Learn How Best Selling Authors Achieve High “Rewards-Per-Page” Scores, with Guest Blogger Vince Mooney
Classic Advertising Principle:
“The way to get prospects to read even the longest advertising copy is to reward them for reading every step of the way.”
The Greatest Management Principle: GMP:
“What Gets Rewarded Gets Done.” Michael LeBoeuf
I have been conducting an analysis of the Romance genre for the last ten years. In studying over 1,200 romance novels I have made many observations. Perhaps the discovery of most interest to romance writers is my “Rewards-Per-Page” index. (RPP)
Fact #1: People will not be bored in print.
Fact #2: No one has to read advertising,
Fact #3: The way to get people to do anything is to reward them for doing it .
Fact #4: Competent copywriters will usually reward readers by providing beneficial information that they need and can use.
Consider this headline:
Will Your Next Manuscript Be Rejected Because You Made One of These 17 Fatal Mistakes?
If you are an aspiring writer, you will probably find the above headline to be irresistible. It would almost be negligent not to read this ad. Even if the ad were thousands of words long, it is still highly likely that you would read every word of the copy -- if the copy kept rewarding you with important information. Notice that the above ad offers this valuable information for free! All you have to do is read the ad.
Fiction’s Advantage Over Advertising
Fiction has many more ways to reward a reader for reading than advertising does. Romance writers have dozens of ways to reward their readers. (My workshop manual on ‘Rewarding Readers’ lists over 100 ways.) Unfortunately, many authors do not take advantage of the many ways to reward readers. This is why they receive low Rewards-Per-Page (RPP) scores.
Why Bother to Reward the Reader?
You might wonder why an author would be concerned about rewarding the reader especially on every page. After all, the reader has usually bought the book by the time she starts reading it. Rather than RPP, shouldn’t the author be striving for literary excellence? Besides, isn’t writing to obtain a high RPP score really just pandering to readers? Isn’t a great story reward enough for any reader?
Rewarding Readers: Optional in Literature?
If you are writing enduring literature, you don’t have to worry as much about rewarding readers on a page-by-page basis. It has often been said of ‘classics’ that they are books readers want to ‘have read’ more than they want to actually read them. I’ve read classics that I am glad to have read but that were not very enjoyable to read.
Why Rewarding Readers is Very Important in Romances
In romances the reader pretty much knows how the story is going to end. The book is not being read to find out ‘who done it’ as in a mystery. The reader is not even trying to solve a puzzle as in a detective story. What the reader is doing is ‘consuming’ the story because the experience of reading the romance is enjoyable.
I find it helpful to think of a romance novel as being a consumable product -- like a chocolate cake. Both the novel and the cake will be replaced in a few days by a similar consumable item. Just as you’d want every bite of a chocolate cake to taste good, so too, readers want their ‘reading experiences’ to ‘taste good’ on every page. This desire can be measured with the RPP index.
I believe that fans read romances for how the ‘reading experience’ makes them feel as they are actually reading the novel. The HEA is guaranteed. As such, romances are primarily about the extended, on-going, ‘reading experience’ that they provide a reader.
Fans are Buying a “Basket of Feelings”
In a way, buying a romance novel is like buying a ‘basket of feelings’. Fans know that some themes, like the ‘hidden child’ theme, will provide them with a predictable set of feelings. When these feelings are in ‘deficit’, fans can actually develop a craving for a given romance theme.
Discovering an Important Truth about Romance Writing Success
Some years ago I was reading a romance magazine in which a few second-tier authors were complaining that publishers pick favorite authors to promote. Nora Roberts was considered so successful because of all the promotional money spent on her books. Publishers spend a small fortune on ads and in-store, point-of-purchase, displays to promote their favorite authors. One author from the second-tier was singled out as being superior to Nora Roberts in quality because she receives better reviews. However, because of her publisher’s smaller advertising budget, her sales were only a tiny fraction of those of Nora Roberts.
Better Reviews or Bigger Sales?
Coincidentally, at the time I read this romance article, I had just read and reviewed a book by Nora Roberts and a book by the ‘better’ author mentioned in the journal article. The ‘better’ author did, in fact, have better reviews. I will also freely admit that her book had more literary merit. (That is, it spoke to the human condition and universal values in a much more poignant and enduring manner than Nora Robert’s book did.)
I decided to see how the two books compared on a reward-per-page basis. The ‘better’ author got about 1 to 2 rewards per page (with some pages having no rewards). Nora’s score was about nine rewards-per-page. (So far, Nora Roberts enjoys the highest scores I’ve encountered. Other best selling authors like Janet Evanovich, M. C. Beaton, and Linda Howard also have high RPP scores.)
