Thursday, September 13, 2007

Made to Stick (Book #90)

Made to Stick (Chip Heath and Dan Heath, 2007) is at its heart a business advice book, and therefore not of obvious use to me, an operations manager for a program at a county hospital. However, I found it extremely relevant to who I am when I'm wearing my aspiring writer hat.

The book's subtitle is "Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die," and it's all about creating and marketing "sticky" concepts. They have a list of core principles, complete with handy mnemonic acronym (it IS a business book, after all), and again and again they warn the reader of the Curse of Knowledge. Not that they're opposed to being intelligent and well-informed--the curse is that the more expert you are on a topic, the harder a time you have communicating with the less knowledgeable audience you want to buy your product or support your company's mission. Their goal is to teach you to find the core concept buried amid your knowledge and bring it forward in a pithy, memorable way.

Reading it, I think I figured out why the manuscripts I've written so far haven't sold, though one of them came so close it still hurts. I wasn't writing stickily enough. I was dealing with my own form of the Curse of Knowledge, writing lovely, elegant, history-packed character studies that delight people like me who are steeped in Regency/Napoleonic arcana, but that lacked a strong hook to pull in the uninitiated. Not that nothing happened in my books, but they were almost like fanfic for my brand of history geek. And the thing is, ten or twenty years ago, that might've been enough for a first sale. Because I am a damn good writer, and at least one of those three manuscripts is a mighty fine book, if I do say so myself. But as it stands now, if I want to sell, I need to write sticky. And that's OK, because I can do that. I'm not going to stop writing elegantly or give up creating believable characters in a historically accurate, lovingly researched milieu. But I'm going to put hooks there, too. High concept hooks, even. Reel them in with clever, hooky concepts, and make 'em mine for good with the writing.

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