I just completed a video interview with the 13-year-old daughter of a friend. She reads. She enjoys it. She knows what she likes. She knows why she likes it. This girl read my entire novel—a story intended for adults—and told me it was, “awesome.” Incidentally, she gave a terrific interview.
Conventional wisdom inbreeds conventional wisdom. Trends change. The result? Marketing mavens can be wrong. Contrary to popular wisdom, not all men confine themselves exclusively to sports and action movies. Women read suspense, not just romance as some would have it. Our readers may be more widely dispersed than commonly believed. They are not necessarily the people one might expect.
Let me give some personal examples. One of my female readers expressed an intense interest in the father/son interaction going on in my book. She told me, “I’m fascinated with this concept of learning to be a man and just what that means.” That was my first indication that women liked my novel. It was unexpected. I certainly didn’t purposely set out to capture that audience. Another of my female readers loved the action scenes and became angry and frustrated with an important character that used Scripture as a club. She said about a hostage scene, “I wanted him to shoot her.” I took her advice and cut back on that character’s habit of hurling quotes.
Is it really true that women make up 80% of the reading audience? Is it true that kids aren’t learning to read in school? Is it true that men like action exclusively? Or are people simply bored with what publishers offer? There seems to be a disconnect between our broad assumptions and what actually goes on. Every so often a book comes out that goes counter to conventional wisdom. “A fluke,” one might say. “An aberration.” How can that be? If the successful is an aberration, what does that say about the reading public?
I no longer believe that traditional demographics can be trusted. I don’t think genre is the most important criteria. People enjoy reading all kinds of books and like the stock markets, trends are ever-changing, changing ever faster and difficult to predict.
My best guess is that today, one trend dominates and will continue to do so. I believe that a successful novel must include the following elements:
1.) Easy to read.
2.) Well written (by which I mean easy to read).
3.) Fast paced (by which I mean easy to read).
4.) Interesting characters (by which I mean easy to read).
5.) Linear plot structure (by which I mean easy to read).
6.) Emotionally engaging (by which I mean easy to read).
I could continue, but you get the idea. We’re all in a hurry. We’re impatient. We’re restless. We’re conditioned to fast-paced entertainment. We want our needs met right now.
5 responses to “WHO READS?”
I’m a little surprised that you cut-back on the scripture tossing character after that comment by one of your readers. What you wrote inspired the greatest reaction of all, at least from my point of view as a writer, … emotion in your reader! Your reader wanted a character shot – good or bad – you envokved an emotional investment from your reader…
Well done sir – very well done indeed! 🙂
That’s an interesting point–that I missed the point. Anyway, I didn’t stop the Bible thumping character, just toned it down in that scene so that the tension would be believable.
Peter, I’ve been thinking more about your comment. You make a valid point.
I am not convinced that fast, fast, fast is the be all end all of successful fiction. Look at Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. Each book is long, and the series has been dragging on for more than a decade, yet every book is a best seller.
You’re right. It seems that in Fantasy, long books are expected. I fail to see why that excuses a slow-moving plot, but that seems acceptable as well. Jordan’s novels have been described to me as glacial. I read one and left it at that. Yet many that I know are devoted to them. Thanks for bringing up this excellent example of the failure of conventional wisdom.