From earlier articles, you’re probably starting to get the idea of concentrated incompleteness.
In my book How Stories Really Work I use the term ‘vacuum’ to describe this, as it has a mental and emotional pulling power like that of a real, physical vacuum.
Incompleteness on whatever level and in whatever field creates in us the need or tendency or desire to have completeness. You can immediately see a thousand examples in fiction, and, as I have said, incompleteness is largely the foundation of successful fiction.
But all of this also applies to marketing your books.
The ‘completeness’ you want from readers might at first seem to be that they buy your books. That’s what you’ve probably been striving for, and the failure to achieve that is probably your greatest frustration. But to aim for a sale only would be to miss the target.
The truly legitimate and authentic target for all authors is to produce fulfilment in readers.
The reader in question may be just you or a small group of similarly-minded people as in literary fiction, or it may be a much larger audience, as in commercial fiction. But the aim is the same: you want the reader to experience a sense of completion, of a hole filled, a want satisfied, a yearning fulfilled.
The aim of every marketing campaign must be fulfilment, not sales.
I’ve said that the purpose of marketing is to produce motion towards acquisition, but that acquisition doesn’t end with the physical book in the reader’s hands, it ends when the reader is satisfied at the end of the story.
So writing and marketing are part of a continuum: you write a story to fulfil a reader (a very particular reader, not the misleading generality of ‘readers’, which will lead you astray) and then you structure a campaign to get that reader to pick up and purchase your book so that the writing part will kick in and produce that fulfilment.
It’s all part of the same thing.
As outlined earlier, this is the sequence:
1. Select a group of people to whom to show your story. This group needs to be already ‘warm’ to your type of story, not just a bunch of random people.
2. Intrigue them in some effective way, using marketing tools such as blurbs, reviews, first pages, and so forth, all composed along the lines of concentrated incompleteness or vacuums.
3. Get their commitment to read your story, which should arise if there is enough concentrated incompleteness present. Commitment is the motion towards acquisition which you’re trying to produce.
4. Deliver the book to them (part of which is them purchasing your book).
5. Satisfy them by repeating exactly the same steps inside your story - select, intrigue, get commitment, deliver.
This is quite a different view to most people’s understanding of conventional marketing, which is based on the old idea that a person stands on a soapbox of some kind and shouts out what he or she has available until the people who need whatever it is come by and purchase it. That’s how markets used to work back in the Middle Ages.
These days, there’s a soapbox every couple of meters and lots of people with very loud voices shouting at us through our phones and screens.
Authority - the idea that there was a central source that provided needs and controlled buying behaviours - was one of the first strategies used to persuade the masses. The idea that the way to get people to buy was to shout at them that you had what they needed became the fundamental of modern marketing. But you already know just how energy intensive and exhausting that can be: you shout and shout and shout and all you hear most of the time is an echo.
The term ‘Spam’ grew up to describe what this looks like: millions of shouted messages flashing across the globe in the hope of a response from the other end of the line, from people you will never know or ever meet. What keeps those efforts going, just as it always has, is the tiny response from the people who hear the call and actually make the purchase. That trickle of income and feedback gives hope and prompts the shouter to continue shouting.
The internet has magnified all of this. Now we have social media through which we can shout even louder, more often and to many more people. And the minuscule amounts of feedback - the occasional ‘like’ or comment - encourage us to keep shouting and turn up the volume.
Operations like Google Analytics or Facebook Ads turn this into a science: we shout and measure the exact echo, so that we can modify our next shout in an effort to conserve energy. ‘Split-testing’, AdWords, boosted posts, and so on - these are the buzzwords of the shout factories. Using them, we hope to convince the millions that we have a product that they need.
But what makes marketing work in the first place is not something that begins with us.
Motion towards fulfilment begins with the individual and his or her incompleteness.
Right now, there are potentially thousands of people out there with concentrated incompletenesses which exactly match the completenesses that you have to offer.
Putting this in terms more closely related to your books, there are readers out there for whom your book would fill a hole. Whatever it is that you have written - provided of course that it meets certain minimum standards of presentation and craft - is an exact match for someone’s incompleteness, right now.
In fiction terms, we can group these incompletenesses into the effects created by certain genres: some readers have a need for the fulfilment produced by fantasy epics; some have a gap which matches the result created by horror stories; some have a hole which can only be filled by romantic comedy, and so on. These readers are walking around in the world right now with gaping voids in their otherwise relatively whole selves.
Their concentrated incompleteness is either very active - in which case they are probably browsing the internet right now looking to buy a book which would fill that need - or mildly active, which means that it could be prompted into action fairly easily, or relatively inactive, which means that it would need to be kindled from almost nothing.
Your market is the first two groups: the ones desperately seeking fulfilment right now, and the ones who are primed to do so with a little pull from you.
Stay tuned for more.