A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a post for Romance University. I decided to write a little ditty about what makes a book great. It was a good, solid post. :) But I think I missed something.
How do I know this? I had a conversation with a PR person about what Shirley Jump, Jackie Braun, Barbara Wallace and I would be doing to promote our anthology, THE BILLIONAIRE'S MATCHMAKER -- which is releasing today through Entangled Publishing! Yay! Since I don't have the attention of a PR person very often, I asked if any of this stuff, blogging, branding, giveaways, and Facebook events would actually help to sell books and she said, "I don't know."
Honesty. Gotta love it.
We then got into a discussion about why one book catches fire and another doesn't and she basically said no one knows why. But some books just take off. We discussed "trope" titles. We talked about author recognition. But in the end, we were no further ahead than when we first spoke. There is no definitive "thing" you can do to get your book noticed.
Of course, that bugged me. Not only to I love to analyze, but also I believe there is always a reason for EVERYTHING. LOL
So I noodled it around a bit but came to no conclusions. Then one night, as we were watching TV, something on the show reminded me of Sandra Brown. Yee Gawds. I remember the first time I read her. I immediately called six friends and said, "Have you read this book? This author? You have to."
Same with Nora Roberts. Same with Gina Showalter. Same with my friends Shirley Jump and Deb Mullins. Same with Lori Handeland. Jennifer Probst. Jill Shalvis. Kristen Higgins. And a few others whose names escape me now.
I've done some jumping off my chair and reaching for the phone to insist my friends read certain books. LOL I was familiar with the concept. :) I'd seen great books. I'd word-of-mouthed great authors. All I had to do was think about why I'd called. What was it about those books that made me HAVE TO promote them? LOL
The answer is kind of obvious.
If, when you start writing a book, you would imagine some woman in Iowa (or Pennsylvania or Texas or Alaska) reading it, her heart beating a little faster, and her entire person engaged in your story, and then imagine her jumping off her chair and calling three friends, saying, "Have you read this author? You have to." you wouldn't be able to turn in a second-rate story with schleppy characters and so-so writing. (Not that you do. LOL. I'm just sayin'.)
If you want someone to jump off her chair and call the neighbor and tell her she's bringing your book to her house immediately and then watching her read it...you have to write something worthy of that kind of reaction. Something magnificent.
Over the past few years, the editors at Harlequin have been pushing me to make my stories meatier, my conflicts gut-wrenching. My own personal study has been geared toward scenes that drawn in readers and writing that is so good it appears effortless. (Yes, effortless writing is hard work.)
So once I made the connection that the authors I promoted through word of mouth wrote better, wrote stories that held us spellbound, I realized why the eds were pushing me toward a bigger version of what I had been doing for the past few decades.
Their job is to get a book out of you that sells. But to really sell, you need to write something that forces Matilda off her chair, running for her phone to call her friend Bayberry and tell her she has to read your book.
So look at your current WIP. Would it inspire anyone to leap off her chair and call a friend? I don't care if it's a category romance or a contemporary mainstream; you can work within the confines of your genre, subgenre or story type and find a way to make your book fantastic. If you're the kind of person who comes up with great stories but can't quite make them sing...you need to work on your writing. Something about your scenes (which includes pacing and release of information) or your words (description, dialogue, POV) is off. If you're great with scenes and words, dialogue, POV, action...then maybe your stories (the combination of characters and goals, motivations, and conflicts) don't quite hit the mark.
If you're not making readers leap off their seats in excitement to share your book -- your name -- then you have some work to do.
Note, please, that I'm talking to myself here too. I don't think anybody's ever leaped off a chair for me. Though I did get a review on THE SINGLE DAD'S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE that said, You have to read this book. :)
So maybe I'm getting closer. LOL