‘Reading Enjoyment’ Sells Books
The rewards-per-page scores mentioned above mirrored my own enjoyment in reading these two books. The ‘better’ author’s book had clear literary merit but was dry and dull in many parts. I believe that this ‘better’ author was writing to the needs of the novel. She wanted to get the story right. She was viewing the novel as an ‘end product’ to be judged by readers and critics as a whole. This is like a chef saying, “Don’t judge my cooking by each individual bite or course. Rather judge it only at the conclusion of the meal as a complete culinary experience.” Of course, we know that a chef is not given this luxury. All the chef’s entrees are supposed to taste excellent.
Nora Roberts & Writing to the “Reading Experience”
I believe that Nora Roberts writes to what I call the ‘reading experience’. She makes the ‘reading experience’ as enjoyable as possible on a continuous, page-by-page, basis. Some might argue that writing this way may lessen the literary merit of the work. This is possible, however, this comment reminds me of an interview I once saw on TV. A music ‘expert’ was asked about Yanni’s music. The expert said, “Yanni is really not very good. He just writes the kind of music people like to listen to.” Maybe Nora Roberts writes the kind of books people like to read.
The Rewards of Providing a Better ‘Reading Experience’
I found that the Nora Roberts book and the second-tier author’s book provided very different kinds of reading experiences. After reading the ‘better’ author’s book, I felt like the book was excellent; (I gave it 41/2 stars) however, I had no interest in reading another one of the ‘better’ author’s books.
After reading the Nora Roberts book, (I gave it 4 stars) I felt like immediately reading another one of her books. The page-by-page reading experience was far more enjoyable with Nora Roberts. Like many fans, I place greater value on having a more enjoyable reading experience than I do on how highly a book is reviewed.
How to Sell More Books
Based on my research, I believe that the way to sell more books (or get your books published in the first place) is to enhance the page-by-page ‘reading experience’. One way to quantify this experience is by the use of a Rewards-Per-Page index.
Ways to Reward a Reader.
There are many ways to reward a reader. (I keep discovering more ways all the time.)
Please Note: it is important to point out that the RPP index is ‘art’ and not ‘science’. What I might call a reward, another person might not. Some rewards might qualify as two or more rewards on the same index. Scores can also differ by which pages one chooses to use as a sample. I like to use ten pages from page 100 to 110. This is arbitrary. A more scientific study would employ more objective reward categories and use a larger sample, say 100 pages. Therefore, the RPP Index is best utilized to show which authors rate low and which rate high when the same person uses the same criteria. While somewhat subjective this information is useful for comparing individual authors. (Best selling authors have high RPP scores.)
Interestingly, a new author can have a high RPP score and still not be selling anywhere near her potential because she is as of yet little known or in a small niche market. How many books would Nora Roberts sell if she only wrote cozy mysteries? Authors with a high RPP score should consider moving to a larger target market and be encouraged to do a lot more personal marketing.
Some Ways to Reward a Reader
1. Give the reader new experiences. Take the reader to places she has never been. Treat the reader to smells, foods, and sights she is not likely to otherwise encounter. (For example, try a new coffee, tea, or other product. Show a new way to make coffee. The point here is that as you plan your novel it would be wise to also plan ways to give your reader new experiences.)
Camy Tang’s two books about of an upscale Sonoma spa, “Formula for Danger” and “Deadly Intent” do this very well. The reader is treated to an exclusive spa visit with all the sights, sounds, and smells this experience provides.
2. Five-sense your copy. Involve odor, taste and touch as often as it makes sense within the storyline. Use hot, cold, hunger, and thirst. Five-sensing can be used to provide ‘new’ experiences and also to enhance the vicarious experience your story provides the reader.
One of the most thorough ‘5-sensing’ authors is Tina Radcliffe. Here is a perfect example found in her debut novel, “The Rancher’s Reunion”.
In the scene below the heroine is just returning to Tulsa after years in Africa. She is in the Tulsa International Airport:
“Her senses greedily feasted on the American sights and sounds. It was the simple things she’d missed; the twang of an Oklahoma accent, the U.S. Flag hanging high in the terminal, a sign advertising Mazzio’s pizza, the chatter of the crowd in English, and American food. The tantalizing aroma of a bagel kiosk caused a pause in her steps. Onion, chive and garlic. They all called out to her.”
You can read my review of this book here.
