Earlier, we established (I hope) that, out of the two kinds of relationship that exist between people - the intimate and personal relationships that we have with family, friends and the like, and the less intimate and commercial relationships we have with elements in society at large - the relationship between the writer and the reader belongs more in the first category, and that the fact that a commercial transaction must take place in order for readers to access writers’ works is more of an inconvenience or an embarrassment than something that is welcomed or fits naturally.
In fact, when we look closer at it, commercial transactions as a whole are unfortunate by nature, unless perhaps we feel that we are on the receiving end of lots of money. And even then, unless we are criminal, we want to be assured that the other party received at least equal benefit to us.
In order to understand what is going on, it’s worth taking a brief look at what has happened with money since it was first invented.
Human society probably began using some form of bartering, in which Joe had a product or service to offer and Jill used that in exchange for some product or service which she had to offer. The whole arrangement depended upon closeness, both geographic and to some degree psychological: if Joe didn’t know Jill at all, it might have been less likely that he would have wanted to use Jill’s services. Similarly, the nature of such transactions was very human, in the sense that a person could see with his or her own two eyes whether Joe’s eggs or Jill’s house-painting were any good. If there were any shortfalls in either, there was Joe or Jill right there in the locality to take it up with in person; and both Joe and Jill, knowing each other as they did, and probably living near each other, would want not to upset each other and would be desirous of providing the best quality they could.
In brief, then, what passed for commercial transactions had much in common with the intimacy of other kinds of transactions, in that the other person was right there - closeness, affinity, was built in to the barter system.
With the invention of larger scale transactions, or what we call ‘commerce’, came the need for a medium which was at once liberating and disaffecting. Money, the abstract item in a transaction, empowered both buyer and seller in new ways: a buyer’s range was suddenly thrown wide, not restricted to services or products they could offer in exchange; and a seller’s mobility was vastly increased for the same reason. Instead of Joe selling eggs for the local services of people he knew, he could now sell them for anything, virtually anywhere he could get to, through the medium of money; instead of Jill being limited in painting only the few houses that needed it in her village, she was free to paint houses far afield, if she could travel there.
Money equalled freedom. But it also meant disassociation. Joe was now selling eggs to people he did not know; Jill was now painting the houses of strangers. Money meant that there was a new, less intimate, less knowing way of accomplishing transactions - and so it led to less intimacy and less trust.
It’s arguable which came first: money, or the system of enforceability with which it must be accompanied. It’s no good travelling to the next village and finding that the coins you were given in the last village aren’t accepted there - there has to be a central authority which determines the value of those coins and then enforces it throughout the land. Whichever came first, the two went hand in hand throughout history from the moment that they first appeared. And the result was a shift in trust, from trusting your neighbour to trusting an object - the coin in your pocket.
Sellers these days come along and in various ways, using the tools of ‘schmoozing’, try to gain your trust so that you will part with the symbols of that trust, your coins. That’s the way the world works now. Take away money and we would be suddenly dependent on the people in our local area for everything that we need to survive. Whereas human society used to organise itself based on those immediate needs, resulting in villages in which everyone had a specialism, we are now part of a ‘global village’ an ironic term describing a situation in which the specialists we need are most often strangers living far away, with whom our only relationship is commercial.
In terms of writers and readers, this takes on a new dimension.
Writers are not offering a tangible and measurable ‘product’ or ‘service’ for the most part. They offer an experience. This can be within an expected range of experience, as in genre writing, or more broad and deep, as in literary writing, or some combination - but whichever way it comes out, the thing is intangible and intimate rather than hard and commercial. Ideally, a writer would be based in a village in which the rest of the inhabitants were passionate readers of his or her type of story - there would be a queue of people at the writer's door each morning, offering what they could offer in exchange for more of the writer’s work. Everyone would be happy.
But the coming of money has scattered the writer’s village far and wide. Not only are the writer’s ‘people’ not living locally, they have disappeared off the map. They are busy doing their own thing, and probably don’t even realise that they have a need for the writer’s work or that the writer even exists.
If we were selling insurance or pizza, our quest to find that public might take the form of various kinds of commercial appeal - cheapness of price, swiftness of delivery, satisfaction of hunger, and so on. We might use the tools of affinity to try to ‘schmooze’ the potential buyers into buying, and once they have bought we would move on, perhaps recording names and addresses for future sales - such is the liberating power of money, and such also is its distancing power. But as writers, we don’t need to take this approach - in fact, it may be counter-productive if we do. Because the relationship that we want with readers is not a fleeting one, and is much more personal and spiritual than that required by an insurance contract or pizza delivery.
So how do we contact our own ‘global village’? And how do we frame our approach in terms other than purely commercial ones?
Price has not usually been a determining factor in the booksales industry - books are generally priced around the same range, and offering a book for a lower price or for free is a recent initiative with limited application. Readers don’t normally look for the kinds of experiences that they need from books by price.
They look for triggers - edges of that experience, symbols, suggestions, images.
They see key words, core elements of cover design, positioning, and a mysterious blend of similarity and difference: they want books which contain samenesses with books that they have already loved, but differences enough to provide new sensations and experiences. Blurbs, cover design, correct and clever placements are the writer’s ‘schmooze tools’ if you like.
But the writer isn’t trying to ‘trick’ the reader, or to use inappropriate aspects of relationship building to sell a piece of work and then move on: the writer is attempting to develop a deeper bond, a lasting connection or association, possibly even a life-changing fellowship with the reader. A writer - along with other artists - is trying to forge a 'pre-commercial communion' with a reader or audience.
The core of commercial success for a writer is another kind of success: a success based on the building up of an affinity. One kind of relationship, the kind the writer might benefit from in money terms, is dependent upon the other - the closeness, intimacy and trust of the friend.
So how exactly does a writer build up an affinity?