Famous Last Words: The Novelist’s Eye and “What If ...
I encourage everyone to write a novel. It doesn’t matter whether the finished product is any good—let alone publishable. It’s the experience that’s important. The novelist has to come up with a plot, create characters, give those characters challenges and invent believable behavior patterns and thought processes to deal with them. Like a chess player, the novelist must think many moves ahead, create mental scenarios and play a continual game of “What if …”
In the 1960s and 1970s I wrote three novels that I was lucky enough to get published. The exercise of completing a novel gave me the equivalent of a Ph.D. in thinking that has been enormously valuable in all of my life’s endeavors.
For direct marketers—indeed for everybody—playing the “What if …” game is crucial. A few examples:
1. Many years ago, the marketing department of a major airline decided to write personal letters to couples who had flown to Hawaii and suggest they try a vacation in Florida, which would give them warm water and sandy beaches at a lower cost and less time in the air.
“Dear Mr. & Mrs. So-and-So,” the unctuous letter began. “All of us at [company] were delighted that you chose [airline] to fly you to Hawaii and back last [month].” There was one small problem with this letter campaign. In many cases, the lady with Mr. So-and-So was not Mrs. So-and-So. Nobody played “What if …”
2. The new do-not-call list exempts charities and politicians. In the days leading up to election day, I received an avalanche of telemarketing calls—most of them touting judicial candidates. All were pre-recorded. I was not only interrupted, but also felt roundly insulted. Finally, I noted which campaign called and made sure I voted for the opponent. These political hacks who run the campaigns would not know “What if …” if it landed on their heads.