While reading Be the Gateway: A Practical guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, Dan Blank reminded me of something I often told my students in the college classroom:
People don’t buy things; they buy experiences.
Put another way, “they buy the feeling that things give them.”
For example, if you’re a Gen-Xer, think about the experience of a Sony Walkman when you were a teenager. Or what the slogan “I want my MTV” was really about—certainly not only having access to a cable channel. In more modern times, what makes someone buy a Toyota Prius as opposed to another car? What makes someone prefer an iPhone to a Galaxy? Or a Kindle e-reader to another device?
We can apply this to fandom as well. What makes some people Star Wars fans and others Star Trek fans? Or fans of classic rock as opposed to new wave? What experience does any particular film, or television series, or band, give them? How does it make them feel to follow a particular sports team?
I often talked with students about this in the context of writing and persuasion. When applying the rhetorical appeals—to credibility of character, to emotion, to reason—how does one sell an experience as opposed to a product or an idea? What narrative can you create that the consumer/fan will then adopt?
Books are boundless experiences. What is the reading experience you want to have with any particular book or author? How do their stories make you feel? What personal stories do you bring to your reading experience? What how has it changed after you’ve read a particular book, be it fiction or non?
Dan Blank posits this: “When you understand the narratives your ideal audience seeks, you know how to engage those people.”
I’ve been thinking about this in regards to my novels and the connections and engagement I want my writing to make with my readers moving forward, and I’ve been challenged by that statement. Do I understand their narratives?
In other words, what is the experience of an Elisa Lorello book? What do I want it to be? What are readers bringing to the purchase and the reading of an Elisa Lorello book? What do they want to feel? What is their story?
I’ve often struggled to pinpoint the “ideal reader.” My approach to audience has always been self-centered in nature: I write the books I want to read. So often what I write comes from whatever emotional place I am in at the time. For example, when I was contracted to write Pasta Wars, I had just gone through a sort of breakup, and it had brought up some deep-seated rejections. I needed to heal, but I also needed to laugh. Thus, I’d set out to emphasize the comedy in “romantic comedy.” I also love stories like Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate, in which connections between food and emotion are explored. I’m a picky eater, but I want the foodie experience! Thus, I created the experience of food and eating as a love affair.
Recently I wrote in my revised author bio that all of my books, in one form or another, explore the idea of living authentically. I further wrote to a friend that “I’ve set a new intention: for my novels, writing, etc. to be a gateway for readers to experience their own aliveness and authenticity.” More superficially, I would add that I want them to laugh, and even to become verklempt. I want them to fall in love, be it with the characters, the story, or something featured in the story, like a Junior’s cheesecake or a New England town. Or perhaps even with the writing itself. But I wonder: is that what my readers want?
I don’t have the answer to that question at this time. But I want to spend the next few months finding out. In the meantime, I can tell you what the experience of writing my latest first draft has been—it’s been a challenge at times, like getting back on the horse, so to speak. It’s been emotionally therapeutic at other times. Most of all, it’s been fun. I look forward to the next phase: revision.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.