What attracts your attention?
Human attention is drawn to things that
a) seem out of sequence
b) contain gaps or mysteries or missing elements
c) suggest unknowns
d) are omitted or don’t match or seem out of place.
There’s a whole science behind this. As a writer, you may be familiar with the principles contained in my book How Stories Really Work. The same principles apply to everything in Life: we are drawn to missing things, losses, gaps, holes, voids. In the book, I call them ‘vacuums’ and outline how they are the underlying building block in all successful storytelling: we wonder as readers ‘What will happen next?’, ‘What’s really going on?’, ‘What choices will the characters make?’ and ‘What does it all mean?’ It’s the missing answers to those key questions which pull us through fiction, keeping us interested and absorbed until a rewarding end in which (in the majority of stories) we get answers.
But astute readers of my book will have noted that it’s the same in Life: we want to know (but never can) what will happen in the future; we strive to discover patterns or meaning and answers in our daily lives; we are eager to be certain about the outcome of choices that we must make; and we are continually trying to find meaning in everything.
Vacuums seem all-important to any comprehensive understanding of Life.
And this certainly applies to writing and marketing our books. Using the principles of character and plot vacuums, many readers of my book have gone on to write successful stories; and a few have used the same ideas to reach readers and sell books.
Vacuums are everywhere.
As we have seen, readers — even interested ones who perhaps have bookmarked your website and expressed delight in your stories — have real lives outside any relationship with you or your work. These lives are composed largely of vacuums — gaps and holes that need to be filled, mysteries that need to be solved, futures that need to be planned for, choices that need to be made and so on. Human life is largely vacuum-driven. Our books and us, as writers, jumping up and down on our author platforms trying to attract attention, are only a tiny part of this.
If you want a viable career as a writer, you have to learn how to absorb the attention of these potential readers so they really want to focus on what you want them to focus on. Willingly.
How do you do that?
By using organic marketing.
In essence, you have to forge a connection with another person that’s so intense and so strong they make the choice to be pulled along with you.
Empathy is key.
Rapport is essential.
Real understanding is vital.
This takes energy and commitment. To make a connection that’s so powerful and positive that it draws the other person into what you’re doing takes preparation.
‘Oh no!’ you might protest. ‘I thought you were going to provide some push-button answers!’
That’s a very modern craving. Entirely understandable, but linked to a whole way of thinking which leads to frustration, disappointment and apathy.
Whatever you’re doing, whether you are giving a speech, building a house, performing on stage, baking a cake or going on holiday, some preparation is involved. Without the right preparation, you can’t do any of these things. Or if you try, they are likely to turn into disasters. Leaving out some of the essential ingredients, forgetting the proper gear, needing more tools than you thought when you started the job — all of these things can happen unless you prepare adequately. And it’s the same with marketing.
If you’re well prepared, you can start with confidence and a positive attitude. You can get down to business, knowing you’ve got a clear vision of what you want to achieve in mind. And what is that clear vision called?
Whatever it is you hope to achieve, that’s your intention.
And when you practice organic marketing, your intention needs to be clear.
It needs to be precise and tailored to your potential readers’ specific needs. Something you can only discover by communicating with them. But before you start communicating with them, you need to understand how this works overall.
Organic marketing is all about the quality of the connection.
You need to empathise with your potential readers.
You need to build rapport.
You need to be overflowing with understanding.
You need to be full of energy.
You need to make connections so powerful and positive that they pull your reader into the game of your storytelling.
As we looked at earlier, a prerequisite to all of this is that you have a good understanding and confidence about your own work and message. You won’t be able to work toward connecting with your readers very successfully if you hold conflicting ideas about your own work in your head. You can’t think that your stories are a waste of time. Negativity about your own fiction can spill out into everything you do marketing-wise and make it impossible for you to achieve viability.
The Relationship Between Writer and Reader
As a writer, you have a sort of teacher-student relationship with your reader. You have something that you’re trying to convey to them; they are open to receiving that (if you do your job well).
If you’re confident enough, expressive enough, and really project your own voice as a writer, readers won’t be able to resist. That’s your readers — not ‘readers’ at large. Remember, you want to communicate to a smaller, select group of people who already have some predisposition to like your work — not the world’s entire reading population.
Thinking of yourself as a ‘teacher’, then, let’s outline some practical steps (we've covered the first two already):
1. Be clear about your themes and message.
2. Build an interactive author platform that helps you build rapport and make that crucial connection with your selected group of readers. Discover through this platform what those readers are looking for in particular — and what they are hoping to avoid.
3. Communicate regularly and authentically to test responsiveness.
4. Introduce these potential readers to your work, taking them deeper, leading them exactly where you want them to go using the technology of vacuums as outlined in my book.
5. Start making offers that help make the connection stronger and also ensure your voice is growing stronger in their world of already existing vacuums that are demanding their attention. Gently break the trance state that they are in with ‘everything else’.
6. Build on your offers and modify as required.
7. Have a calendar of marketing efforts so that you can bring some offers to a close as others open up. There’s a rhythm involved here which we will look at later — but it’s important to recognise that you are never going to totally dominate your readers’ lives; in fact, you don’t want to. They must return to ‘normal awareness’ regularly, or you will become unreal: a human being’s reality is a blend, a mixture of similarity and difference, and you have to let the reader get back to things with which he or she is familiar so that you can later draw them back again into your different world.