Monday, November 3, 2008

What Mega-Selling Authors Know That You Could Use to Boost Your Sales

Does the promise in the above headline turn you off? Does Samuel Johnson’s claim that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” offend you? The answers to these questions are important to your career. While higher sales are not necessarily proportionate to literary excellence, higher sales can be achieved by doing the right things. This blog entry is about doing the right things.

If you follow the rules of writing, strive for literary excellence, and you are content with producing books that are well received and well reviewed, then I would say that you are an author who “writes to the needs of the novel.” Authors who take this approach often see themselves as producers of durable goods: namely books that can have an independent existence on bookshelves and in the hands of fans.

On the other hand, if you follow the rules of writing, while also, at the same time, taking additional efforts to create the best “reading experience” for your readers, then I would say that you are an author who writes to “the reading experience.” Authors who write to “the reading experience” often see themselves as producers of consumable goods like gourmet meals. They are creating intangible experiences – not books. One of the best “reading experience” authors, Janet Evanovich, says that she creates “entertainment” and considers herself more an entertainer than a writer.

For “reading experience” authors, books are similar to sheet music in that they only obtain a significant reality when they are being “played” in the mind of a human.

Accomplished “reading experience” authors realize that fans don’t actually want romance books – many already have embarrassingly large TBR piles. Fans don’t even really want to read romance books. What fans want and what fans buy are the “reading experiences” and thus the “bundle of feelings” these books are capable of providing.

Romance fans can actually have “cravings” for specific feelings -- just as they can have cravings for specific foods (for example, chocolate and potato chips). Even a fan who has over 100 books in her TBR pile, may still buy your book because she is craving the “bundle of feelings” she hopes she will obtain by reading your current “hidden child” theme romance. In a way, your novel is the sheet music for creating the rhythms of passion her soul desires to experience. It’s all about the reading experience. It’s not about ink and paper and books on a shelf.

Ordinarily fans do not read romances to learn how the story will turn out. They know how a romance will turn out, in fact, they are guaranteed a HEA. Fans read romances to satisfy emotional needs that when neglected become cravings. Romances can become addictive because they satisfy important needs.

Please don’t confuse this observation with escapism. To maintain that fans read romances to escape is essentially to make a vacuous claim. There are thousands of ways to “escape” -- from alcohol consumption to Zen meditation. The significant question is always this: “why do fans choose romance novels as their vehicle of escape?” This is the question that needs to be answered if you want to be in the best position to satisfy the needs of your fans and increase your readership.

Ask yourself this, “Why does anyone do anything?” The Greatest Management Principle (GMP) asserts that “What gets rewarded, gets done.” Fans read romances because the experience is rewarding. Authors who provide the most satisfying reading experiences can expect to enjoy an ever growing fan base.

In researching the romance genre over the last seven years, I have found that competent authors, who reward the reader the most times per page, tend to have the highest sales. Can you guess which romance author my research indicates has the highest number of rewards per page (RPP)? Nora Roberts*. Another high scorer is Janet Evanovich.

I believe measuring “rewards per page” (RPP) can help precinct future romance writing success. I also believe that writing to “the reading experience”, when well executed, can propel competent authors to much higher sales. However, “rewards per page” (RPP) is not a panacea. You still have to do everything else right. All the rules of writing still apply. You just have to change your focus from “your novel being judged as a totality” to “your novel being judged as a rewarding, page-by-page, reading experience”.

In future blogs (if there are any) I will cover some of the many ways that authors employ to reward readers. I will suggest a method for visualizing what is going on in your reader’s mind at any given point in your novel. I will also deconstruct the reading experience with an emphasis on comparing actual and vicarious feelings.

In the most important sense, your novel only exists when it is being “played” in the mind of a reader. It is very important, therefore, to be aware of what is going on in the reader’s mind as you compose each page. Indeed, from the point of view of increasing book sales, this approach is just as important as meeting the technical requirements the novel itself.

By the way, no one has to do any of this. There is no literary imperative that authors have to write to produce maximum sales. It is not even necessary to produce good “reading experiences”. I did not enjoy reading “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Return of the Native,” or any number of other books which I struggled through but am now glad I finished.

What I would like to do here is give you the option of expanding your fan base to the maximum and thereby allow you to enjoy the benefits of occupying the highest tax bracket.



WIP “A Random Walk Through Romanceland.”

*Rewards-per-page (RPP) scores are based on preliminary findings of a still evolving methodology. As the system is refined scores change but the relative standing of individual authors have remained the same. I could write an entire book on the difficulty of measuring RPP while adjusting for sub-genre differences and choosing comparative testing samples from each book.


Tina M. Russo said...

Good morning, VINCE!! Have a bear claw, buddy.

