'Oh no! Not Marketing again! Do I have to?' Part Five: Waking Up Your Readers
To recap slightly: modern marketing tells you to stand in a packed room and toss out your message like tennis balls into the crowd in the hope that some people will catch a ball and pay attention, maybe even buying what you have to offer. You’ve been on the receiving end of this many times — the result is usually that the tennis balls get ignored, and, if the person persists in tossing them, avoided or blocked. Only occasionally does a tennis ball catch your eye enough for you to pay some attention to it; even more rarely do you then move into action because of what you have seen.
Realistic marketing, instead of randomly projecting messages and then hoping for responses, first isolates the broad group that your message will appeal to. It depends on you knowing very much what your message is, and how to say it well; and it depends upon you somehow selecting out that interested sub-group from the vast crowd.
Realistic marketing - or organic marketing, to give it another name - is often counter-intuitive. Whereas conventional marketing goes for numbers, and dazzles with the vast potentials of sites like Google, Amazon or Facebook, organic marketing tells you to ‘think small’: what you want to go for are the people who are going to be most interested in what you have to offer, rather than the most people. It’s strange to think of it like this, perhaps, but as you isolate who your potential fans and super-fans are, the interest level goes up as the numbers go down. In an extreme imaginary case, you might have only one ‘hyper-fan’ in the whole world: this person would adore everything you do and say and would buy even your shopping list. But it’s more likely that your work will attract a small number of very interested people. Whether or not you can build a viable writing career will depend upon the size of that small group, rather than being able to get a message to billions of people who couldn’t care less. If you can find 10,000 people who ardently admire your stories, you have it made — as long as you can generate more and more stories; if you can find 100,000, you’ll be a best-selling writer; but if you can find only 1,000, you will struggle to make ends meet from your writing alone.
This means that it’s vital that, once you have isolated a likely looking number of potential readers, you make sure that your message is getting across to them effectively. We’ve looked at working out what your message is, and we’ve glanced at finding out for whom your message will have any appeal — but we need to go deeper and further if we want to get any real success.
We need to make sure that those selected readers are fully awake and aware enough to appreciate what you are trying to do for them.
Re-imagine that analogy of the crowded room above. Let’s say you’ve managed to draw a few people closer to your corner by putting up a sign — an effective and consistent author platform with a clearly defined and attractive message is the key here. So you have these people standing around — why aren’t they reaching to purchase your books?
The best acid test for this sort of thing is yourself and your own experiences. When you like a particular author’s work, that doesn’t mean that you spend all day exploring their website or downloading their materials, does it? You have other things going on: life and its routines and demands has a constant grip on your attention. You have other interests, other duties, other tasks to perform; indeed, you have other authors in whom you are interested, and perhaps many other books to read. So the fact that an author has managed to attract you enough to bookmark their page, or even to make you move some of their books into your shopping cart, does not necessarily mean a huge number of purchases from you every day.
You could say, in fact, that you are bedazzled by other things — legitimate and real other things, to be sure, but other things that distract you from a full focus on an author’s offers. Your potential readers are exactly the same — they might well like you and have the best of intentions regarding buying and reading your work, but they are already ‘hooked’ by innumerable other demands upon their attention.
What can you do to attract more of that attention?
Here comes one of the biggest — but perhaps most difficult — concepts on the way to success for you as a writer:
Imagine that they are ‘hypnotised’.
It’s not all that hard to do, because again, in the perfect test case of yourself, you can see this hypnotism at work. You wake up and immediately fall into established routines, attending to daily tasks, checking news, making meals, setting off to work and so on. At work you probably have countless little habits which engage your attention all day — it might be true to say that your workday consists of those habits. Then you head home, again consumed by routine and habit, your attention looked into patterns and vectors which appear at times to be immovable. Modern marketers came up with the term ‘pattern interrupt’ to describe trying to break into this largely sealed world of the potential customer. ‘Pattern interruption’ involves jolting you out of your comfortable and predictable world by catching your eye somehow. It’s a flawed idea because it again depends upon the notion, covered earlier, that you are just a robot and that what you do is partly automated and can be interfered with in some way on a mechanical level. It misses the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that we are all hypnotised or semi-hypnotised into a world of patterns and predictabilities and habits and routines. Our attention is largely already channeled based on our own experiences and choices. We drift through our daily lives on treadmills that we created: they are not necessarily entirely unpleasant treadmills — most of us have striven to build some pleasure into our patterns — but they are exclusive treadmills, mainly: we see what we have selected to see, and mostly exclude what we have not yet selected.
Earlier, I described reading as a kind of trance in which the reader is engaged with a fictitious construction (a book) to the exclusion of the world around him or her. I suggested that this was what you were aiming for: the reader picking up your book and to some extent ‘zoning out’ the external world and connecting with you and your work through the act of reading, thus completing the communication which began in your imagination when you started writing your stories.
What if we flip this around?
What if what you were trying to do is pull the reader out of a trance into which he or she is already drawn?
To be able to hypnotise someone, you need to get their attention. You also need to get their attention if you’re trying to ‘de-hypnotise’ them. Without their attention, then they won’t be listening to you, they’ll be listening to the vast array of other sensory, intellectual, emotional and other input offered to them by the lives they are leading. And if they’re not listening to you, there’s no way you’re going to be able to either put them into a trance or pull them out of one.
But you don’t just want their attention for a split second; you don’t want to ‘pattern interrupt’ them like robots. You want to grab their attention and hold onto it. You want them to be riveted by what you have to say, rather than by anything else. How do you do that?
You have to understand the principles behind what attracts and absorbs attention. Luckily, these are known — and even more luckily, they are quite simple.