Wynn-ing Ways: Leveraging Insights from Rat Case Studies for Increased Reader Satisfaction

What rat parks teach us about human social behavior

Alexander and Beyerstein published a paper in 1980 that discussed the effect on rats housed in isolation or a colony. You can read the article here.

For a long time, it was thought that given a choice of a morphine solution or not, a lab rat would drink itself into a stupor.

To test the idea, the scientists built a rat park and included other rats—a place for them to interact and engage. It was nirvana for vermin. They then compared how rats in isolation and a community used morphine.

The conclusion was that “colony rats avoid morphine because it interferes with complex, species-specific behavior.”

When a rat is in isolation, it will just keep drinking the morphine-laced water.

I might do the same.

Give them a complex interactive social setting, and they lay off the smack.

The community engagement either fulfills the needs of the rat, or the rat knows the morphine use will interfere with the community interaction. Either way, morphine use is lower than that of an isolated rat.

Could dopamine-inducing scrolling be our morphine drip in social isolation?

Social media promotes a bizarre paradox of connected isolation.

You see all these beautiful strangers with beautifully placed content in perfect lighting or see stories of exciting trips (back in the day) or outstanding business accomplishments, and you’re stuck alone or with your family, which is frankly getting on your nerves.

The pandemic has intensified the isolation. The extra time you now have that you spend on social media only aggravates the feeling of isolation and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

As an author, you see other authors celebrating success, making you feel you’re doing something wrong, or somehow everyone but you is succeeding at publishing.

The secret is that most aren’t succeeding.

Your readers are likely to have the same experience on social media; they feel a need to go to social media but only get a dose of disappointment.

The problem is that we get conditioned to keep checking for that hit of social connection and status. FOMO.

Trade in FOMO for JOMO

Social media platforms will always be a part of our lives.

It is a way to connect and build a network.

From a business perspective, it also assists in finding new readers, but let’s quit falling for the games designed to make us produce content for free.


Let go of what everyone tells you is the way and define your way of building customer delight.

Trust your gut about what your fans want.

Design a rat park for your story world.

A place where your fans will go first to get the socialization and intellectual stimulation they need and want.

Will it take time?

Yes, but as you add more and more to the habitat, they will desire to spend time in the space.

Think about how you can turn your website from a sales page showing all your books to lead capture into your story world’s extension.

Move to a place where you’re in control of how you interact with fans.

I’ve provided two ideas.

The first is that you look to your Facebook group as a place to guide prospective readers to become part of your community and warm them up to what you and your existing readers value.

The second is to move them to your where you have total control of the experience—your website.

This may seem counter-intuitive. The obvious thing to do is send them to a sales page.

But ask yourself how often you buy something when dumped on a sales page.

If you’re familiar with the product and the time is right, sure, but that’s not the case for most purchases.

My research shows that purchasing and reading a new author is a complex and risky behavior. We need to support that choice with risk reduction and social support.

I know I take time to do my research when making a purchase. The higher the value and more significant the risk, the more research I will do. I do that research on my schedule, not the sellers.

While not as drastic, it still applies to the purchase of a book.

Of higher importance is the lifetime value of a reader. You don’t want someone to read just one of your books. You want them to read all of your books.

What’s so engaging about your books?

Are your characters so interesting that I want to spend 60,000 words or more of my life with them?

Then show me.

Here’s the trick: it has to be in bite-sized risk-reward chunks.

Just like those slot machines, I need to deliver an easy payoff early to get your juices flowing. Once you get a reader into their reading trance, they will devour your work.

 Can you design a reader delight maze that conditions the reader to your story world and primes them for the paid content?

We get too tied to the shortest path to a close rather than thinking about designing an intriguing maze to guide and educate a potential reader.

I know how hard this is.

I’m trying to do it myself.

It takes a lot of work and content, and I wonder when I’ll have the time, yet I’m supposed to have the time to post twenty-one times a week on Instagram.

What if you took all that time and spent it putting that content on your website?

What if it was 100% focused on your story world and building out the mega habitrail for your readers?

WW Email 14 Picture 1

Having a platform where a potential reader can learn why your storytelling is interesting and go from being risk-averse to eager to learn more is the secret sauce.

This turns your website into a passive lead generation system powered by rich content that drives organic search.

There is an 80/20 rule to all of this…


Your audience

WW Email 14 Picture 2

Most of your audience will be unknown (80%), while 20% will be across a spectrum of interested to fully engaged.


Could you use your engaged audience as a proxy for how big your interested yet unknown audience is?


I don’t see why not.


That 20% can be a very vocal minority for your brand.


Do you give them a place to find those like themselves?


Seeing there are others interested in advocating your brand creates more enthusiasm.


In Advantage, I talk about the carpenter ant colonies of New Mexico.


Insect colonies may seem weird and unrelated to bookselling. Still, I’m fascinated by how the colony acts as an organism and that the communication and roles are all driven by behavior and simple chemical signals.


It’s the chemical trails and behaviors of individual ants that trigger the colony.


When enough scouts return to the colony, then the foragers go out to forage. Stop the scouts from returning, and the foragers will not leave.


The colony would starve to death.


Drop scout-scented pellets down the ant hole with the right frequency, and the foragers leave.


Think about how you can amplify the voices of your most ardent fans to give them status and pass on the contagion.


Lizards, rats, ants… build your story-world Noah’s Ark.


Build a place where your fans can connect and explore what Facebook promised but then reneged on once they saw what they could do with our attention.


Design a playground where readers move between books, then to your platform and back. Think about what you would want for a community and playground if you were a reader.


Is it a dark labyrinth of mystery, a luscious garden maze?


Never forget, this isn’t about you. If you’re looking to make money from your writing, it’s about the reader.


We are over 30% through this series.


Next week’s email will be a recap and distillation of the ideas I’ve covered so far. I’ll strip out the story and provide more of my chicken scratch sketches to help you understand and implement the ideas.


Then, we’ll press forward with how the macroeconomic forces influence your business.


You won’t want to miss that one…

Read: Review 14 Key Article Takeaways in this Comprehensive Series Recap