Writing Fiction: What's the Point? Part Six
To give you more of an idea on how this all fits together, let’s take a look at a series of examples of how the Focusing Protocol might work in a number of different scenarios.
Prerequisite: remember, this will only work if you have gathered an audience of warm prospects in a social media group related to the kind of fiction you write. This becomes ‘your’ audience, better than having an email list in many ways because the audience is much more interactive on their own determinism: they have chosen to be there of their own free will, and choose whether or not to communicate in the group of their own volition — this is a much more ‘alive’ bunch of people than a faceless demographic set or a cipher-like list of email addresses. So taking it as a given that you have a set-up as described earlier, here are some possible conversations and outcomes:
Jayne Butterby writes historical fiction set in the regency era and runs a social media group called ‘Regency Romance’. In the course of interacting with her group, she poses the question ‘What part of Regency romance novels excites you the most right now?’
Many members answer. Some describe key moments in their favourite books; others comment on news about upcoming films; several remark that the thing that they are most excited about as a trend within the genre is the growth of stronger heroines with a sense of humour.
Jayne picks up on that last point, as her own novels feature strong heroines and the sense of humour point is something she has particularly worked on. She lightly mentions her own book series starring Florence McGilwraith, whose adventures at McGilwraith Manor are full of romance, comedy and adventure.
Note that Jayne does NOT try to ‘sell’ the participating members her book — she is merely echoing what they have already said they like about developments within the genre.
Several members ask questions about her books and her heroine and Jayne is happy to give tiny extracts in response. By the time the conversation has ended, about a dozen members have reframed Jayne’s work into their appreciation of the genre — she is now inside the frame as opposed to being a newcomer outside.
Three of those members later go on to purchase Jayne’s first book in the Florence McGilwraith series The Purple Prince; one of them then becomes a superfan and buys the whole series. Jayne’s fiction has done the work of deepening the engagement of readers.
All from a light and interesting conversation which perhaps lasted 45 minutes. Furthermore, the conversation is open to any group member coming across it later and following up by investigating Jayne’s books.
This is far more productive and satisfying use of 45 minutes than spamming book groups with various versions of ‘Buy my book!’ ads or worrying over key words and SEO variables on a website.
Here’s another scenario:
Roger Gilvray writes dark contemporary fiction and runs a social media group called ‘Writers in the Night’. In the group, he asks ‘Did you notice how Hubert Selby Jr achieves a feeling of visceral horror in Last Exit to Brooklyn without overtly being gory?’
Answers and opinions pour in. Many agree and give examples; several disagree and dislike Hubert. What Roger gleans from the conversation, though, is that there are many members of his group who are sick of the presentation of gore in dark fiction and yearn for something a little more subtle and clever. He is able to interject that his own book, Bridge to Blood City, featuring Sabina, a protagonist who has blackouts and who is presented as an unreliable narrator in a series of interconnected short stories with many twists and turns, contains new ways of hinting at the presence of gore without openly displaying it. Without attempting to ‘close’ any of the members to buy his book, Roger leaves a trail of interesting snippets that are directly pertinent to the thread of the discussion, echoing the leanings of his listeners.
The whole conversation takes about an hour of his time and at the end he finds that six people have downloaded the Kindle version of his book. Roger’s work is now in the frame.
On the other hand, James Goldsmith writes children’s fiction, set in a magical world behind a sofa called Gibbleton. He runs a social media group called ‘Light Children’s Fiction’, where he asks ‘What part of the work of Karen Inglis do you think is different from other authors?’
Answers flood in. Many comment on the fact that Inglis’s books tend to be shorter and divided into condensed chunks for reading ease. James is able to subtly mention that his books are the same, and that one of the things that his own readers have said is that it seems to help children’s morale, especially if they are reluctant readers, if they can get through whole books in a relatively short amount of time. Loads of members express an interest in James’s books and afterwards he sells 20 copies after about two hours of back and forth in the group, during which he refrains from trying to sell anyone anything.
Terence Gol is literary author whose massive tome Grendel’s Arm is longer than War and Peace. He runs a social media group called ‘Rich Writing’ and asks ‘What are you looking for in literary fiction right now?’
All kinds of answers materialise quickly over the next hour. Terence picks out those which pertain most closely to what he is offering in his book, and engages in lengthy discussions about the merits of this or that approach to storytelling, with examples from Grendel’s Arm and other works. Two hours later, three people buy his book. He was sufficiently open, echoed enough of what they were saying and managed to reframe their perceptions of his work that those readers decided that they were looking for his book — he was now part of the literary community. Three books sold may not seem like a lot, until you put the sales in context: Terence hadn’t sold a single copy in two years using conventional marketing methods.
Do you see how this works?
Social media gives even the most introverted and shiest authors the chance to draw readers closer, to engage in almost intimate conversations, and to bring the whole task of marketing to life in a way that is beneficial intellectually, emotionally and commercially. All without 'selling' anyone anything.
What genre do you write in? What’s your social media group called? How can you use questions like these to involve, intrigue and enchant your prospects so that they become readers and fans?