Friday, April 24, 2009

Say What

TGIF. And TGICharles

First, a note of thanks to Donald Maass, last week’s guest blogger (see below). While I haven’t read his latest (yet), his Writing the Breakout Novel helped me to, well, breakout. Recommended without reservations.

Now on to the lesson.

Since I have a foot in both worlds, I’ve been blogging about the parallels between writing novels and writing ads. Last week I challenged all you authors out there to come up with a billboard for your work in progress, and a few can be found in the comments section below that blog entry. (Unless there are only 4 people writing books out there, the rest of you are late.) This week I want to talk about messaging, or, in non-jargonese, what you say to your readers.

You can usually tell when a business writes it’s own ad. They can be clever and sometimes quite good, but often—I’d risk saying usually—they miss the mark. These ads get all the right information out there, they just say it wrong. I don’t mean they use the company president instead of professional talent (although that is a common practice that should be avoided), I mean the tone and target of the message is wrong for the client.

The problem is that a company knows and loves its product and is justifiably proud of the company’s achievements, and the ads they come up with tend to extol the products virtues and highlight the company’s commitment to success.

Frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn.

Customers don’t want to hear what you want to say. They want to hear what they want to hear. In other words, if you are not saying the things that resonate with customers, they are not interested in your product.

I work with a worldwide leader in the home security field. The products they offer are, without question, the finest available. The ads they used to run went on and on about their rating for this and their construction methods and their long history of innovation. And sales were flat. People did not want to hear all the technical details the company’s engineers found fascinating. That’s not what they want to buy. What they want to hear is how this product will give them what they really want—peace of mind. It took some time, but we were able to successfully reposition the company, and I’m proud to say that sales have exceeded the company’s best expectations. We still mention the testing and the standards and the independent certifications, but the focus is on telling people what they want to hear. Same product, different message.

It’s not what you want to say, it’s what they want to hear. You can still deliver the same product—a top-of-the-line home security device or a fast-paced mystery—but if you are not speaking to them in a way they want to be spoken to, you will not have any takers.

But you have important things to say! Your books are not a product, they are art, damn it! Fine. But let me ask you, how long do you keep reading a book that doesn’t deliver the kind of story you want to read?

Figure out what your reader wants out of a book—on the plot level, the character level, the scene level, in dialog, pacing and conclusion—and give them what they want to read.

NOTE: This Sunday’s guest blogger is author, playwright and short story ace Richard Ciciarelli. He’ll be tipping us to the wise on writing the short mystery.

No comments: