4 steps to convince people they NEED to read your novel

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Photo by Leah Tautkute

Photo by Leah Tautkute

 

Did you take the leap with me last week and admit to yourself that your writing is what needs improving–not your friends’ tastes? Are you ready to find out how to fix it?

Meet AIDA.

No, AIDA isn’t the personal writing coach I’ve hired to help you turn your novel into a bestseller, but if you want to think of it that way, go ahead.

AIDA is an acronym for Attention > Interest > Desire > Action: a basic formula marketers and salespeople use to guide them through each phase of the sales process. It goes like this:

Attention: Get noticed. In a media-saturated world, this is hard to do.

Interest: Once you have their attention, prove you have something worth their time–by giving them the most compelling part of your message in as brief a form as possible.

Desire: Once you have their interest, show them how the product will meet a need they have.

Action: Once they know they want it, tell them how to get it.

How does it apply to your novel?

Attention:

Getting a friend’s attention could be as simple as letting them know you’re writing a book (“Really? What’s it about?”). For a literary agent you’re querying, it’s spelling their name right and following all the submission guidelines. But for your toughest audience—the book store customer who’s never heard of you—it’s a lot tougher. You need a cover and a title that stand out among hundreds of others. We’ll talk more about this in the coming weeks.

Interest:

What makes this worth the time of the friend, literary agent, or customer? This one’s a bit trickier, but it follows the question your friend asked you when you got their attention: what’s it about? You have to summarize your story in the most compelling way possible, in a few sentences. This is known as your elevator pitch or “hook”—it’s how you’ll describe your book to people at cocktail parties, how you’ll begin your query letter, and what you’ll give to the writer or intern who’ll craft the copy for your book cover. This is the part that makes your friend ask to read it, the agent to request a full or partial manuscript, and the customer to flip to page one. I’ve actually already covered the hook extensively:

Action:

I’m gonna do a flip-flop on you and talk about Action first, because before we can understand the Desire phase, we have to understand what action we want our audience to take. For a friend it might just be to finish reading the book. For an agent it’s to offer representation. For the book-store customer, it’s to buy the book. It seems like three very different stages, but really it all boils down to the same thing: you want them to keep reading. You have to suck them in fast. You have to make them want to know what happens next. Which brings us to:

Desire:

How do you convince a reader this piece of fiction is something they need? Ask yourself—why do you read? Is it an escape from reality? An alleviation of boredom? A hunt for truth? A search for someone who understands you?

It’s sure to be one of those reasons. It may be all of them.

Those are the needs. And it takes the whole book to meet those needs. But the promise—and the evidence—that you can meet those needs happen in the first few pages. That bookstore customer is not going to keep reading to see if it gets better—you must grab them in the first paragraph. And to keep all your readers reading, you have to keep sucking them in deeper and deeper throughout the entire book.

A variety of factors affect this “sucking in.” But there are two main things you absolutely can’t succeed without:

  1. A relatable protagonist.
  2. Conflict.

If your reader relates to, or identifies with, your hero, you’ve begun forging an emotional connection. When you add conflict—which usually involves threatening the thing that hero loves most—you create the reader’s need to find out: “What happens next? Does the hero overcome the conflict?” And, since the reader relates to this hero, the subconscious question: “Could I overcome that conflict?”

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Discover the Whole AIDA Series:

Attention

Interest

Desire

Action

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About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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19 Comments

  1. Definitely. A hero that is sympathetic and threatening that hero’s desires are the best ways to suck people into your book. I really like AIDA, very cool way to figure out how to go about this tricky process.

    Thanks for a concise post, loved it.

  2. So before I hand my book over to someone else to read, how do I figure out whether I’m actually meeting those needs or not? How do I, in the editing process, know that what I’m writing would suck them in by the first few pages? Knowing my protag is reliable and the conflict is attractive enough? Am I being a bad student and just overlooking the answer?

    • You’re not being a bad student! You’ve hit the nail on the head with your question. How do we know it’ll suck them in? We can’t ultimately know until we just let them read it and find out – but we’re going to be digging deeper into the “sucking in” in the next few weeks, learning how to judge our work more objectively, the right questions to ask ourselves, how to introduce our characters and how to make them likeable, etc. So even if we can’t guarantee our work will be un-put-downable by the end of this process, at the very least we’ll significantly improve our chances. : )

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  4. Ah, brilliant! Thanks for the post.

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  7. Perhaps you’ve already addressed this, but a discussion on what makes a protagonist relatable would be very useful. The term seems so vague, and I think it’s far broader than we might normally think. For instance, I strongly prefer protagonists that are likable, but that’s not necessarily a requirement. And if “relatable” means “shares something significant in common with the reader,” it may be less necessary (though certainly advantageous). Is Hamlet relatable? I guess to some people, but I never cared much for him. Yet he makes a compelling protagonist for such a drama. So perhaps “likable” and “relatable” are different qualities, and a compelling protagonist must have at least one. I can think of many that have one but not quite the other yet are still compelling to read about, and I can’t currently think of any compelling protagonists that are neither likable nor relatable.

    • I was just thinking the other day about the fact that I relate better to (or like more?) characters who aren’t good looking – at least, who don’t think they’re good looking – than to the cliche models some writers describe. It’s a sort of endearing flaw. That’s a small part of a larger topic that certainly bears further discussion. I’ve certainly liked characters I didn’t relate to – first to spring to mind is Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. He’s an egotistical jerk, but you can’t help loving him anyway. Or perhaps I relate to parts of his personality and just don’t realize it??? Hmm. Definitely deserves more thought. Thanks David!

      • I tend to like those characters too; or rather, I like characters who have a fairly realistic appraisal of themselves regardless of how they look, or just never really think about it that much. A gorgeous girl who keeps insisting she’s dowdy can be just as annoying as the gorgeous girl who takes her beauty for granted. And yeah, Tony Stark is a good example of the kind of character I don’t relate to, but still find entertaining and can sympathize with enough for the story. Then there are characters like Captain America, who in the movie was a bit flat and not as lively as the others, but whom I liked more than most of them because I could relate to his core values.

        • I wouldn’t call Capt. America flat, necessarily – less lively, perhaps. But his character and likability were revealed in very specific ways – shielding others from a grenade with his body, for instance. He has a kind of principled humility; you can trust him to do the right thing, and I think THAT’S what makes him likable, while not necessarily relatable. Especially when contrasted with the other, more mixed-up, angsty characters, whose motives vary.

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