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Monday, March 9, 2009

Desire Paths--Why Authors Must Create Them to Sell Books

Ever notice those footpaths between bushes, those stomped down walkways that go from a parking lot to the sidewalk, the ones clearly NOT planned by the landscaper where folks have made their own trail to get from Point A to Point B?

Those are called Desire Paths. That's a term architects use to desire "non-authorized" walkways. Ones that occur spontaneously rather than through top-down planning.

You and I must establish Desire Paths to our books if we hope to be successful. An excellent presentation by Mike Arauz explains this concept:

So how can we do this as authors? There are two parts:

PART I. We must develop a product (book) that acts as a magnet to readers--encouraging them to create desire paths to book purchases/rentals.

PART II. We must develop promotional activities which attract those readers who would love/enjoy/need/want our books--helping readers create desire paths to the booksellers.

Here how we accomplish PART I:

1. Write about characters whose qualities are enjoyable for the reader. Ever read a totally annoying book? Not for long. I remember purchasing a hardback of a bestselling author I've enjoyed over the years. I had to work hard to finish it. When I handed it to my husband, he read a couple of chapters and said, "That's enough for me. None of these people are likeable and none of them like each other." What makes an enjoyable character? Humor, humility, talent, being treated unfairly, flaws, authenticity, and most of all your character has to LOVE something or someone other than herself. Call it Slan's rule, okay?

2. Create characters who learn and grow. I got soooo tired of the victims (read: protagonists) in the Oprah bookclub picks that I wanted to reach through the pages and dope-slap them. My Kiki Lowenstein does victim-esque things, but she also makes some stunningly brilliant choices and refuses to be run-over. She grows as a person through the series. There has to be a balance--if our characters were never "victims" there would never be any conflict--and it has to tip toward growth. (Okay, I'm using "victims" loosely. Think Superman and Kryptonite and Lois Lane. If he was all-powerful, there'd never be any question of whether he could succeed, right?)

3. Add twists and turns. (In other words, be unexpected.) To stay within a genre we must meet reader expectations and adhere to unwritten rules. (For example, a cozy can't have gruesome violence or its not a cozy, and your readers will be upset because, by golly, they wanted a cozy. They didn't want to get grossed-out. Didn't sign up for that!) But just as there's all sorts of creativity within the strict format of a sonnet, you can also put in all sorts of surprises along the way. And on paper, in books, people love surprises. In real life, not so much.

4. Set your hook. I'm not a good fisherwoman because I never learned the art of setting my hook. But, as a writer, I've figured it out. See, you have to tease and tantalize the reader with an unrealized expectation at the end of each chapter. Each book must both satisfy and promise there's more to come. Those of you who have read Paper, Scissors, Death know exactly what I mean. (I won't spoil it for the rest of you, but it's a dilly.) It's not enough to give people an enjoyable read. You have to leave them panting for Act II.

Which in this case is...

How do we authors translate the concept of Desire Paths into our marketing efforts?

I'll tackle that next week.

Meanwhile...What are you thinking, people? How do you create Desire Paths within your book?


Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


I can't say I'm thinking about much of anything at this hour, but I loved your post.


Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, Charlotte! This is worth thinking about--when you wake up!

L.J. Sellers said...

Excellent post, Joanna. I'm glad you made that point about likable characters. I put down books and shut off movies when there's no one I want to spend time with. And congratulations on you Agatha nomination!