Jim provided a great post yesterday on the reasons people abandon reading a book (mainly because, no surprise, it’s slow and boring!) and ways in which an author can make their own work ‘unputdownable’. Today I want to discuss what propels a book to the next level – what I call the ‘wow’ factor – those elements that take a book to a level where not only can you not put it down but you also can’t help but tell everyone about it.
This is the essence of ‘word of mouth’ marketing, which can turn a book into an instant bestseller. Think about a book like Fifty Shades of Grey. Although I confess I haven’t actually read it, and no matter what you think about its subject matter or literary merit, there’s no disputing it created a buzz which encouraged millions of people to buy it. For me, the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series have it. But how to define that ‘wow’ factor? Surely if if was that easy, we’d all be bestsellers…but it’s not and yet, it’s the elusive element that every publishing house and indie author longs to create.
For what it’s worth, I think the ‘wow’ factor probably involves a combination of the following:
- A startling, controversial or shocking take on a conventional topic or genre. This is what made Fifty Shades of Grey the talk of the town when it was first release. I remember being in a boot camp class and being amazed at how many women were reading it, simply because it was so illicit and controversial (which was really why I didn’t feel in the least compelled to read it!). I think the same can be said for classics such as Lolita and Lady Chatterly’s Lover. If you get people talking about a book because it raises the hackles, insults somebody’s ethics or challenges their notions of propriety it’s probably going to generate buzz (both negative as well as positive). But that is hardly enough (I’m sure there have been thousands of books about controversial topics that have bombed…)
- An uber-intense relationship between characters that appeals to the inner romantic in us all. Think The Bridges of Madison County or the Twilight series. Despite the writing style (or lack thereof) these books pulled at the heart strings. They managed to capture the yearning for true love and, as anyone whose ever watched The Princess Bride knows, true love conquers all. It’s hard to quantify exactly why these books manage to generate such an overwhelming ‘buzz’ but I think the ‘I will love you forever’ over-the-top romance was addictive.
- A story that touches our humanity. We’ve all read great satisfying books and recommended them to others but rarely do we rave about a book to strangers, family members and friends unless it something indefinable that captures our heart as well as our attention. I think if a novel makes people feel good about themselves, or raises our consciousness and humanity we feel compelled to tell others about it. This is certainly what happened to me after I read Schindler’s List and The Alchemist.
- And finally, a story that totally transcends the ordinary… Which goes to demonstrate how important it is to raise the stakes, take risks and strive to transcend the genre in any book you write. Think of a book like Life of Pi and you’ll know what I mean.
So what do you think helps create the ‘wow’ factor? What was the last book you couldn’t help talking about with everyone you know?