Awesome post, which I will have to re-read and print. Follows what I have posted above my puter..EMOTION ON EVERY PAGE.

So tell the readers of Seekerville a bit about yourself.

Ann said...

Hi, everybody,

Vince, I really related to the music analogy. Without the reader, the musician or the audience, notes or words are just black ink on white paper. H'mm, something to think about.

Julie Lessman said...

Hey Vince, welcome to Seekerville and thanks for a your thought-provoking post!

As a romance writer, I especially like the idea of using the term "reading experience" instead of "escapism" -- it definitely elevates the idea of romance in my mind. I am not a "slice of life" type of writer(women's fiction), but tend toward the "Calgon, take me away" type of novel, both in reading and writing, so your take on it being a "reading experience" instead of escapism is very interesting and, I think, very true.

Thanks for your insight.


Mary Connealy said...

I like this idea, Vince. the Rewards Per Page idea. I have a stack of favorite novels that I re-read a LOT and I know there are scenes that I particularly love, with a particularly powerful punch. I don't think I've really analyzed WHY I love them and I'll bet if I did it, it would amount to this same Rewards Per Page concept. I like the idea that maybe I can learn this. :)

Cathy Shouse said...


I'm with you on your premise. How about some examples of how writers reward readers to illustrate your point?



Melanie Dickerson said...

This is fascinating stuff, Vince! I can't wait to hear more about Rewards Per Page! It sounds so logical! I've been reading Ruth Axtell Morren's book, The Making of a Gentleman, (she's one of my favorite writers) and I've noticed how often she "rewards" me--really often!--and wondering how I could increase those "rewards" in my own books. Of course, I wasn't calling them rewards before, I was thinking of them more as emotional, or attraction, moments. Actually, I didn't have a name for them, but now I'll be analyzing them closer!

Thanks, Vince!

Jessica said...

Hey, this is SO true. I totally will pick up an author to fill a craving.
Cool post :-)

Missy Tippens said...

Very interesting, Vince! Thanks for your post!

Now I need to go check every page of my new manuscript for those payoffs! :)

Since my book is a romance, do y'all think the RPP's are moments of attraction, near kisses, moments when they bond? That type thing? What about sweet moments between the main characters and secondary characters? Do those get points, too?

Thanks for any input!


Debby Giusti said...

Oh, Vince, you're good. Where'd you come up with this concept? I want to read more, okay?

The Rewards Per Page hit me. But I'm like Missy, I want more info about what qualifies. Since I write suspense, I presume spine-tingling moments when the heroine's about to be grabbed would be included.

Do tell more!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Vince. Welcome to Seekerville! I can't remember when I've been more excited about a post! I want to know more about the rewards per page. I want to give my readers what they crave--the best reading experience I can! This is awesome!


Audra Harders said...

Hello, Vince and welcome to Seekerville!

Great points you bring up about the reading experience. Touching the emotional need of the reader consistently is what sets Romance apart from other genres. It's not escape -- please, give me Calgon for that -- it's for fulfillment and when an author finds the right balance of emotion and plot, the end results are phenomenal!

Thanks for the timely reminder!

Audra Harders said...

Oops, I guess I should've read everyone's comments. Julie and I think alike -- bubble bath : )

I, too, would be interested in what defines RPP in a romance. Is it the anticipation? The kiss? The near-kiss?

Please share!

Anita Mae said...

Hey Vince - so, I have to come all the way over here to finally see what you look like, eh? Great pic, BTW.

What a post! Man, have you got me pegged. I used to say I read for the cathartic experience but I couldn't tell anyone why. Thanks for telling me. I do feel the craving...I do.

And the 400 or so books in my TBR pile will back you up.

I think I'll print your post off and keep it in my purse. That way if anyone turns their nose up b/c I'm sitting there reading a romance, I'll whip out your post and maybe gain a convert or two.

And I'm with the rest on the RPP info. More...more...


sbwriter said...

Hey Vince,

Great post - and very true. I have only recently begun analyzing the books I read froma writer's standpoint. Through this exercise I've noticed the books I enjoy the most all have common elements to them. Being a scientist, I have to confess that I'm very curious about your RPP (I think that's the abbreviation) and the "formulas" you came up with for your predictions. I'd also like to see your "top ten" list of authors using this system. Hope to hear more about it in the future...

Great picture, btw. ;)


Vince said...

Hi All:

Every time I tried to write this post this morning I wound up with over 1000 words before giving up. I’ll be brief here about what some of the things that count as rewards on my RPP system.

One point for each of the five senses used on the page. Life uses five senses – 3-dementional writing will too.

