The Seven Levels of Attention - and What Writers Need to Know About Them - Part 19
We have travelled far on this journey through the Seven Levels of Attention, all the way from the void of Zero Attention in which most of us live, through the hard-to-monitor Momentary Attention of passers-by, to the Intermittent Attention of those whom we have managed to attract a little, then on up to Captured Attention when we have convinced them to buy our book, which leads to Emerging Attention as they read it and Focussed Attention as they are gripped by it, all the way to the Deep Attention which can occur when a piece of fiction changes a reader’s perceptions.
Part of the problem of writers trying to get to readers -or of anyone, trying to get anyone to do anything - is that they lack the awareness of all of these levels, or, if they have spotted them, they lack the patience to proceed through each using the methods which work on each level. It simply doesn’t work to expect that you will grab someone’s attention at Zero level and suddenly plunge them into the seventh level, changing their lives in an instant. Such things sometimes occur in Life, but they are exceedingly rare. By far the majority of progress - almost all of it, in fact - is made when, by accident or by design, a reader or a customer or a person is walked up through each of these levels using the tools available, as we have been examining in this series.
But every time you spend time on the internet you can see for yourself the attempts made to ‘short-circuit’ the above sequence. What we call ‘spam’ and much else that exists on the communication lines which now buzz in great volume around the planet is an effort to capture your attention immediately and in quantity, so that you will either buy something or support something (usually financially). You can imagine right now, as you read this, the billions of signals of one kind or another which are shooting through cyberspace, like a shower of arrows, all with the intention of stabbing enough attention from the masses out there to get some kind of financial or quantitative reward.
I came up with the analogy of a group of hunters seeking food in a vast wilderness, but I’m trying to steer clear of such imagery as it paints the false picture that you, the writer, are the predator and the reader is the ‘prey’, which leads you to position all this wrongly. In that analogy, the hunters simply shower the area with arrows in the hope that they will target something. It would be an immense expenditure of energy and incredibly wasteful, but in effect, this is what we see all around us in the world of spam.
A better analogy is that of agriculture. In primitive times, farmers spread rough seed onto rough soil, knowing that a large percentage of that seed would fail and only a tiny number of seeds, relative to the whole, would bear fruit. This is the analogy often used in primitive marketing: the advice is to simply continue to bombard the region with more and more seeds until some take root and yield something. Because it eventually worked for primitive farmers, marketers are encouraged to apply it again and again in trying to sell goods - in our case, books.
Then, thinking that they are making an advance - and paralleling what indeed did happen in farming - marketers are encouraged to endlessly tweak and alter their seeds so that more of them will sprout. Hence the whole world out there of Search Engine Optimisation, keywords, and the like. And of course this all has some workability, just as seed development and soil studies worked in agriculture. Yields can improve with careful management of this kind.
But the real truths about all of this open up when we see everything in terms of the seven levels described above. Instead of throwing seeds out into the void and hoping that some take root, or even modifying what one throws out ceaselessly in the hope of finding the right soil, we would do better to think differently.
If you want something to grow, go where similar things are already growing and note down the successful actions being used there.
In other words, pay less heed to the vast wilderness of Zero and Momentary Attention and instead concentrate on the much smaller and more manageable zones of Intermittent Attention.
For writers, this translates like this: already, in sizeable numbers, there exist out there groups of people who would very much like to read your kind of work. But to attract them closer, and to capture more of their attention, you need to a) find out where they already are and b) know your own work so thoroughly, so intimately and on so many levels that you can send out exactly the right signals to those potential readers using precise tools.
It sounds simple, and it is. But there are a couple of caveats: in learning more about your own work, you will need to go right to its heart in ways that right now you might not be able to imagine. Only by having a close-to-complete understanding of what makes your own writing work for readers will you be able to transmit that in a focussed way to those people who are your potential readers.
That journey might sound daunting, but it’s actually probably going to be quite breathtaking and perhaps even mystical - it’s the quest to the core of your own work which will yield the treasure of greater insight into what you are doing. You will return refreshed, empowered, delighted and energised. And this is necessary, because you need to shine with a strong light to attract others to your work.
Here’s the thing: no one owes you their attention. Just because you have slaved to write a book and poured out your life into its pages does not mean that anyone anywhere will pick it up and read it.
Readers pick up and read books because they detect powerful signals emanating from within them. This isn’t magical or psychic (though it almost is) - it’s a case of your book being placed in the right position, with the right cover and the right blurb, so that someone who has already given you Intermittent Attention will draw closer, choose to grab your book, and be urged - not by chance or the laws of numbers but by direct forces which you can control - into opening its pages.
Those powerful signals then have to continue to be detected in the story itself, all the way through to the end if you want readers’ Deep Attention. But at the very least, the signals need to be maintained until you have captured enough of their attention for the reader to buy your book.
Having an intimate understanding of your own work will also enable you to track down where your potential readers already ‘hang out’, whether that’s a set of Facebook groups or a certain type of shop, or another social media site, or as readers of a particular magazine, or whatever.
If you don’t have this intimate knowledge of your own work, you are faced with the bleaker prospect of having to spam the faceless billions in the hope of finding your readers.
To continue the earlier analogy, you are left with the exhausting and wasteful option of showering the wilderness entirely with arrows, instead of the much healthier and easier option of having an enclosure in which your ‘prey’ is happily contained, feasting on your work and encouraging others to come and feast too.
How do I know that this works?
Because you are reading this.
Stay tuned for more.