Three Basic Instincts That Will Make Your Books More Compelling To Buy
Posted On: 2014-01-01
by: Ashley Zee

01, 2013
Humans have come a long way from riding Saber-Tooth Tigers while hunting Mammoths (...or something like that, right? Haha!).

But for all of our cultural and technological advances we are all still fundamentally just humans.

Our instincts haven't changed much in tens of thousands of years, so tapping into "instinct triggers" is a fascinating way to make your book more compelling to potential buyers.

Buying "Triggers" are an important part of marketing.They are also influential in making a book seem like it's a "need" and not a "want". If you would like to see an article about Buying Triggers that are relevant to Self-Publishing, let us know in the comments on Self Publisher Today!

The scientific community more or less agrees that at any given time our brain is consciously or subconsciously asking these three questions:

1.) Can I eat it?

2.) Can I have sex with it?

3.) Will it kill me?

When looking at this picture, your brain should only answer "yes" to two of those questions... These three questions address our primal and fundamental instincts. Behavioral Scientists worldwide maintain that these three instincts govern much of how we, as humans, operate in the world.

Sure, we like to think that we as a species are "higher" than just these three questions. For instance, one might say that we operate the way we do because we want money. Fine.

But what does that money do? Oh yeah, it buys food. And it can buy sex (but we don't need to go any further into that) and yes, money can even cause death. I'm sure you've seen enough Law & Order episodes (you can't ever watch just one!) where a person is murdered for money-related purposes. So even money (or anything else you might think of) can still be distilled down to the three basic instincts that determine how we act...

Food, Sex, and Death. Know these three instincts. They are powerful buying triggers.

Keeping this in mind, is it any wonder that cookbooks are big sellers? Food in general is BIG BUSINESS and that holds true for the self-publishing world as well. Food is profitable because it engages our basic "Can I eat it?" instinct. To your primal subconscious brain a cookbook isn't a book. It's a guaranteed ticket to endless amounts of food. While your "higher" brain might be mulling over when you would have the time to make these meals, your subconscious brain is saying, "Food. Food. Look at that. Food! Get it. It's Food!" and the cookbook in question subtly but definitely shifts from a "want" purchase to a "need" purchase. And it doesn't matter what niche the cookbook is - diet, vegetarian, paleo, dessert, bacon only, Italian dishes, etc. - if it relates to food, the human brain is going to pay attention to it.

You don't have to write a cookbook to harness the power of this instinct. For instance, Eat, Pray, Love is not a cookbook but it masterfully tapped into the food instinct that we all carry.

If your story allows you to describe a meal that the characters are eating that would also make your writing seem more interesting to readers (assuming of course that describing a meal makes sense in the larger context).

This same model applies to the "sex" instinct. Is anyone here really surprised that "adult" books rake in the profits? We've all heard the mantra "Sex sells" - heck, most of advertising is based on that adage!

One need to only read Fifty Shades of Grey to realize that it didn't become a top-seller based on the depth and complexities of its characters or the intricacies of its plot (my apologies to those of you who love the series). Oh no. Fifty Shades of Grey became a best-selling book because it dove headfirst into sex.

Sexual health books, sex manuals, and the billion variations of Kama Sutras are all testament to how powerful and profitable our sex instinct truly is. Now I'm not saying you have to write an explicit novel, but if you subtly (or obviously) incorporate elements that appeals to the "sex" instinct it will make your story that much more compelling to potential customers.

This all applies to our "death" instinct too. It's still debatable as to whether humans have a true "fear" of death versus having more of a true "instinct" to keep living, but either way books that deal with life and death sell extremely well. Tuesdays With Morrie is a fabulous example of a book that appeals to our "death" instinct and desire to come to terms with the inevitable. Any books written by someone who "came back" from death tend to fly off the shelves, as do books that pertain to life-threatening diseases (such as books in the 'how to beat cancer/heart disease/obesity' niches).

It's no surprise that survivalist/prepper type of books have a rabid following. The subconscious brain sees these books and thinks, "What if this really happened? You better be prepared. Otherwise things will kill you". The instinct to live is powerful and dictates a lot of how we behave. The brain wants to acquire knowledge that relates to self-preservation; books that address these kinds of issues really stand out from the crowd (and are very lucrative!).

If your book can appeal to any of these strongest instincts, customers (whether subconsciously or not) will believe that purchasing your book is essential to one's own well-being.

You should write about topics that interest you, so if you don't want to write an apocalyptic doomsday book (that taps into the death instinct) or a pescatarian cookbook that's fine. But maybe, just maybe, you can add little touches here or there that will appeal to any of these three fundamental instincts and thus make your book more interesting to customers.

Until next time,
Ashley Zee