One point for each emotion elicited: readers want to feel the story. Emotions like: being loved, cherished, envied, appreciated, desired, sexy, jealous, appreciated, victorious, curious, fearful, relieved, and so on. These are emotions felt by the reader and not just words used on the page. The word probably won’t even be used in creating the emotion. You can show jealousy without using the word. You can show being envied by having other women look at the hero as hero and heroine enter the café. (This is a stock element. It would be better to do it in a new way. )

One point for each “factoid” that will make your reader smarter. Lucy Gordon has dozens of these in her books about Italy. You have to work these into the story unnoticed. They have to be appropriate to the story and characters.

One point for each cliff hanger resolved. Will the car make it home without running out of gas, will the child get an A in art, and will the boss notice a new dress. There can be dozens of these worked into the story as backbround.

One point for each anticipated event which happens sooner than the reader expects it to. The reader learns something and thinks, “Oh my God, when Mary learns this there will be fireworks” then on the next page, Mary learns it and there are fireworks. No waiting a full chapter or two for it to happen. This is joy to a reader.

One point for each “sparkle” – a poetic turn of phrase. A new way to say a cliché phrase. Respect the reader and avoid stock romance phrases as far as possible. No ‘going over the edge’ or “feather soft kisses” or “toes curled”.

One point for genuine humor. Janet Evanovich is fantastic at this. Many others should not try it.

One point for a truly unexpected event the reader never anticipated. The “wow” factor. Some say the key to romance is being “the same but different”. Be different.

One point for each new experience well described. Like making a different type of coffee in a different way and learning how it smells, looks, and tastes. Make the experience as real as possible. Nora Roberts excels at this. This also includes going to places, and events the reader is not likely to experience herself. A total makeover in a Sedona Spa would be a very rewarding experience to vicariously enjoy. Of course, you’d have to do the research. (Well, someone has to. LOL)

I think from these examples you can get an idea of some of the many ways you can reward the reader. And this is my very short answer! I hope it helps.



Pam Hillman said...

Very interesting post, Vince! Enjoyed it tremendously. Thanks for visiting Seekerville.

I can see the wheels turning, so I'll just nip this in the bud right now: No, Mary, Vince did not just give you license to kill someone on every page.

Debby Giusti said...

Thanks, Vince. I'm cutting and pasting and making a Vince file on my hard drive! :)

I'll check back later for updates!

Mary Connealy said...

I beg to differ, Pammie, he did TOO tell me to kill people. Especially if we kill people who have it coming.

And if it's the hero, I promise to just WING HIM.

Love the additional notes, Vince. Excellent

Lorna said...

Vince, what a fascinating concept! Thank you for sharing it and the extra info. Great things to consider.

Anne Barton said...

Vince, I'm a math teacher who writes romance so your methodology really appeals with me. "Science, meet romance. Romance, science." :) What a fabulous idea, and very nicely laid out. Thanks so much for sharing--I'd LOVE to hear more.

Nancy said...

Vince, nice analysis of what motivates a romance reader and how an author can use that knowledge to increase sales.

Avily Jerome said...


That's about all I can say. Wow! I can't wait to read more of your great advice, Vince!

And I'm NOT looking forward to going over my manuscrpts again and discovering how bad at this I really am!

Thanks again, Vince!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Hey Vince!

Great to have you in Seekerville.

Wonderful advice.


Tamara Hughes said...

Very cool concept, Vince! I think this concept is something I could feel before, but now I understand. It seems like the RPP is actually something you can feel as you read the page. There are certain lines, descriptions, etc. that really pop out and give you the warm fuzzies.

Vince said...

Hi Anita Mae:

Thanks for your support. 400 books in your TBR pile – Wow, that is amazing. I have a whole chapter in my WIP on romance on the RPP and the importance of vicarious and actual experiences. Having a large TBR pile works well with my theory on vicarious experiences. I may try to work this up for an RWA article as authors seem to like the idea. (This is the chapter in the book of most interest to authors.)

I also need to refine the RPP rating methodology to make it easier to use so more authors can be tested. I can also see from the reaction to this post that it would be useful the enumerate the “bundle of feelings” that fans expect from different romantic themes like “hidden child” and “marriage of convenience” and so on. To become a standard theme like “stranded with” the emotional payoff must be highly prized by the target audience. If an author could knowing enhance the expected and desired emotional feelings the book was purchased the deliver, then it would be much easier to deliver the best experience to the reader. Authors do this intuitively but imagine having an enhancement check list. The Seekers have given me many new insights.



Sharon A. Lavy said...

Thank you so much. I'll be back!

Deb said...

Vince, what an wonderful concept! Your initial explanation of creating rewards per page was enlightening. Your follow-up comments brought it home. I've already printed off a paper copy to post above my computer as a reminder.

Thank you!