Monday, October 10, 2011

The Takeaway: Making Readers Care

I've been working on a query for the past three weeks, so boiling my book down to essentials readers will care about has been at the front of my mind.
For instance, how do you make people care about
these little purple things? Mitochondria img src. 

Apparently, the steps to making people care about a project are universal. Here's the process my brain went through and what I discovered.

  1. I'm passionate about science and the possibility that humans can, through science and other means, better themselves.
  2. Lisa Iriarte tweeted about an annual conference dedicated to making interstellar starflight a reality in the next 100 years. She blogged about it here, and I was sad to learn that much of the conference was inaccessible to the average person. I'm that average person: someone interested enough to attend the conference and donate but not necessarily educated enough to, say, help build a starship.
  3. Then I stumbled on The #SciFund Challenge. Awesome, I thought. Scientists are trying to fund vital world-saving research through crowdfunding, getting average people (me, me!) to care about what they're doing. They're trying to make science accessible.
  4. Then I read this article by scientist and sci-fi writer Elissa Malcohn entitled "Science With Heart: Connecting with your crowdfunders through the language of emotion." And I realized the article could very well say "Books With Heart: Connecting with your readers through the language of of emotion." The steps are the same.

I urge you to go read the article. (Oh, and totally take a gander at the project while you're there. Very cool.)

And for nibbles, here's the the takeaway. In some key ways, these items should find a way into book, pitch, query, synopsis, and marketing plan (including blog/website/book trailer).

1. Sense of wonder: Something unspecified but extraordinary is possible. How can we inject a sense of wonder into our query?  Touch the universal? Touch our inner child? 
2. Sense of urgency; raised stakesResearchers are on a quest in a race against time. Characters are also racing against time. Urgency is a must. What will happen if they fail? Stakes are essential.   
3. Sense of mysteryIntroduction to the species and why it is important. Mystery can be simply leaving a few early questions unanswered--urgency drives us to read on and find those answers.
4. Sense of adventureInvitation to be part of the adventure. By laying out a character's goals and his/her limitations to those goals, a reader takes part in the adventure. We've all felt it--our own bodies viscerally willing a character to succeed. How can we set up these goals and limitations in a query, pitch, story arc?
5. Sense of belonging: A taste of the experience. Essential for marketing. What can we offer readers in return? Signed copies? A chance to take part in the next adventure? A recipe in the back of the book of some food eaten by your MC? Deleted scenes? Even if we're currently unagented and unpublished, we can be thinking along these lines.

How are you applying these or other ideas to make your book (pitch, query, trailer, etc.) accessible? What ways have you found make a reader care?