We’re looking at marketing as nothing more (and nothing less) than communication.
The basic idea is that, when you write a story, you’re creating a communication, and that that communication isn’t really complete until it reaches the minds (and hearts) of readers. Part of being effective, then, is to write a very good story — one that utilises all the methods of the master authors to attract, glue and guide readers, one that leaves readers with a powerful emotional and perhaps even an intellectual impact. And part of it is making sure that that story makes it across space and into the hands of its public, so that it can be read and appreciated. The first part is to do with the craft of writing; the second is the craft of marketing.
Broadly speaking, this all divides into the following six steps, outlined last time:
1. Having enough space and secure confidence as a writer to know what it is that you want to say.
2. Saying it to the right people.
3. Persisting in saying it to the right people despite distractions, disappointments and delays.
4. Acknowledging feedback.
5. Continuing to communicate until your desired results are obtained.
6. Understanding your marketplace enough to know when to adapt and when to simply persist.
Having enough space and secure confidence as a writer to know what it is that you want to say is a combination of putting together an author platform and having a good understanding of your own themes, messages and motifs; saying it to the right people is a case of isolating your own audience in the mass of the public at large.
But let’s say you’ve done the first two things: you know what you want to say, how you’re going to say it well, and you’ve selected the right audience to whom to say it. You start communicating to that audience — and still nothing happens. What’s going on?
To understand this — which is an issue faced at some point by almost every author who is striving to be successful — we have to remember that marketing is communication.
Communication between human beings is not the same as communication between computers: pressing a button and sending an email is not the same as having that email read, understood and responded to. Human beings are not machines; your audience is not a push-button entity. Your readers are live, vibrant, functioning and engaged people, with lives of their own and minds of their own.
One of the problems with modern ‘marketing’ is that it tries to treat customers as robots. You will have experienced this many times yourself, as a customer — every time you see an ad or marketing message of some kind, the expectation is that it will ‘push your buttons’ and elicit a response. The world — especially the cyber world— is jam-packed with these stimulus-response expectations: ‘We send out an ad, it gets so-and-so feedback’. The whole business of search engine optimisation is based on this; the bulk of the effort of modern marketers is to reduce the customer to a set of automatic responses.
Real marketing — and in fact the principles which underlie any success that the above approach occasionally has — depends upon other factors entirely. Yes, some people respond to having their buttons pressed automatically — they see a picture of pizza and go and buy a pizza, they see an ad for a car and drive to a car yard to see the real thing. But the bulk of the populus, including probably you if you’re reading this, are not so stupid. You can see through the sometimes-sophisticated techniques used by modern marketers to try to control your attention. You swipe by the majority of ads, ignore the vast proportion of marketing messages, and can recognise any attempt to ‘sell’ you something a mile off.
So can your potential readers.
So we have to remind ourselves that we’re not in the business of selling in this way: we are communicating. Knowing what we want to say and to whom we want to say it are key prerequisites; now we have to figure out how to say it in such a way that it actually communicates and doesn’t fall flat like the huge majority of marketing messages done the ‘modern’ way.
This involves a perhaps deeper understanding of what you are doing as a fiction writer than you may have considered before.
What you’re aiming for is to place the reader in a particular and peculiar state: the semi-trance that we call ‘reading’. You want the reader to pick up your book and to become entranced by it, almost literally. That strange half-world in which the reader lives is a fascinating one: he or she is partially aware of the room or space around them, the sights and sounds and tactile sensations — but they have also ‘zoned out’ and entered a different world, a reality painted by the words of your story, sentence by sentence. It seems as though you are mildly hypnotising them, in fact. (What we’ll discover later is that it is actually the opposite of hypnotism.) If you can induce this ‘trance’, maintain it for the length of your story and then bring the reader out of it perhaps with a changed impression of the ‘real’ world around him or her, you are a ‘good author’.
What’s more, if you have been able to do those things, you have also effectively completed your communication: the story has emerged from your imagination, flowed onto the page, made it across space and time, been picked up by someone you’ve never met, and entered into their reality. What we call ‘writing’ and what we call ‘marketing’ have seamlessly worked together to communicate your original message.
We can further simplify this by defining in more detail the state into which you want your reader to ascend.
The ideal reader is one interested in the world being created around them by your words, and willing to continue to be guided by you.
If the words lose their interest, the trance is broken; if they lose the willingness to be controlled by you, the trance is broken.
So how do you do this?
First of all, you need to be able to absorb attention.
Secondly, you need to be able to bypass their connection to the world around them.
Thirdly, you need to stimulate their imagination.
If this sounds like hypnotism, consider this: absorbing someone’s attention and bypassing their connection to the world around them could also be a definition for waking someone up. And that’s what you’ll be learning how to do: wake up your ideal readers so that they listen to what you have to say and follow you.
Over the next few articles, you’re going to learn how to do this effectively and so be able to overcome the distracted nature of the audience you’ve named and win them over every time — not by treating them as machines, or push-button creatures, but by using the core principles of how life and the mind work.