I’m a big fan of fantasy novels, and I’ve read my fair share of them through the years ranging from epic to downright awful.
I still remember the day I picked up the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series back in high school.
The story was gritty, and depressingly bleak at times. George R.R. Martin, the author, seemed to take sadistic pleasure in skewering every literary convention of the fantasy genre.
Bad things happened to good people, and the characters I loved to hate would do things that made me empathize with them or (gasp) even feel sorry for them.
But I couldn’t put the book down. I tore through scene after violent scene, eager to find out what would happen next…
Little did I know that almost 10 years later HBO would adapt the books into a wildly successful TV series: Game of Thrones.
The fanboy inside me wept tears of joy (not really, but, you know…)
The businessman inside me wondered what it was about the series that forced fantasy diehards and newbies alike to tune in week after week, write blogs about the show, and collectively freak out whenever a major plot event unfolded.
Why did the books translate so well to a mass audience?
What’s the secret recipe… and how could it translate it creating a new irresistible product?
1. Starting with an established convention – the plot of Martin’s fantasy series seems, well… epic. And it certainly is. But he didn’t start from scratch. Many of the events that take place in the books are based on real-life historical events (the major plot line is based on the War of the Roses.) Would-be product creators place an unnecessary burden on themselves when they think they have to “come up with something no one has ever seen before.” It’s much easier (and still profitable) to take an existing idea and make it better. How can you give people what you want in a way that’s uniquely your own? What’s your angle? Possibilities present themselves when you aren’t worried about inventing the next car, spaceship, or cell phone.
2. A heavy dose of reality – dragons aside (ha!), Game of Thrones relies very little on the paranormal or magical elements common in the fantasy genre. The crux of the drama – the force that drives viewers to tune in week after week – is the very realistic, human elements that play out as the characters deal with family conflicts, war, and facing their fears. Your killer product doesn’t need tons of hype… and it doesn’t need to promise your prospects the moon, either. You can create a bestseller if your product simply does what you say it will do. It can be promoted in a way that appeals to your prospects on a human level.
3. Attention to every detail – George R.R. Martin pays ridiculous attention to all the details. Extensive family trees, appendices, house sigils, and an elaborate history of his imagined world (Westeros) are just a few things he does to draw you in deeper into his story. In business terms, this means you shouldn’t leave any stone unturned when creating your product. Attention to the packaging, presentation, and the buying experience are just the kind of details your prospects notice. Get them right, and all those little dashes of attention add up to a big advantage over your competitors.
4. Polarity is good – A lot of people hate all the violence, sex, and (naturally) unexpected deaths that have become hallmarks of HBO series. So they refuse to watch it. This whittles down the scope of Martin’s appeal somewhat, but many people who read his books or watch his TV develop a fanatical attachment to them. These people appreciate Martin’s no-holds-barred portrayal of the dark realities his characters face. Don’t be afraid to “screen” your prospects when you’re developing your product, and don’t try to satisfy everyone. It will cost you a few leads, but the leads you generate will be more profitable. Your prospects will feel compelled to buy because everything about your product was designed with them in mind.
Are you using these ingredients in the products you create?
Food for thought…
P.S. George, for the love of God, it’s time to finish writing the series! You are killing us here…