3. Make the reader ‘feel’ an expanded array of emotions. The phenomenon of ‘vicarious experience’ allows readers to feel what your characters are feeling – or at least what your heroine is feeling. These feelings can include: being loved, desired, envied, jealous, victorious, cherished, prideful, fearful, beautiful, approved of, angry, sorrowful, in doubt, joyous, hateful, and feeling betrayed. Julie Lessman makes excellent use of a full range of emotions in her, “A Hope Undaunted”. In a scene between Patrick and Marcy, emotions race from sexy and very loving to hostility and a feeling of betrayal and then back again to sexy and loving – all within one page. Just wonderful!
The scene ends with: He kissed her full on the mouth, and heat shivered through her. “I suppose this isn’t one of those times when I need to say no,” she whispered, her breathing ragged against his jaw. “No, darlin’, it’s not.” And clutching her close, he fisted the satin gown and moved in to deepen the kiss, his husky words melting in her mouth. “For all the good it would do.”
BTW: this is Christian fiction with Patrick and Marcy being the grandparent, patriarch and matriarch of the family! Read the rest of this quote in my review here.
4. Anticipatory Events (AEs): Anticipatory events create situations in which the reader looks forward to finding the resolution. Secrets work well as AEs. Other AEs include: ‘going to a big event—like a dance’, ‘who will win an award’, ‘who will get the job’, ‘what will happen when Mary finally meets her ex-husband,’ and so on.
Sandra Byrd, in her YA title, “Don’t Kiss Him Good-bye” essentially writes her entire book in “AE’s”. Almost every page either initiates an AE or resolves an AE. The heroine, Savannah, creates an “AE” in almost every action she takes or that happens to her. When we meet Savvy’s sister, we are told that there is something bothering her. What is it? When we meet a friend, we are told that she may not really be a friend? Will she betray Savvy? When we should meet a collogue at the school newspaper we find she is coming in a few days. Will she be a friend? Will she take the desk and reporter’s job the Savvy wants for herself? Read this book for a ‘workshop’ in how to write in AEs.
Ruth Logan Herne’s, “Made to Order Family.” also employs dozens of AEs. In my review, I list eleven AE themes in the story that capture the reader’s interest. These are just the ‘people threads’. There are many more AEs of various types.
Read my review for addition information here.
5. Make AEs happen sooner in the story than the reader expects. It is said that ‘a debt paid early is twice paid.’ Providing AE resolutions early is a reward in itself. In Ruth Logan Herne’s “Reunited Hearts,” the most awaited AE in a ‘hidden child’ theme, the hero’s discovery of his child, happens in the opening pages. This was a total surprise to me. (Dragging out the hero’s discovery of the ‘hidden child’ is a favored way of maintaining reader interest. If you reveal it early, you have to think of more AEs.)
You can read why I feel, “Reunited Hearts, is one of the best ‘hidden child’ books I’ve read in my review here.
6. Factoids: these are facts that can make the reader feel smarter. Celia Yeary in her, “Texas Promise”, provides fascinating historical detail making the reading especially enjoyable. She has her hero and heroine travel from Austin, Texas to a ranch in New Mexico. First they take a train, then use horses for a long ride to get to another town with a train station, then they take another train, then back to the horses again. There are many interesting details along the way, like train schedules, what they buy at the general mercantile, café menus, traveling by horse alone without roads, and so on. Reading, “Texas Promise”, makes you feel like you are really taking the trip with the hero and heroine.
Factoids can also include ‘how-to’ items. (Like how an Italian cook might solve a cooking problem such as too much spice in a soup.)
Factoids are so popular that the term ‘factoid’ is now in general usage. (As strong as factoids are, a writer must be very careful to seamlessly work them into her writing. Factoids cannot be used simply because the author wants to reward a reader.)
7. Sparkles include:
-the poetic use of words
- fresh and unique ways of expression
-a selection of words the reader has never heard or seen of before
Sparkles also include new terms to take the place of worn-out romance phrases like ‘toes curled’, ‘knees turns to jelly’, ‘took her to where she had never been before’, etc.
A great example of sparkles is found throughout Audra Harder’s debut novel, “Rock Mountain Hero”, which is almost a love song to the majesty of Colorado. In the below quote the reader gets to see the beauty of Gabe’s ranch at night through the eyes of the heroine who is seeing the view for the first time. (Seeing through the eyes of a first time viewer is a very powerful technique for delighting a reader.)
