Archive for August 16th, 2011

The Art of Captivation: What makes us LOVE that book, movie, song…?

You probably have one of your own. That CD or MP3 you’ve listened to 1,000 times. For me, it’s the first 3 songs from U2’s Joshua Tree (Side A for you old-school vinyl enthusiasts). I’m not sure what it is about The Edge’s primal guitar beat that is so captivating, but it is as intoxicating to me as any drink. I hear the intro to “The Streets Have No Name” and I want to climb inside the music. Add an open car window on the freeway at midnight, and I’m in heaven.

Right now, you might be relating, or thinking I have terrible taste in that overblown Irish quartet. The point isn’t that you agree with my taste, but that you can relate to the concept of music you absolutely love.


These passionate responses are not exclusive to music. What about that movie you’ve watched dozens of times? The painting that mesmerizes you? The book that’s falling apart, you’ve read it so many times?

What makes them so special? Although there are general success indicators, the answer to that question is personal to each of us.

For example, the music industry has distilled the prediction of hit records (primarily from new artists) down to a science. Ever wondered why so many hits have such a similar sound? It might be related to the fact that music researchers in labs hook up test subjects to electrodes and measure their responses to numbers of beats, rhythms, and tones. The studios then generally take risks only on those artists whose music meets the standards predicted by the research.

Similarly, a guy decided to research what makes an Academy Award-winning movie. He got copies of 25 years’ worth of Oscar winners, watched them, and dissected and recorded the similarities between them. Then, he turned his research into a screenwriting class for which he charges thousands of dollars. Not surprisingly, many of his students sell their scripts and see them made into films.

Even with these behind-the-scenes “manipulations,” not every song the studios release becomes a hit, nor does every screenplay from this man’s class become a movie. They are indicators, though.

One thing I’ve observed about most popular art forms is that they’re usually of decent quality. Of course, every now and then a lousy book or movie finds a cult following, but more often than not, the things we like as a culture are pretty good. However, even the most popular books, movies, and music will never appeal to everyone.

As a personal example, it’s just in the last 15 years that I’ve begun to like the Beatles. And to this day, I’m still not a fan of one of the most popular bands of all time, The Rolling Stones. Both inarguably quality artists, but one appeals to me much more than the other, and even that one took some time to grow on me.

What does all of this have to do with you and marketing your book? A few quick reminders:

  • If you want to sell books, make the best book you can.
  • There are success formulas; one of them may work for you.
  • When it comes right down to it, taste is individual. Some readers will resonate with you; those are the ones you want to find and cultivate.
  • Even if you hit a home run with your book, there will be some people who don’t like it.

Study the movies, music, and books you love; pay attention to what about them captivates you. Are there hints you can glean about developing and capturing a similar passion in your readers?



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