The novel - what's it for?

Early on in my career as an industrial marketeer (packaging) I was sent to the USA for an extensive course in that most American of business fine arts - that of SELLING. What had been a pretty not to be boasted about way to make a living in England had been elevated there, so it seemed, to a status somewhere between high priest and mover of the earth.

The first thing you were taught and that reverberated as a constant backgound throughout your two weeks of intensive indoctrination was - FEATURES AND BENEFITS. Features were what a thing (that you were trying to sell) actually was. Benefits were the answer to that potential buyer question: what will it do for me? Nobody, they said, buys anything for what it is. They buy it only for what it does, and does for me.

A novel is a finite number of machine typed words set on turnable paper pages bound together to make a compendium (book) size X x Y x Z and with a front cover bearing cover art and title and author name plus a rear cover telling something about the story within: price, name of publisher and so on.. That's what it is. My American tutor would now say, 'So what? What does it actually do for me? If you want me to pay you some of my hard earned money for it, tell me what it will do for me.'

Reviewers of the novel will often try to tell you what the book is - is about, how well or badly written etc - but they seldom venture into the more esoteric territory of what it will do for you. As I am presently busy trying to market my own fiction I've been trying to think benefits. I would suggest some of the following ...
  • Reading the novel can flex your secret emotions, (very healthy in this less emotional era of ours).
  • It can teach you things about life, your life. For as Hemingway wrote, truly written a work of fiction can be - should be - truer than the truth.
  • It can temporarily transport you away from the mundane, the futile, the stressful and enable you to 'live' for a while in a safer, better or more exciting place.
  • If it is good enough it can and will UPLIFT you.
Of course, for an author to expound the virtuous benefits of his/her work in those terms would probably be counter-productive. Nobody believes a self-eggrandiser. So how to sell my books? I cannot but others can and maybe one day will.

There are those who tell you, often with some pride, that 'I never read novels, only non-fiction books'. I have even heard some on TV actually boating that they have never read a book - any book - in their lives! Two footballers come to mind, messrs Shearer and Redknap senior. For me, these gentlemen might as well have been born and be living with some sad disability. Sad.

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