Content, the Necessary Ingredient—Book Buzz, Part 2

I know, I know. We writers all understand that story matters most, we need to craft well, blah, blah, blah. You want, as I do, to get on with it. To talk about getting people buzzing about New Author’s work. How does it happen? What are the secrets?

First, if people really knew the answer to this, we would see more repeats of the Harry Potter phenomenon or that of the Left Behind series. My firm belief is Content is the secret. Trouble is, no one really knows what or why certain stories catch on as they do. In retrospect, though, we can learn a little, I think.

For example, the Left Behind series tapped into a universal curiosity about the future, in particular the apocalyptic end of time. Even people who don’t believe it are curious about it. And Harry Potter? I’d suggest the thing that first caught readers was the imaginative world that felt brand new yet familiar and believable. And secret. Which is what The Da Vinci Code used to vault Dan Brown into stardom.

The first literary explosion I witnessed was Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books back in the late ’70’s I think. Obviously well before the internet, so that buzz was person to person—the water-cooler kind. And what was it about his books? Even he does not know. I suspect it was a mixture—a most unlikely hero and a most desirable place (with wonderful, worthy people readers wanted to see saved).

In summary, very different hooks drew people into these different series. My conclusion is, there is no formula, unless you want to say, the formula is to avoid a formula. However, the books need to offer something that appeals broadly, whether it is place or topic or person.

So why all the emphasis on content? Because the best marketing in the world might get people to read book one, but because of the trust factor I mentioned yesterday, readers will never buy book two unless that first one delivers.

What must it deliver? Something that leaves people wanting to talk about the book to someone else. True buzz, the kind that creates the phenomenal book-buying events, comes about because people want to discuss what they read. People are saying to their friends, what did you think about …

You see, I don’t think these phenomenal events can be manufactured. People spread the word because a book is on their mind, because they don’t quite know what to think about it and want to hear what others have to say.

Is it possible to write that kind of book? Yes, on some level, but perhaps not on a universal level. In other words, people in the target audience can very well be so taken by a book that they want to tell others they know who love the same type of story, that this is a Must Read. But for that to happen, the book must stay on their mind. That means, the book has to offer something a cut above the average. Then, and only then, will buzz “work.”

Published in: on January 9, 2008 at 1:09 pm  Comments (3)  
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