Saturday, April 21, 2012

“But” Is a Stopper: The Difference between Marketing and Fictional Writing

When I decided to become a writer of fiction, I was confident I could leverage my 25 years of experience as a corporate communications writer for biotech and high tech companies. I figured if I could write a decent press release – which even includes dialogue in the form of quotes – I should be able to write a novel. After all, writing is writing.

Well, yes and no.   I realized the “no” when, after reading my first novel, a colleague said that I really needed to let go of the marketing tendencies.  There’s no need to repeat things – “we mystery readers get it the first time.”

That started me thinking. What other habits of marketing writing was I instilling into my fictional novels?

First, marketing writing is geared to influence the reader to “do” something—to buy a product, to listen to a recording, to watch a video, to read a flyer, to consider investing.  Ooops! - I had chosen to write mysteries to entertain.

So what writing tendencies had crept into my fictional writing?

Early in my marketing writing career I learned a few key rules:

(1) Target your recipients and address their needs – this may even require some surveys to understand the gap between what your readers know and what you want them to know. Understand what they read, and how they read it. Also, consider that your readers are your potential customers.

(2)  Clarify what you want to say to help achieve the results you want

(3) Write your key messages and supporting messages ahead of time so that you can integrate them into all document

(4) Back up your key messages with supporting data

(5) Repeat your message at least three times – more if possible. 

(6)   Never use “but” – it’s considered a stopper, that is, people stop reading when they see that word.

(7) Write short, succinct sentences

(8)  Use action verbs; no passive tense
 Of course, there are many more guidelines attached to effective marketing writing. But (please keep reading) you should get the idea – marketing writing is intended to influence.  Admittedly so is some fictional writing – but its first goal is to entertain.

When I wrote my first novel, I was very careful never to use the word “but.” I did indeed repeat  references to assure that the reader picked up key points, and I included lots of backup information to substantiate statements and provide context.  Those are the misguided things I did.

However, there are some valuable lessons to apply to fiction writing from that of marketing writing. Perhaps the most valuable is to target your reader.  People are different, and we can’t write to all of them. By defining the potential readers – our target market, so to speak – we can write to them with the intent that they will be more likely to enjoy our stories. 

By selecting mystery as a genre, I made the first targeting decision. I chose to reach out to readers who enjoy a good puzzle.  I also decided that my target readers preferred less violence, more character development; a little romance, but not too graphic. And that they want to learn something – but not too much.

In addition, I have also leveraged certain writing skills from marketing, such as, the use of action verbs, reduction of passive voice, and prevalence of succinct sentences. I have been able to build on those simple guidelines. And I have also used many of my marketing skills to help me promote my book. 

Nonetheless, I have learned to appreciate the differences – I even use “but” occasionally.

Joyce T. Strand, Author
Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries

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