Book Marketing: The Best Ads Are Great Fiction, Always
Imagine for a moment that you could have that one thing you’ve always wanted.
It would show up right now, right where you live, in your very hands. In that room you are now sitting in, or wherever you want it. Your driveway, your living room, anywhere.
The only trick is that you’d have to do something to get it.
At first, you didn’t know what to do, and you’d try something sensible, but it didn’t work. You have experienced this. It doesn’t mean you don’t still want it.
So then you tried a different approach. That worked a bit better, and you got closer to what you wanted, but you still didn’t have it.
You sorted these efforts out in your mind and found out why they didn’t work. Out of the blue, you got a great idea that had never come to you before. With tremendous personal effort, a great investment of time and savings, you finally took that last step. Failure would mean great personal disappointment, perhaps even public embarrassment. All your efforts to this point, your time and money, would be completely wasted if you failed.
But it worked! And now, right where you live, you finally achieved or attained exactly what you wanted for all this time.
You have just been sold in a 30 second commercial. So you pick up your smartphone and order it online, so it will arrive in two days, shipped directly to your door. In a box with a smile on it. Or you get the digital version delivered right to your smartphone so you can enjoy it right now…
The best ads use fiction to sell their goods. Go back in your mind to the Superbowl ads you liked most. Like a good story, they transported you to a different world. And you wanted whatever they were selling by the end.
The worst ones didn’t. Like used car ads on late night TV. Nope. Don’t take you anywhere. Because they are just someone yelling at you.
The best ads follow the same formula as any story. That’s what Algis Budrys taught his many students. The 7 point structure: person, context, problem, try/fail, try/fail, try/succeed, “the end”.
When you write your 4,000 character description for your book, it’s about 500 words, a flash fiction. DW Smith says to simply tell the first three steps of your story there – a person in a situation has a problem… And if you do it right, the reader wants to find out how the story will end – and so buys your book online.
Another example: Earl Nightingale found himself at 12 years old living in Tent City in Long Beach California during the Great Depression. (Yes their house was actually one of several tents out in Southern California, just to handle the people who had become homeless as a result of the financial crisis.) And his dad had left them.
But his mother loved to read, and so young Earl Nightingale found the city library and that he could transport himself to different worlds, learning all these diffferent lessons all within the printed pages of books.
As a curious and observant boy, he didn’t understand how he and his family were poor and other people around them had money. Out of this childhood, he set two goalsl: 1) to find the secret of success, 2) to become a writer.
Joining the Marines during World War II got him to a training base in North Carolina at its close. Nightingale saw that someone was building a radio station close by the base. He got a part-time job as a radio announcer there during his off-duty hours.
Once he was discharged, he moved his young family to Arizona to fill a job as a radio announcer. He practiced hard to emulate the delivering great ads of the time, so much so that his fellow announcers called him “Network”. After two and a half years, he had taught himself everything he could. Buying a one-way ticket to Chicago (telling his wife and kids he’d send for them when he got established) he got himself interviewed at the two top radio stations there, who were also the two greatest radio stations in the world at that time. He was accepted at both of them and chose the bigger of the two. Then quickly rose to the top of his field.
One day, in a used book store, he found a copy of Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich.” That weekend, he found the secret to success he’d been looking for. His discovery for this (later recorded onto an LP record that went Gold) was derived from his phrasing of that secret as “We Become What We Think About.” That recording you’ve probably heard or heard about – “The Strangest Secret.”
He tested this idea over and over during the next few years and found it to work every time.
He also taught himself to write during those years in Chicago. Expanding from announcing to having his own radio show, that then became a weekly TV show, he was able to read and edit scripts and write his own material to record and broadcast to his Chicago audience and the world.
Eventually, Nightinale retired (at age 35) to run the businesses he had developed on the side. And he reportedly swore off radio and all it entailed. Until someone gave him the idea of a short radio program where he could write and tell the stories he wanted to. Initially, he discarded that idea. But on a long fishing trip, he mulled the idea over and wrote a few sample stories. On returning, he then submitted this to some advertisers to see if it was an idea they would support.
They were enthusiastic about such a program, and so Nightingale started writing and producing 5-minute shows, syndicated 5 times during the week, called “Our Changing World.” And this program continued for 20 years, reaching thousands of radio stations worldwide. Nightingale wrote, recorded, and produced nearly 7,000 original recordings.
He had found his “River of Interest”, where he could use his hard-won knowledge of success secrets, plus his ability to write stories. And so Earl Nightingale improved the world through following his goals and his bliss.
You can do this, too.
The secret is in telling the story, using that 7-point Budrys framework. You see it in the example above as well. While Nightingale was successful in nearly everything he touched, you can see that he was unsuccessful in his drive to achieve those two goals until much later in his life. That quest took him across the U.S. to finally acquire a world-wide audience. All from his own drive and persistence. His ultimate success was from putting everything on the line, and building on his own hard-won skills.
All ads tell stories like this.
Look up Joe Sugarman. He’s famous as a copywriter for building his own direct mail company and writing full-page, three-column stories about the products he was selling. “Blu-blockers” was one of his hits. But his success secret was telling romance stories through his ads. He’d write about you as the hero of the story, and this product you would come to love. About how much you meant to each other, how much you shouldn’t be apart, how much you could do for each other. And then gave you a simple form at the bottom to fill out and mail in, or simply call a toll-free number and give them your credit card information and it would be shipped out today…
Pick up any collection of Nightingale’s stories. You’ll find all the parts of what makes a good novel in them. Of course, in all short stories (and most of these were around 500- 700 words, basically “flash fiction” format) the author can omit or imply various parts. But the writer who knows their craft can pull a reader in and transport them to new worlds, to new ideas. All in just a handful of words.
The difference between fiction and adverting or marketing is just in the ending. For a short story or novel, you have to wind up with telling the reader that the story is over. You start with “A long time ago, far, far away…” and end with “…and they all lived happily ever after” or something like that. Star Trek almost always had them back on the Enterprise bridge, moving off to a new adventure. In advertising and marketing, they tell you where to buy it.
Same deal. Same story format. The hero (you) wants something (has a problem), tries various ways to get it (resolve the problem), none of them work until the last one. And then the hero (you) is told how to get that new solution or gizmo that you’ve “always” wanted. End of story. Happily Ever After. Simple.
In book marketing, your 500-word/4,000 character description does the same thing – but just leaves the potential reader wondering what happened to this fictional hero in that faraway land…
Try it for yourself.
Should be more fun than sweating over ad copy with hackneyed “buy now” trick phrases and “limited time offers”…
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Also published on Medium.