Thursday, July 2, 2009

Getting Your Readers' Attention: Relevance (2 of 5)

Novelists spend a lot of time writing. When treating it like a full-time job, it can take a month to write a novel. Sporadic writers may take a year or more. The whole time, the writer is wondering if it is a waste of time. We wonder if anyone will want to read what we have written. That leads us into the next question from Andy Stanley’s pod cast. We want other people to believe that what we have written is worthwhile.

Why do they need to know it?

We talked yesterday about the theme of our novels, or to use Andy Stanley’s term, the one thing. We don’t usually sell novels by telling people we’re going to teach them something, and yet, stories have a higher purpose than entertainment. Stories have always been the most efficient way to convey information that people will remember. Stories must be entertaining, or people won’t read them, but we must never forget their higher purpose and as such, we must write in such a way that people see what we are telling them as relevant.

If you know me, you know that I think The Shack is a bunch of theological hogwash. But it has its fans who talk about how it changed their lives and how it revealed God in a way they had never seen him. What we are hearing in their statements is that they see the theme of The Shack—which is pretty much that God loves us too much to get hung up over sin, doctrine or anything else that theologians this is important—as being relevant to their lives. For all of its problems, it addresses the question of Why do they need to know it? Readers believe need to know it because they are searching for an understanding of why God can call himself loving and yet allow bad things to happen in their lives.

We need to ask ourselves why people need to read a book with our theme and how we can persuade them that it is relevant. That goes back to the concept of a hook. We want our readers to realize up front that we have something they need (or want) to know and that if they stick with us that we will meet that need. That need could be something as innocuous as addressing how a person will respond if someone keeps asking the question, “do you like green eggs and ham?” Why do people need to know that? Because it’s an interesting question (for a child anyway). Because it reveals something about ourselves.

The important thing is that people will read our novels when they believe it is relevant to them. It may be that they have read our previous work and they want to read more. It may be that we address a topic that intrigues them. What ever it is, it is important to realize that the reason we think they need to know something isn’t as important as why they think they need to know something. If we can address that easily in the work and address that need, our readers will stick with us through the end.

Next time, we’ll talk about What do they need to do?



Angie Ledbetter said...

Good food for thought. How much do you think a great cover design adds to sells?

Timothy Fish said...

While we are told that we aren’t to judge a book by its cover, my personal experience has been that the cover does factor into the buying experience. How much? That, I believe, depends on several other factors. If the reader already has experience with the author or has a good understanding of what the book is about, she is less likely to be influenced by the cover. On the other hand, if the reader has no idea what the book is about, the cover may be what triggers her to find out or it could be what causes her to ignore it. We add to that the fact that many people are shopping online, so it could be a scaled down thumbnail of the cover that the reader sees. That too can influence how well the book sells.