Reading a novel can—and should—be sensual, intimate, and engaging. Through the written word, readers spend time with fictional characters and take in their struggles, desires, and conflicts. A good story with convincing characters will draw readers into another dimension—a fictional getaway that resonates so viscerally, readers want to visit again and again. This phenomenon is very much like falling in love, and can be almost as compelling, which is why good writers strive to give readers that same wonderful experience. Just as people “lose themselves” in love, readers, too, want to experience a state of emotional exigency and abandon. Isn’t that precisely why one chooses a particular work of fiction?

It is now well-recognized that “falling in love” has both mental and chemical components. Scientists have identified several “feel good” chemicals associated with being “swept away” in love: oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. You want those same “happy chemicals” to kick into overdrive when readers crack open your novel. We also know that pheromones are crucial in order for a love bond to occur. Readers likewise need visual, aural, and olfactory stimulus to put them “in the mood” to forget, even for a brief time, that they are sufferers of the human condition.

You want your readers to look forward to experiencing your fictional characters as if reuniting with a cherished love one. How do you accomplish this? First and foremost, engage readers’ senses: Feed them chocolate-dipped strawberries; put on soft background jazz and give them a whiff of heady cologne—whatever is appropriate to your story and setting. Then make it easy for readers to relate to and empathize with your characters. Not only must you invite readers inside their lovely fictional world; once over the threshold, your protagonist and other characters must continually court and woo readers by sharing their inner workings and gradually revealing what they are about.

To have readers connect with your characters’ unique circumstances, you must place readers front-and-center inside their “emotional brain”—the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus—where your characters “speak” in a natural, genuine, and emotional voice. Make them vulnerable. Don’t fall victim to confusing point-of-view shifts, or dishonest, condescending, or unbelievable narrative. Nobody wants to waste time on a phony or—worse yet—a liar. Give your characters endearing flaws (nobody likes a "Polly-perfect"), but make their forgivable little idiosyncrasies and “blind spots” understandable to your target audience. One sure-fire way of doing this is to give glimpses into a less-than-ideal childhood. Even the most hardened criminal can garner sympathy by relaying the traumatic boyhood experience of witnessing his crazy, obese grandma stepping on his beloved puppy’s head.

But don’t forget to make readers laugh, no matter how sad or dark your plot. At the end of the day, people read fiction for entertainment, so there must be moments of levity and wit. Isn’t this how an otherwise “so-so” suitor gets his foot in the front door? Once “hooked,” readers will think about your characters in between sittings and will yearn to get back with them.

Of course, there are the practical things to consider. As with any new “love object,” your book must be accessible and physically attractive. In marketing terms, this means it must be readily available and “look good,” i.e., have an appealing cover and be free of typos, grammatical errors, or formatting glitches—the literary equivalent of zits, clothing stains, and bad breath. No matter how many other wonderful qualities your book might have, readers' eyes will be relentlessly drawn to these avoidable flaws. So take the time to “primp” and check the mirror before your grand debut. Engage beta readers, designers, and editors. Budget as much as you can to make the best possible impression, and you will avoid these sure-fire turnoffs.

Many people believe there is a spiritual component to love—something transcendent and inspirational. An exceptional work of fiction will also have this quality. If possible, weave in a higher message of human altruism, connectedness, or faith. Not only will readers lose themselves in your words; they will feel elevated, enlightened, and inspired. Your prose can literally take readers to a higher vibrational frequency, and if this happens, they will come away richer for the experience. A profoundly stirring work can haunt readers for days, weeks, or even years.

But as is true of love, timing (and a little luck) is everything. Have you ever found you couldn’t “get into” a book everyone is raving over? Have you ever picked up that same book a month or a year later and discovered it is one of the best things you’ve ever read? Sometimes, readers are simply too busy, too distracted, or too tired take in what you have to offer—they are, in short, not open. In literature as in love, what floats one person’s boat might completely turn off another at any given moment. If your book flops, don’t take it personally. Just get back in the game, put yourself “out there,” and keep trying to achieve that all-important “love connection” (even if it never happens).

Book publishing is a numbers game, and successful writers know they must kiss a few frogs and hang in there until the proverbial check arrives. By identifying and recognizing the attributes of falling in love and incorporating them into your craft, you can ramp up your novel’s allure and increase your odds of standing out from the crowd.