Keep Readers Engaged with Your Book, Part 2
Note: For part 1 in this blog series, read Keep Readers Engaged With Your Book.
Excuses for not reading, a busy schedule, and even sleep can go by the wayside when a reader finds a good novel. What makes a book this compelling, how does this jive with writing to market, and what can you learn that will keep readers engaged with your own books?
My first encounter with a book I couldn’t put down might have been while reading The Little Engine That Could. I was an avid reader at an early age, and my storytelling sprang naturally out of that pastime. I turned into a diminutive ‘bard’ in my neighborhood, with my friends given to gathering in a circle around me. I’ve forgotten the tales I wove for them, but I knew intuitively how to please my audience. It’s taken a lot to figure that out as a grown-up storyteller.
When my mother called me in for the night, the neighborhood kids would beg for ‘just one more’ story. I didn’t understand their fervor, which gave me the same hunted feeling I would later experience when readers prodded me for the next book release.
There’s a reason that readers latch onto a writer they enjoy. No, it’s not punctuation and grammar, although those are important. Clever plots, perfect pacing, well-turned phrases. compelling characters, masterful dialogue, and vivid descriptions all enter into the equation, but they aren’t the sum total that equals an audience of raving fans. Writers gain fans for one simple reason.
People read novels for the way stories make them feel.
Don’t skim over that statement. It might seem obvious, but read some of the positive reviews for your books and you’ll find that the reviewers refer to the emotions they experienced while reading your books. Their reviews might highlight character development, plotting, writing voice, and the like. These are the means to an end.
Readers want to live vicariously through your books, and that involves emotion.
Reviewers may mention the feelings your writing evoked in them, but sometimes they cite the vehicle that transported them rather than the destination they arrived at. I’ll give an example using a review of DawnSinger, the first novel in my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven.
“Another thing I loved were the detailed descriptions. I hate to keep using the word ‘beautiful’ but I’m not sure how else to say it. This is a beautiful book.” From bestselling author, Tracey Krauss's review of DawnSinger
Tracey describes my novel as beautiful, and beauty brings a person into emotions of joy and wonder. You will notice that beauty is a story tone that evokes a response from readers.
At the risk of sounding self-touting, I’ll give another example from my novel, Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold 1).
“I was immediately enthralled with the characters in this engaging and heartfelt story. As usual, Janalyn’s attention to detail and vibrant storytelling captured my attention and my heart.” From author Sharon Coleman's review of Hills of Nevermore
Sharon mentions being enthralled and engaged by my book. She states that the characters, attention to detail, and storytelling brought her to this happy state. An enthralled person is thrilled and captivated. Being thrilled means experiencing ecstatic joy. A captivated person is a prisoner, in this case a voluntary one. Sharon believes that my story is heartfelt, and she’s right. All my stories come from the heart, and I respond emotionally as I write them.
When we tap into our own emotions, readers will connect with theirs.
Searching out the emotions reviewers of your books experienced is like discovering buried treasure. It turns up interesting facts that tell you what readers like about your books. You’ll find clues in repeated ideas. For instance, both reviewers in the examples above say they enjoy my attention to detail. Knowing this, I’ll make sure to never let that slide. (If you want to give some sentences from your own reviews with an analysis of the feelings evoked, feel free to do so in the comments to this post.)
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
Readers want to experience joy, sorrow, surprise, wonder, and myriad other emotions through your books. This happens automatically when you write passionate stories from the heart. Trying to make this happen any other way defeats your purpose and leaves readers feeling manipulated.
In the perpetual debate over whether to write to market or write from the heart, here’s my suggestion. Write what your audience will enjoy reading within the scope of the heartfelt stories you want to write.