So if marketing is communication, and if the act of marketing is an extension of the act of writing — both involving building on appeal and emotional commitment from potential customers or readers, as we saw last time, until purchases occur — then it’s probably wise to take a serious look at this thing called communication.
We’ll orientate it to writing and writers, but astute readers will at once recognise the universal application of these principles.
What do we need for communication to occur?
Ostensibly, we need a Communicator and a Recipient. But importantly, we also need something to be communicated. Writers, desperate to market their works, often don’t see this in such simple terms — in fact, many writers don’t see what they’re doing as having much to do with ‘communication’ at all.
That (to paraphrase Yoda) is why they fail.
Let’s start by labelling the writer as the Communicator. He or she must adopt the tone and attitude necessary for such a role: a readiness to face outward, to project, to be clear, and to follow the basic rules of the language so that the communication is at least technically comprehensible.
Some writers write without even thinking about any need to communicate. The whole game and process of writing has, for them, nothing to do with others and is more or less a self-interested undertaking: one writes for one’s own pleasure, perhaps for therapy, perhaps because one simply ‘must’ write to get the stuff out of one’s head. That’s fine, but the chances of the resulting material meeting with any kind of connection with readers becomes more and more remote the more that the reader is completely forgotten.
A writer who is keen to reach readers must therefore first orientate his or her work to someone called a ‘reader’, a Recipient. At the very least, the work must be prepared in the language of the proposed Recipient, and, as mentioned above, it needs to follow those basic rules which enable it to be interpreted once it is received. Those who rail against ‘rules’ sometimes fail to recognise this technical point: rules are not there because an authoritarian system demands that they must be there, they’re there to ensure that communications can be received.
So we have a Communicator, somewhat vaguely orientated to a Recipient. The truth is that the more orientated to the proposed Recipient the work is, the more ‘receivable’ it’s likely to be. You can toss a tennis ball across a room at someone, but they are more likely to reach for it if it’s visibly not covered in slime, in other words (unless they have a predilection for slimy tennis balls, but that’s another story).
You can probably fathom that, extending the analogy above, the more clearly the Communicator locates the Recipient in the room, the more accurate his or her ‘throw’ is going to be too. Tossing tennis balls out wildly across rooms without regard to the position of potential recipients means a lot of dropped balls — or failed sales, if you follow me.
But here’s the vital point, missed by many, many writers, and which underpins the vast majority of failed marketing campaigns and failed books:
You have to have something to say that is of interest to the people you want to say it to.
In other words — again extending the motif — you can’t expect someone to catch a ball if that ball doesn’t look worth catching.
Translated, that means that unless your book has certain basics in place you can’t — or shouldn’t— expect it to be a commercial success.
Ouch, you might think. Then you might think ‘I can name some exceptions!’
No, sorry, you can’t. Every book that has achieved commercial success has done so because it has certain fundamentals in place, knowingly or unknowingly. It might be terribly written; it might be something that you personally would immediately bin or never buy. But if a viable number of readers has purchased it, it must, almost tautologically, have something about it which has attracted and glued those readers enough to make them reach for their purses and wallets.
Simple as that.
‘(Splutter) (cough)’ come the protesting voices, ‘how is that true? What are you talking about?’
I’m talking about writers who, by accident or design, write things which contain certain elements which draw in particular readers in enough volume to enjoy commercial viability. I’m not talking about quality writing, or literary writing, or even sensible writing: I’m talking about those factors which lie just beneath the surface of any piece of fiction which act upon readers to make sure that readers are magnetically drawn into that piece.
Now, if you have command of those factors and are also able to write well, your success is almost assured: you can add in your voice, your literary skills, your mastery of all the other tools of the fiction writer, and craft a piece of beauty. But without the underlying factors, your piece will collapse into obscurity as surely as a cathedral will collapse without proper foundations (some cathedrals did).
‘What on earth are those foundations?’ you may ask. The central ones are described for your perusal in my book, How Stories Really Work— absolutely worth reading if you’re serious about making writing a career, and neither expensive or inaccessible. But fear not — for those who have not yet read the book, there is more of value to learn in this series about communication, as you will see.
We need to learn about what to say, how to say it so that it gets to where it’s going, how to keep saying it, and how to learn from the whole communicating experience so that we get even better at it.