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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Get Readers Talking with the Hey Mabel Effect


Your book can live or die in seconds.  Years ago, I used to be among the people who chose its fate on a daily basis, and by doing just one single thing, I could make someone 60% more likely to buy your book.  In a moment, I'll tell you what that one thing is -- and how you can use it to your advantage when selling your novel.

But first, I want to talk about the Hey Mabel Effect.  It's an old journalism term, referring to a catchy concept that was so buzzworthy that it would prompt some anonymous reader to look up from the morning paper and call out, "Hey, Mabel!  Guess what?"

My little lede about the life-and-death struggle of your book is not a Hey Mabel.  It’s just a hook.  Notice that it catches your attention by making you ask a question and then holding back the answer.  A hook is all about suspense.  Suspense is good (it’s necessary, even), but it only lasts so long.  For maximum impact in your writing, you need a Hey Mabel concept that will roll around inside the reader’s head until she just has to share it with someone.

And Here's Today’s Hey Mabel:


A customer is about 60% more likely to buy a book if you put it in their hands.

Go ahead, try not to spill that little factoid to some struggling writer you know.  Betcha can’t keep it to yourself.

There’s a ton of scientific research out there that shows the positive effects that tactile sensations have on the decision to buy.  And I can second that with real-world experience.  Back when I used to run a bookstore, the holiday shopping season was a proving ground for new titles.  People would ask me for recommendations, and I’d pick something (based on my supposedly deep knowledge of every single title in the bookstore), pull it off the shelf and hand it to them.  You would not believe how many books I sold that way.  Hundreds.  Maybe even thousands.

People love to touch stuff.  And when they touch it, they want to keep it.  It’s the reason sock manufacturers put a little scrap of paper inside their new socks, to give the package a crinkly feeling.  It’s the reason plastic clamshell packages sometimes have a little cutout so you can fondle the fuzzy product inside.  There’s even an old car sales axiom: “The feel of the wheel seals the deal.”  Let ‘em sit in the driver’s seat and they’re a lot more likely to drive that bad boy home.  Scientists have studied this "endowment effect" with monkeys for decades.  Let a monkey hold onto a nut, and he suddenly values it more than any nut in the world.  Weird, yes -- but hey, it’s a monkey.

Back to My Original Point About the Hey Mabel


A hook makes your reader ask a question.  (How do I sell more books?  Does the Tattered Cover carry “Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”?  Who shot J.R.?)  Once the question is answered, the reader is satisfied.  The attention is short-lived.

A Hey Mabel, on the other hand, gives your reader something to think about.  Here's how to create one of your very own:

1) Look through your story for unusual places or facts.  It can be anything that the average person doesn't know much about.  A historic location.  A scientific discovery.  An odd bit of trivia.

2) Do a little research on your fact until you unearth something surprising.  Does your historic location have any connection to an important figure: Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, or maybe Elvis?  Does your scientific fact change the way we look at a household item?

3) Plant the Hey Mabel quickly in dialogue or use it to enhance a character or scene.  Don't dwell on it.  Just plant it and move on.

If you sprinkle a few nuggets of surprising information throughout your novel, you'll give your readers something to think about.  And more importantly, something to talk about, which might get other people interested in reading your book.  And maybe, if they ask nicely, somebody will hand it to them.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

1 comment:

  1. I guess that's why they call it 'handselling' a book.

    Great post, cheers.

    ReplyDelete

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