Friday, December 17, 2010

The Magic Formula

It might've been the drugs (for my sinus infection!), but my last post got me to thinking about what makes books ginormous hits.

We were talking about Twilight and Yo Gabba Gabba and marketing. A few bleeps brought up word-of-mouth as being so important. Talli demonstrated that, yes?

So I made up this formula:

Engaging story + Outstanding Word of Mouth = Smash Hit

And I'd go so far as to say Engaging Story trumps everything--even mastery of the craft, which you see isn't in my little formula up there.

Now just hold on a minute, I'm not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Of course craft is important, and yes, we should only ever send our cleanest MSs off for consideration. Don't shoot yourself in the foot.

But I believe regardless of how unsophisticated your writing style is, if you've told a great story that grabs readers and doesn't let go, it's going to be a hit.

How can I say this? Well, because of Twilight. Seriously. And I'm not a hater!

I read Twilight before I ever thought about trying my hand at novel writing, so I was clueless about all the falderall over adverbs or showing versus tellling. All I knew was I picked up the first book and four days later I'd read all three and couldn't wait to get my mits on the last installment.

Sure, it's anti-feminist, sure it's not perfectly written (adverbs!), sure the dialogue is embarrassing, sure it's basically a not-so-thinly veiled abstinence sermon, but it's an engaging story that grabs readers and doesn't let go.

And that's the secret: It's the story, silly!

Let the discussions begin! Til Monday~ <3


Tracy said...

AS my book, My Life as a Dog... is getting ready to be published, I hope my story is liked :)

Stina said...

I learned a lot from reading Twilight. A lot of mistakes that I spent a long time having to unlearn. I'm almost afraid to reread the series (which I've already read several times) because I know I'll cringe.

But you're right, the story is what grabbed the readers. And until people whined about the quality of writing, I didn't know better. And the legion of fans don't know better. They fell in love with the story and the characters.

Christine Danek said...

I, like Stina, am afraid to read Twilight again. I loved it the first time around, but I'm afraid I'll not like it again. Although, I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with it because anything you write (especially YA) is compared to it. For example, girl falls in love with boy--right away people say oh that's like Twilight. Trust me, it's happened to me.
I have to say the story was great and I read the whole series in two weeks. I've re-read certain parts and cringed, thinking, really I've been told not to do that. Sometimes right place at the right time, and who you know helps too. :)

Jessica Bell said...

yeah yeah story shmory. Read The Secret Lives of Pippa Lee. No plot. I couldn't put the damn thing down!!!! ;o)

Tracy said...

Twilight is a perfect example. I can agree with a lot of the criticisms that people made about the writing. But I have to be completely honest, I'd already spent a lot of time dabbling in writing before Twilight came along. I knew all the things Stephenie did "wrong" in her writing.

I'll be damned if I didn't completely overlook all of them and read the whole series in a week and a half!

If you make a book that people can't put down, with characters that people can't stop thinking/talking about & a subject matter that resonates with readers for one reason or another...the rest will take care of itself.

DEZMOND said...

I'd say marketing takes 85% of a bestselling success. Because let's face it - at least every other bestseller today has absolutely no literary quality. I think that the quality of books has dropped shockingly with publishing industry turning to teen and YA audience. The same goes for movies :(

Lydia Kang said...

A good, engaging story with a newish different hook that makes you want to read it. Twilight had it when it first came out. Haters or not, it is a great example of a good story that took an old concept (vampires) and made them new for teens.

Summer Ross said...

I've been noticing this in my reading lately also. I agree with you completely. The story is what makes it. Just look at all the older novels, why do you think they have been around so long. 2 reasons actually, 1) they are a literary mark to some degree, and 2) the story they tell.

LTM said...

