Readers Are Your Employers
Think of readers as your employers for a moment.
They have a job that they need doing. They’ve (potentially) turned to you to do it.
What is the job?
They want a valuable, finished piece of fiction which satisfies their needs (or leaves them intentionally unfulfilled). They want to experience an effect.
If it seems at first that readers are neutral initially because they don't necessarily voice these things, the truth is that in order to be a reader at all, there must be this want or need on some level, as yet unfulfilled. They are looking, by definition, for someone to do a job.
Thus they seek to employ someone who will do this task for them. Successful writers do this task for readers by:
• getting into the right places where the readers are by looking in the open market
• listening for the right signals - signals based on the reader’s needs - not pushing out signals about how great the writing is.
• broadcasting questions, prompts, surveys, images which convey needs.
• delivering a piece of fiction that fits existing, predicted and hidden needs as precisely as possible.
• getting distributed to potential new readers through the word-of-mouth which arises from readers and your work coming together.
Put the reader at the heart of your writing business model. Work out everything around the reader.
Imagine yourself and your writing business as being employed by the reader.
How do you do this? It helps to ask some key questions as a writer:
• Who are your prospective employers in terms of readers? How do you reach them?
• What are they expecting? How can you find that out? How can you better things so that the reader gets hidden needs filled as well as the ones he or she thought she had?
• How exactly do they want their fiction? In what form? Is there a form which more closely matches what they want?
• How exactly is that production accomplished? Could it be tweaked to make the work more closely match what the reader wants? What tools exist for accomplishing that?
At first it can seem that you are operating in a fickle and varying marketplace of readers/employers, many of whom seem almost completely unaware of what they require. Your task as a writer (if you want a broad readership) is to isolate those needs and then fill them.
This divides into two broad areas of expertise:
1. Developing the necessary communication channels that contact enough readers effectively and economically to find out what they want.
2. Developing a writing business model which delivers what those readers want effectively and economically.
Both are established through the mechanism of gaps or missing elements which draw reader attention. There’s much more on this in the book How Stories Really Work.
The more work done on these, the less effort you will have to make to acquire readers and sell things to them.
Let’s step into the business world for a moment so that you can see how this works.
At first glance, any product or service has a number of neutral features, i.e. characteristics that do not seem to be capable of generating a need around them. But geniuses and entrepreneurs have the ability to spot the potential need and create it around even the most neutral product.
A famous example of this is Apple: it took the personal computer with its casings, keyboards, wires and so forth - many aspects of which were perceived to be 'neutral', not interesting - and it made them resonate with as-yet-unsuspected reader vacuums. It took so-called neutral features and inserted vacuums so what was previously a dull interface became something that readers found desirable.
Turning apparently neutral elements of any product or service (even if they are not named as such) into need-packed features is a sign of true genius in business.
How does this work in writing fiction?
Any story - no matter what genre - has a number of ‘neutral’ features, things that writers and readers take for granted, things that do not seem to have potential to generate need. Master authors have the ability to spot the potential need and create it around even the most neutral product.
Remind yourself of the simple example of Charles Dickens’ short story ‘The Signalman’, examined in the e-course How to Write Stories That Work -and Get Them Published: right in the middle of the story, when the tension was mounting to a crescendo Dickens had the narrator go away and come back for no reason other than to magnify that tension even further; take the example of Tolkien’s chapter in The Lord of the Rings in which Gandalf is explaining to Frodo the true nature the One Ring: Tolkien has the wizard’s dark work contrasted with the sounds of servant Sam doing the gardening outside, thus increasing the drama.
The point is that a lesser author would have missed these opportunities.
What this is all about is using the techniques that you have successfully applied to the writing of a book to its marketing.