are fiction writers screwed? part 2
Tell your story: your story is your truth and your truth is your power. Others need and want to hear it, as you need and want to hear theirs. — Gloria Feldt
In a recent blog post I suggested that fiction writers are screwed unless they come to terms with the art and science of (content) marketing.
Good news is, marketing isn’t necessarily the contrived evil fake huckster needs-to-be-scraped-off-your-shoe bullshit that you might think (and one of the comments following the post pointed out that no successful writer manages to become successful without being relevant, which is accomplished through marketing).
In fact, it’s possible you think this in the first place because marketing is a lot like plastic surgery: you only notice it when it’s done badly. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is not to be like an oddly placed pair of overly inflated breasts.
So let’s take a look (shall we?) at the definition of ‘marketing’ I was using, authored by one Marie Forleo —
Making an emotional connection to the people whom you’re meant to serve
and take it apart piece by piece.
Making an emotional connection
And by this I don’t necessarily mean a personal, one-to-one kind of connection (although of course that happens and it’s lovely when it does). In terms of an audience that’s wide and deep enough to enable your career as a fiction writer, one-on-one connection is not scalable or sustainable. Not to mention: just because someone likes you, or finds you charming or goodlooking or unbearably sexy, doesn’t mean they’ll pay money for your book — or even read you for free.
(There are lots of people I like – and some I even love – but I wouldn’t read their books — if they wrote books, which luckily they don’t — if you paid me.)
It’s about what you stand for – what you come to represent in the reader’s mind, as established through your platform, your use of social media – and whether or not what you stand for is relevant and meaningful to them.
Whether it resonates emotionally.
Simon Sinek writes brilliantly about this in his book START WITH WHY, which is geared to a business audience but a worthwhile read for practically anyone. He stresses the importance of the limbic part of the brain (the middle part, sandwiched between the impulsive lizard brain and the impressed-with-itself neocortex).
The limbic brain deals with emotion – and also decision-making. (The neo-cortex only thinks that it’s making the decisions, when really it’s justifying and rationalizing the decisions that the limbic brain has already presented it with. Give the neo-cortex too much rope, however, and it will hang itself, hence the warning not to ‘overthink’ things.)
Here’s the catch: the limbic brain is nonverbal. It deals in feelings and images, which is why we talk about gut feelings or hunches, or why we ‘know’ things without being able to put them into words.
An emotional connection is made when your limbic brain connects, or resonates, with my limbic brain. (Which sounds vaguely like something out of Doctor Who, but bear with me.) Another way of thinking about this is: your inner life meets up with my inner life, and they discover that they get along.
(This is, I think, the great misperception about confessional writing. Narcissistic writing is solely about the writer, which is why it is boring as hell. Confessional writing is also about the reader: the writer uses herself as a kind of gateway to a shared, universal experience and to find or make meaning out of it that is relevant to others as well as herself. But I digress.)
This is why, when you tell your story, you give other people permission to tell theirs. When you make the first move to reveal something about yourself, you’ll find that other people quickly follow. It’s an amazing thing.
(Think of what it means when you say something and someone else says, “Yeah, I totally feel you on that.”)
What do you believe in?
What do you stand for?
How can you express those things, through blogging and social media, in a way that will attract your ideal readers?
the people whom you’re meant
This part is key. First, notice how it’s ‘the people’, not ‘all people’. You can’t emotionally resonate with everybody. We’re so used to the idea of “the masses” (as in “must appeal to them”) that we tend to find this counter-intuitive.
Second, notice the word ‘meant’. As in: a big part of this is kind of predestined. You already are who you are. You already believe what you believe. (It’s just a question of how aware you are of either of these things, as well as your ability to communicate them.)
You can’t just make this shit up as you go along, according to the whims of the marketplace, or your parents or teachers or spouse or drinking buddies or dog. It’s not about what you think you ‘should’ do or be or represent. ‘Should’ doesn’t resonate for long: it feels contrived, false, inauthentic.
This last bit circles back to the whole idea of being relevant. How are you relevant to your true fans, your right people, your loyal readers? What value are you giving them through your blog, Twitter, videos, or other forms of social media?
Online, there’s a great value placed on information – on the right information – which is why we value those who filter and curate it, who link to cool stuff on Facebook and Twitter. (After all, you are what you link to. Like anything else, links become a form of self-expression. What are you enabling your fans to express about themselves?) There’s a great value placed on entertainment, on storytelling (in ancient days, it was the storytellers who were given the choicest bits of meat and the best places by the fire) – since stories give shape and context to our experiences, give them meaning.
Take your beliefs and express them in a way that creates value: provides information that helps others in some way.
This post, for example, serves as a tangible expression of my own deep beliefs — as a blogger, as a writer, as a person.
Know who you are. Communicate who you are. And then remember who you are so you don’t lose your way….or your fans.