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Reaching Readers: What attracts the unicorn?

Legend-unicorn-scene

The unicorn from the 1985 movie “Legend”

Last week we compared readers to the great white stag — that elusive beast that you cannot help desiring, but which is ever out of reach. A similar legend is that of the unicorn. According to myth, unicorns are attracted to young virgin girls. The unicorn will approach the girl and lay its head upon her lap.

What does this have to do with reaching your readers? What’s an author supposed to do — hire a virgin girl to manage his social media accounts?

Hmmm… that just might work… ahem. Sorry, rabbit trail. Actually, what you need to do is think about what your reader NEEDS. Just as a unicorn needs to feel safe from harm and from corrupted human intentions, a reader wants certain things.

What does a reader want? What do they really, really want?

To find a good book to read? No! You’d think that. But you’d be wrong. Look deeper. Why do readers search for that “good book”? What IS a “good book”, when it’s all said (read) and done?

What a reader really, really wants is a satisfying emotional experience.

(Did you know? When reading this on our website, you can highlight any text in our articles and instantly tweet them or share the quote to Facebook. Try it with the sentence above!)

Jeff Gerke cracks the code on this in his writing how-to book The Irresistible Novel. Others have said it before, but I love hearing it from Jeff because of his backstory. He’s an editor. He used to be all about the rules of writing (according to his own testimony in the book — I haven’t been on the receiving end of his red pen myself). But over time he has discovered that there’s more to pleasing readers than following the rules.

How to attract the unicorn

If readers are looking for an emotional experience, then how can we use this desire to attract their attention? If a reader hasn’t read your book yet, how do you tell her that she might enjoy it? As any romance writer could tell you, it starts with the first meeting. The first eye contact. The first touch. When we’re talking social media and your online presence, it starts with a tweet, a Facebook post, a graphic meme, or a blog post.

It might start when they attend the Facebook release party of an author they already love and meet you there, co-hosting the party. Or maybe you’re just a fellow fan of an author you both enjoy. They post a comment about how the characters of this series make them laugh. You reply with a funny story about how you LOL’d one time in the middle of the first book and startled your cat awake. A shared moment of enjoyment, celebrating something they already associate with pleasure.

Your online presence needs to be full of opportunities for potential readers to enjoy being around you. You want them to associate your name with an emotional experience: laughter, wisdom, fascination, wonder… even appreciation of a sarcastic wit, admiration for a clever turn of phrase or keen insight. Think about your list of the three words people most often use to describe you. You can capitalize on those things to engage readers and provide them a moment of pleasure.

Action Item

  • Think like a fan. Analyze your own reactions to the social media efforts of the authors, movies, and TV shows that you like.
  • Find the watering holes. People who will enjoy your books are already out there, enjoying other authors. Who are those authors? They are likely the authors of books you like.
  • Leave a comment below with three guesses about which authors your readers may like. Try to think beyond the biggest names (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Veronica Roth, etc) and find some of the newer authors who aren’t as “big” yet. Find authors who have a fanbase online but who also might be within reach for a blog interview, a shared Facebook release party, or some other collaborative marketing effort.

 

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