With my last post on a writer’s voice all done, I decided to make a post that fits with a common concern among beginning or even advanced authors. Notice I’m talking about authors now, and not writers in general. This is for people who put their books out into the world, and presumably want more people to find, read, and/or buy them. To do this, one has to understand marketing, and let’s get one thing clear about marketing right now.
It’s Not That Bad
Fortunately, marketing is an overly feared word. Fiction writers often despair by measuring themselves next to nonfiction writers, because they don’t offer a specific problem to solve or a true story to tell. For instance, nonfiction authors can hook readers by promising to help them make money online, find love, learn the flute, etc. or give insight into a specific historical period, way of life, human experience, etc. What can fiction do that is as practical and measurable?
In many ways, fiction writers actually have more freedom and power when it comes to marketing and hooking customers, for this reason: more than any of the examples I listed above, people have to be entertained. They have to be taken to a different place, somewhere more dramatic, fanciful, or seemingly logical than their everyday, hum drum, or outright unpleasant existence.
The Therapy of Stories
Stories aren’t just about content. They have a natural rhythm and sense of logic. In the real world, it’s all chaos, and it’s difficult to convince oneself that it’s all going anywhere or going to be worthwhile. But in the world of fiction, usually heroes triumph, bad deeds are punished, and hard work is rewarded with greatness. Other times, like with tragic stories, suspicions and pessimistic attitudes are given credit through schadenfreude. It all reaches readers at a consistently engaging speed with little to no downtime or inconvenience. Stories are awesome when you get right down to it.
But that’s just a little warm-up for those who don’t feel like their work has much relevance in the grand scheme. If your work is high quality, then it’s relevant, because there are never too many good stories.
The question becomes: how do you get people interested in your fiction, as opposed to something else? Well, first it’s key to know where your competition is. The way I see it, your true competition should be something your potential readers are already focused on, not something similar they also don’t care about, like other works in your genre.
If you write fantasy aimed at a middle-age audience, for example, you want to consider your competition to be things like work, the grind, the mundane office life. It’s a vast enthralling adventure vs. another hour of overtime. This is more universal and will attract people more than claiming to be better than competing fantasy works. If you write children’s lit, maybe in the younger range, your audience is parents, and their situation is kids who are frequently bored with the latest toy or game, or who need to learn something that your book covers in depth. Offer these parents a solution through the engaging story you’ve created.
Not to say you shouldn’t flaunt what makes your fiction better compared to similar works, but marketing is often at its stongest when it’s focused on the customer’s situation. In the realm of fiction, that typically means boredom or frustration, and you just have to narrow down the specific kind that your work can solve. Someone who wants to read a horror novel is not the same as someone who wants to read a romance novel, but both will likely admit to being bored when they’re looking for a new story to dive into.
Here’s another universal concern that authors should keep in mind: books are not a light medium. They demand time, and a disappointing book is particularly annoying because of how much time the reader spent hoping for it to all be worthwhile. How do you tear someone’s attention away from their current habits, in order to convince them to give your work a chance, at the risk of being bored, annoyed, and having their time wasted?
To answer that, I have always come back to one question.
Why Do People Read Books?
Once you’ve got a solid idea of who would be most interested in your work, and for what general reasons that apply to them, it’s time to focus inward, on you and your work. Where does your fiction take people? What does it do specifically that other fiction doesn’t?
Speaking for myself, I write fiction that is very concise with its storytelling, with a strong sense of internal consistency within the world. I write stories that are complex, but reward people for paying attention. I also write from a slightly informative edge, never afraid to help the reader learn something new. If there’s one thing my writing isn’t, it’s cryptic or esoteric. The language is varied and colorful but simple, and I’m in no mood to impress people with my diction.
Notice I’m only talking about specific style traits. People can also read books for more broad reasons, like getting emotional catharsis or becoming more aware of a real-life issue. Maybe your fiction is pure nonstop action, meant to keep someone excited for the entire ride. Maybe your books, while not specifically comedic, are rather funny at times, and inject humor into an otherwise non-humorous genre.
To help finish this concept, I think it’d be good to list some questions that you can ask yourself, regarding your work.
1: Is your premise unusual or hard to explain? If so, what about it is easy to understand? For instance, it’s hard to quickly summarize the plot to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but everyone understands when you call something a treacherous journey through space and time.
2: What’s something interesting that shows up immediately or very early in your story? It’s better to open by advertising things like that, while using the body text of ads, posts, etc. to hint at the more long-term rewards of reading the story, such as a thrilling mystery. When someone opens a pitch for their book with “an exciting mystery” I honestly don’t care. But if it grabs me by describing an impossible criminal scenario, I’m more in the mood to study the context and consider reading the work, to try and solve the mystery myself.
3: What is the main concern that sticks out in your head when you try to describe your book to someone else? For me, it’s the concept of a silent world in Feedback, and whether the reason the culture is silent will be explained. I settle this by stating that the first season reveals the truth behind the silent culture’s origin. Just like that, readers don’t have to worry that the mystery that sticks out strongest in their heads will be forgotten by the end of the four books. What would be a plot hole when unaddressed is understood to be a multi-book mystery instead.
There is a ton of content and potential discussion in a topic like this, and I didn’t aim to go very deep. The main thing I want to establish in beginning author’s minds is that marketing does not equal describing your book. Describing the characters, the genre, the things that happen, all of that has no value until it’s established as the right story for your potential reader. Take the time, do a little research, and think about your work from the perspective of a reader. It will do wonders for your social and advertising efforts.
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