Many of you I was able to email back, but some I can't. Here goes~
@Tracy--best of luck to you! Keep us posted when the release date gets closer! :o) <3

(For clarification: I did note to my buddy JB that IMO, "plot-driven" is not the same as "engaging story." :o)

@Tracy--Good to know that even those "in the know" were sucked... umm, no pun intended. ;p <3

@Lydia--Right. It's hard to travel back in time, but in 2006, vampires and the paranormal were not "in." ;o) <3

@Summer--it makes it for me, at least. I HAVE to have a good story that pulls me in. Distractingly bad writing will toss me back out, but if it's just mildly unpolished, I can overlook it! <3

Colene Murphy said...

So true! Twilight is a great example. I was SUCKED in from the first book. It was before I seriously started writing too when I read it and I had all 4 finished from Friday-Monday. Hooked wouldn't even begin to explain it. But then I put them down, did other things, started writing and a year later I went to the first book again and could no read it. So much drove me insane about the writing style by then! But the story was so addictive! It was like seeing a 20$ bill in the middle of a fire. Ya wanna reach in and grab it but damned if you gotta get past the fire first.

Chris Phillips said...

The movies have the same effect as the book. There are several gag-me hoaky spots, but the story is grabbing.

Angie said...

I would have to agree that engaging story is essential first and foremost. Take Harry Potter. Wow.

Vicki Rocho said...

It makes sense, really. If you're involved with the characters/story you don't have time to think about anything but what happens next.

Joann Swanson said...

I absolutely agree and when the two come together - awesome story telling and stunning prose - it's a wholly satisfying reading experience (The Sparrow did this for me).

Old Kitty said...

Story definitely matters! That's the only thing with going to writing courses - these days I pick up pov shifts, adverbs overkill etc whereas before I even knew there was a craft to writing I just enjoyed the story!

So yep, story and marketing! :-)

Take care

LTM said...

@Chris--you're so right. At the same time, I don't want to downplay the importance of craft. Sloppy writing can distract readers from enjoying the story, but I think essentially, the story's the thing~

Thanks for visiting! :o) <3

RaShelle Workman said...

Leigh - Sorry you've been sick.

A great story is so important. Hands down! If you're sucked in, litereary mistakes don't matter. Marketing is equally important. If it doesn't get out to the masses, no one will know about it. Yes??? LOL. =D

PK HREZO said...

I completely agree with you. Story, story, story! And Twilight is a perfect example.
I was writing my first story when Twilght came out, but I hadn't read it until it was already a huge success. I was so sucked in (pun intended) that I didn't notice the so-so writing. I hadn't really started to polish my craft yet either, so reading them again might be different.

But word of mouth travels because stories move people... not writing... it's the tale that is told.

Unknown said...

Yes, I think it's the story more often than how it's written and I agree, marketing is so important.

Julie Musil said...

You'll think I'm crazy...I have Twilight sitting in my closet and I haven't read it yet! I know, I know. I've seen the movies before reading the books, and I almost never do that! I love your formula, by the way.

Natasha said...

Being a geek, can I add to the definition of engaging story. It doesn't matter if the story is universally engaging or not. What matters is that the story should be engaging to the market at which it is targetted.
Twilight may not appeal to me personally, but if a story engages me, I will read it and its sequels however badly written/ edited.

Ella said...

I so agree, readers will forgive all that you mentioned if the story is good and they can connect or relate to the characters! Great post~

555 appeared yesterday! ;-D

LTM said...

@PK-your comment made me think of The Host, which I read post-writing. It had some long, draggy bits that I just skipped right over to find out what would happen next... so character development's a part of it~ :D

@Rayna-Yes! very much yes. Perhaps "masses" needs to be added. Engaging to the masses... Of which, I guess I'm one. ;p <3

Unknown said...

I think you're on to something.

I hope that I'm a great marketer come time to sell my novel!

Just a reminder! Be Jolly By Golly Blog fest is this Monday! Melissa and I look forward to reading your entry!

Unedited & Jules and the Stars

Talli Roland said...

Like everyone else, I agree! A good story matters. I've not read Twilight, but I have read Dan Brown - and while some might say a lot of not to great things about his writing, what a hook!