Gabe followed her gaze. The inky night sky hosted tiny flecks of light, like a blanket of sparkles across the sky. “It clears up after a rain. The clouds all disappear. Makes you wonder where they came from in the first place.” “I could stand here forever.” Gabe peeked at her upturned face, her cheeks smooth and the corners of her mouth turned up. She squinted into the night as if trying to see into eternity. When was the last time he looked up into the night sky with wonder?”
Read my review here.
8. Quips, quotes, and wisecracks. These cover a lot of ground. Ideally these are sayings that the reader can enjoy and perhaps use herself in the right situation. Janet Evanovich’s books are plum full of wisecracks and are a joy to read. In an interview Janet once said that she considered herself to be an entertainer more than a writer. Wow! This goes right to the heart of writing to the ‘reading experience’.
9. What you don’t do can also be a reward: Crystal clear writing and Character Names. An author can also reward a reader by writing crystal clear prose that can only be interpreted by the reader in the way the author intended. For example, I am now reading an otherwise well written and interesting novel; however, I have had to stop and re-read at least twenty sentences, in just the first half of the book, because the sentences didn’t make sense when I first read them. After re-reading the offending sentences two or three times, I eventually got the meaning the author intended. It is important to note here that these sentences were in correct English. If you knew what the sentences meant before you read them, you would not notice that anything was amiss. A careful writer will read each sentence and ask herself, “are there any other ways this sentence can be interpreted?”
For the best example of crystal clear writing I suggest you read any of Janet Dean’s four books, “Wanted: A Family”, “The Substitute Bride,” “Courting the Doctor's Daughter,” and “Courting Miss Adelaide”. In reading these four books I never had to re-read a single sentence because the meaning was unclear. Janet Dean excels in crystal clear prose.
For my review of "Wanted: A Family" go here.
Choice of Character Names: An author can reward the reader by making it easy for the reader to easily identify characters by their names. When names begin with the same first letter or are similar in other ways, it takes a constant effort by the reader to follow the story. This takes away from the reading enjoyment. A great example of selecting character names is found in Missy Tippens new book, “A Family for Faith”.
Read more about ideal character names in this book in my review here.
Important: The RPP approach does not supersede writing rules. You still have to know how to write well. Writing a bad book that has 20 rewards per page will only produce a more rewarding bad book. Increasing the RPP may not even earn a better review. Getting better reviews is not the primary purpose of the RPP index. Getting higher RPP scores is designed to enhance the total ‘reading experience’ in order to please readers as they are reading and to make fans more likely to buy your next book.
How you might choose to apply this information:
1. create your own RPP index with rewards that you find significant.
2. score your own work – then score an author you particularly like using your RPP system. Compare scores.
3. color code your manuscript in your word processor by giving different color highlights to the five sense words.
4. color code ‘emotions’ – show what characters are feeling on each page. You can use different color type for the different emotions.
5. scroll through your WIP file. Ask yourself – how colorful and ‘rewarding’ is my writing? (Do this after your color code your work.) If you’re seeing very little color, you have work still to do.
6. try to increase your RPP score without making your writing seem stilted. (Think of this: ‘a high-concept’ movie is one that by its very nature provides many ways to reward the viewer. If you develop a ‘high-concept’ romance plot, then by its very nature, you’ll enjoy more opportunities to increase your RPP score. Think ‘high-concept’ from the start.)
Questions to Consider in Your Own Writing:
Do you try to reward the reader on every page?
Can you show examples of how your have rewarded the reader from your books.
Do you write to ‘the needs of the novel’ or do you write to the ‘reading experience”?
Do you consider yourself an entertainer?
Can you suggest some additional ways to reward the reader?
About Vince Mooney
Vince is a friend of Seekerville. He is a teacher, real estate broker, owner of a real estate school and former marketing executive. He has written nationally and internationally syndicated advertising with over 3,000,000 words in print. He has published in professional journals, wrote a real estate book for the Real Estate Education Company and has written over 100 different real estate seminars approved by Oklahoma for continuing education. He is currently writing fiction and a nonfiction book on ‘Rewarding the Reader’.
Vince and Linda Mooney
Today we're giving away the Seeker book of choice from those mentioned in today's post. Just leave a comment. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition!
AND!!! Vince is giving away three Rewards-Per-Page 5 page critiques. How do your five pages stack up to Nora Roberts? Vince will analyze any five pages (not just the first five-any five pages) using his RPP index. Are you game? Critique winners chosen by Vince and announced in the Weekend Edition. BUT YOU MUST TELL US YOU WANT IN.