospects. Your task is to make sure that you have strong channels in place so that they can travel the distance from just looking to fulfilment. And if they don’t? Their need was not powerful enough - yet.
Strong, deep channels which preserve and hold attention and deepen need.