Whether you are a new writer, or one who is seeking to lift your writing to a new level of communication, these seven levels of attention should be of interest to you.
1. Zero Attention.
This is the level of attention you probably get from the world at large, unless you are a celebrity of some kind. You might think of it as a problem - and most of the marketing mistakes made by authors old and new arise because they think of this vast ocean of inattention as a problem. The fact is that, rather than battling against this hugeness as though you had to conquer it in its entirety, you will do better if you just ignore it as it ignores you. This solid ‘mass’ of attention, not disturbed or agitated or affected in any way by you or your writings, needlessly absorbs the time and energy of those who don’t recognise it for what it is: normal.
Why should the vast population of the planet pay any heed to you or what you are doing? They neither owe you their attention nor do they owe you any time. What you need to do is concentrate on a much smaller and more lively group.
2. Momentary Attention.
This group is much the same as the ‘zero’ group above: they form the second largest category. They are the people who may or may not ‘glance’ in your direction. They are difficult to count and harder to predict. So don’t waste too much time on them either.
3. Intermittent Attention.
If we assume that every human being has hovering around them a cloud of ‘attention particles’, then this group consists of those who have connected that cloud up to you in some casual way. Perhaps they have joined your group on social media, ‘followed’ you in some fashion, or signed up to your newsletter. You’ll read elsewhere about how valuable these people are - they form the ‘mailing list’ of which you may have heard so much about. You have their attention - to a degree. What you do with it is crucially important.
4. Captured Attention.
How do you grab and hold the attention of those who have already casually granted you some? The big difference between these people and the ‘Zero’ or ‘Momentary’ groups above is that they, by definition, will revisit you. So you have a chance - albeit limited - to capture more of their attention with each visit.
What you are trying to do here is ‘own’ some of their attention. And that magical moment occurs when they buy and own something of yours. The second that your book is in their hands after a purchase, you possess just as much of them as they do of you.
Bringing about that moment of exchange is the subject of millions of words. But the essence of all those words becomes clear as we look at the remaining levels. The important thing is that the moment of exchange is not as important as what follows.
5. Emerging Attention.
Emerging Attention is what you get when the person who just bought your book starts to read it. A bad author can blow everything at this point; a good one knows and uses the practised methods that have been used for centuries to grip, guide and engage the reader right until the end.
6. Focused Attention.
As the reader reads on, the effect you want to have upon him or her is to create a kind of trance. The reader’s attention should be so focused on your book that the rest of the world recedes in importance to one degree or another. It is this mastery of another’s attention which leads to more success at capturing the attention in the first place: if you know what you are doing as an author, that knowledge can be used earlier in this sequence to acquire and encourage ‘ownership’ when the potential reader first encounters your book.
In other, more practical words, those things that you use to attract your readers to your books on websites or in shops, like covers and blurbs, need to be based on the kind of thing that bring about total enchantment once the book is opened. Capture the heart of your story in an image or a few well-chosen words, and you capture the reader who was passing by in your shop or browsing your social media group.
7. Deep Attention.
And at the end of it all, the goal to which you should aspire is the goal of the great authors: to not only make the world recede as you read the story, but to cast that world in a whole new light. Deep Attention brings about transformed perception: readers of great literature see the world around them differently.
We have looked at some examples of all of these things earlier in this series, but what you probably need are some specific takeaway lessons to use in your own fiction writing. It’s possible to distill several key points, but first of all, let us be clear what you are trying to do overall here:
You are trying to write stories that are so powerful that readers will look at the world differently once they have read them. This means that you will have commanded Deep Attention. If you can do that, you can use that power earlier in the chain so as to capture more readers.
‘Looking at the world differently’ doesn’t have to be on the order of a religious experience (though it often can be). It might mean seeing a particular subject more cheerfully, recognising a flaw in one’s character and either accepting it or doing something about it, spotting a trend that is happening in one’s environment which one hadn’t seen before; realising a deep truth about a particular aspect of relationships, and so forth. Jane Austen produces a different kind of transformed perception than Earnest Hemingway; Charles Dickens alters the way we see some things in a completely different way to Harper Lee. But once each author taps into Deep Attention in his or her work, so that particular work gains more readers.
But how does any author build into his or her work those factors which bring about Deep Attention?
That’s coming up next.