Uniquely Familiar

(excerpt from Your A Game by Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan)

Above all else, escapist fiction entertains by satisfying audience expectations, and it succeeds when it exceeds those expectations. To succeed with a mass market, a project must reassure audiences that it will hit all the familiar marks and cover comfortable turf, but also somehow use old ingredients to serve up a new meal.

Remember: every potential reader shows up asking, “What’s in it for me?”

Genre fiction plays fair by the rules its audience expects. Woe betide a book that violates reader trust, a romance that ends unhappily or a mystery left dangling or a Navy SEAL hero tortured and discarded while the bad guy escapes in the final pages.

The magic trick of all genre fiction is that the general outcome is never in doubt, but the story is so involving that the reader suspends their certainty during the book’s events. Genre fiction provides its fans with pleasurable certainty. Mysteries are solved. Lovers unite. Super spies and ugly ducklings prevail.

Hollywood films…either want to tell us a truth we already know or a falsehood we want to believe in. In other words, they reinforce. — William Goldman, The Big Picture

William Goldman once summarized the formula for every smash success in Hollywood history in two words: “UNIQUELY FAMILIAR.” Big-budget blockbusters reinforce platitudes or illusions by decanting old wine into new bottles. Much like the similarity/difference balancing act we described as a key to your brand, a uniquely familiar story accesses expectations and then exceeds them.

As your project takes shape, look for ways to amplify its uniquely familiar elements.

Building a breakout career in genre fiction requires respect for tradition coupled with brilliant innovation. What is “uniquely familiar” becomes the de facto measure of success for each project you tackle.

A-game promotion for your genre fiction needs to attract readers by trumpeting the elements that make it part of a proud genre tradition the reader knows inside out, but also hint at the unique and unforgettable delights that you have baked into the casserole. Your market exists at the intersection of UNIQUE and FAMILIAR, so you need to be able to articulate both with compelling specificity.

© 2016 Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan, All Rights Reserved

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