Building a Bridge to Your 'Grand Novel'

As a writer, you probably have your ‘grand novel’ (or fantasy series, or family saga, or whatever) sitting either on a shelf, or in a hard drive, or still forming in your imagination somewhere. I think most writers have this to some degree: that ‘perfect’ and usually lengthy piece which one day they hope and imagine will be published and read by millions.

Writers then have a kind of angst about whether or not that work will actually ever get written, or, if it already exists in some form, whether or not it will ever reach its destined audience. The usual frustration arises from glancing at the many apparently insurmountable obstacles between where they are now and the completion, publication and distribution of that work. The usual advice is to ‘Get writing’ - but the response is, more often than not, apathy and despair in the writer.

In this article, I’m going to briefly look at a different approach to getting to that goal. I’m going to do it by examining a model from the tried-and-tested world of information marketing, which has been with us for over a decade now.

Information marketers - that is, people who have and want to sell some kind of digital information product like an e-book or online course - are normally advised to construct a ‘product ladder’ as the primary vehicle to move new customers from low-value to high-value and as a way to routinely increase average ‘lifetime customer value’. What this means is something that you may have encountered yourself: first of all, they put out a ‘free report’ or short checklist or something which a prospect simply downloads in exchange for their email address; then that prospect is led on from that to a low-priced item, which then leads to a slightly higher-priced item, and so on, up to the largest and most expensive item at the top of the ‘ladder’. You have probably climbed such a ladder at least partway at some point yourself. The concept is that, instead of trying to sell the giant, high-cost thing at the top of the ladder to the public straight away, you draw them up a series of steps until they are ready to view and perhaps purchase it. A product ladder within the arena of information marketing, then, is defined as a coordinated series of products typically getting deeper and larger in terms of value of content, as well as escalating in perceived value and price.

Let’s imagine for a moment that your grand novel, in whatever shape it is in at the moment, is the thing at the top of one of these ‘ladders’. This is the item which you hope readers will buy, read and love - it is your legacy, the one piece of writing that you would like to be remembered for, the one thing that you are proudest of. It might be the longest, or it might not; it might be the most expensive, or perhaps not. It is, or will be, your best work, as far as you are concerned.

How can you build a ‘product ladder’ leading up to it?

We need to first look at what the professional info marketers do. Where this advice about product ladders typically falls apart in the world of marketing, is in the order marketers are taught to use when putting together the various products for their ladder. The way lots of them do it is from the top down - i.e. they start with their most expensive backend product (or the biggest backend product/offer they eventually want to have), and then pull-out pieces or chunks of that big backend product to create smaller products lower on their product ladder. Pulling-out more and more chunks, getting the content more and more focused, gives them a range of items all the way down to their ‘free offer’ that will be used to acquire new customers at the bottom of their ladder.

If you were to follow this advice as a writer, you would take chapters of your grand novel, your best work, and turn them into self-sufficient ‘mini-books’ of their own; then take sections out of those chapters and create short stories, perhaps; then take aspects of those short stories and create character studies or histories or maps or back stories about each. These smaller items would then be presented to prospective readers, perhaps for free. The idea would be that these glimpses, these snippets, would draw the readers deeper into your world, and further up the ladder: they would admire a map, then buy a short story, then indulge in small novel before committing themselves to the grand work at the top.