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?

Go Tell It on the Mountain

You remember this song, right? I’m not trying to be disrespectful to anyone’s religion, but I think this song title could well be adapted to our work as promoters of our books.

I think it’s my job to tell anyone and everyone who meanders across my path about my books, because you never know when you are going to meet a new (potential) fan.

Let me give you a few examples:

1. I was talking with the account rep at National City Bank about transferring some money from one account to another. She said, “While we’re waiting for this to go through, is there anything else I could do for you today?” And I said, “Sure! You could take a look at my new mystery on Amazon.” Well, wouldn’t you know it, she LOVES mysteries and scrapbooking, and she copied down my book title and told me she’d tell all her friends.

2. We said “Hi” to the nice lady in the villa two doors down from us here on Kiawah Island. She told us she was shocked because none of the renters here usually say hello, and she’s a very lonely resident. “I’ve joined local bookclubs to get to know people,” she said. And so I followed up with, “What kind of books do you read?” Then I told her about my book, and later I delivered a customized bookmark. Her daughter was visiting when I dropped off the bookmark, and my neighbor had already told her all about my book.

3. I found out that one of my doctors has a holiday boutique in her office each November. I asked if they would have an opening for me to come sell my books–and they were thrilled.

4. I talked to my sister who’s a teacher about how important it is to promote my books. We changed the subject, and then, Meg said, “You know, they have a bookclub at school. I didn’t even think about it, but there’s no reason they couldn’t read YOUR book.”

5. I talked to Sonja who exercises right next to me at Jazzercise. She told me there’s a book club in her association, and she’s getting me the contact information.

6. At a party, I handed one of my business cards (with my cover on it) to Vickie Newton, a local news anchor for KMOV. She’s planning to interview me as soon as the book comes out.

You don’t have to be obnoxious. You do have to be strategic. And the conversation can’t just be about you and your book…

But here’s my thinking: I personally LOVE books. I really love knowing authors. And if someone shared information about his or her book with me, I’d be happy to hear the good news. As long as the person was respectful and not pushy. I’m always looking for that next new favorite author.

And I trust that there’s a universe of other people who feel the same.

101 Ways to Market Your Books

101 Ways to Market Your Books by Joanna Campbell Slan, author of Paper, Scissors, Death (Available September 13, from Midnight Ink. ISBN: 0738712507 Pre-orders now accepted.)
This article was prompted by a challenge by John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Book.
1. As I write it, I think of the discreet audiences within and build in opportunities.
2. Get the best cover possible.
3. Ask for help refining my back cover matter.
4. Request over-runs of the cover.
5. Print marketing information on the inside of that over-run cover and use it like postcards, especially to market to booksellers who want to see the cover before placing an order.
6. Make interesting bookmarks. (I customized them and added flowers.)
7. Get blurbs from people with recognizable names.
8. Get reviews and permission to use those reviews in anyway I dream up.
9. Run a contest associated with the book. (Mine is The Best of British Scrapbooking administered now by ScrapBook inspirations Magazine in the UK.)
10. Send information about that contest through a variety of channels