Mass appeal – the bigger picture

May 23, 2011

It’s been a week of dichotomies. Last Monday, our beloved dog died suddenly. So we bundled up our heavy hearts and drove north to San Francisco to watch daughter’s graduation from SFSU. Yay, to daughter! It was good to give blogging a rest because my thoughts were either maudlin or not entirely sober, since I’ve discovered that graduation parties haven’t changed a bit over the years. Along with that new hip I’m scheduled to get next week, I may put in an order for a new liver.

So a week’s rest was good for the soul, and I’m ready to jump into the weightier issues of all things publishy. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who sent along their kind thoughts. I noticed that many of you had experienced some form of loss and the overwhelming sadness that invades your heart. And that’s what my blog post is about…understanding the bigger picture and how mass appeal is achieved through empathy.

I appreciate a query that includes the overall theme – the mass appeal that readers can relate to – because I can see which emotions will help me sell their book. For instance, I may not understand what it’s like to work with a therapy horse, but I can relate to learning to love and trust after a painful heartbreak.

I’m fairly certain that readers have no clue what it’s like to be a vampire princess, but they probably have some experience with feeling trapped in the expectations that people have of them.

Notice how it doesn’t matter whether I’m talking about a kid or vampire princesses – there is a basic emotion that everyone understands, that they can empathize with – which creates mass appeal.

It’s helpful for me is when authors pull out an overall theme that I can sink my teeth into. Readers may not necessarily care about a pigeon-toed dancer, but they can relate to the idea of facing fears. It is that basic emotion that I feel sells a book – far more than the actual story itself. After all, anyone can have a cop who falls in love with the suspect, but it’s the emotions – the mass appeal – that makes him and his story matter.

It doesn’t matter what type of story you’ve written, there is always some general theme you can pull out to help us empathize with your character and their plight. And empathy is key in our reading choices. We may not know what it’s like to be a stand-up comedian, but we can understand feelings of hope, fear, excitement, loss and rejection. And these emotions can be applied to a bajillion different stories.

My point is if you can reveal common emotions, then I think it makes for a stronger story – one that will stick with a reader via empathy. There is nothing sweeter to hear than a reader who says, “Oh yah, baby, I so related to that.”

But in order for us to know what that is at the query stage, it’s helpful if you tell us what those themes are. So take a look at your own writing. Can you see spots where you can pull out from your story that serve as your overall “bigger picture” theme?


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