A blogger’s question made me think:
HOW MUCH TIME do my potential readers spend looking for SOMETHING, ANYTHING interesting to read before finding a few possibles,
HOW MUCH MORE TIME do they spend starting and then giving up on books that pass their initial selection process – BEFORE they find one they like and actually enjoy reading to the end?
Readers may have preferences, but the good ones, the educated literate WHALE readers – the ones who read a lot of books, hard books, complex books, and often buy them in hardcover (which I will produce when I have 1) a lot of time, or 2) Amazon lets me into their beta hardcover program), and then RECOMMEND them to their friends – are often happy to just read ‘a good book.’
Because their appetites are not satisfied – no matter how many books are on their To Be Read piles.
They are not looking for ‘more of the same vampire books.’ Or ‘the latest James Patterson book.’ Or another ‘clean Romance.’
They are let down by what they read (have you seen how many NEGATIVE reviews there are on books such as The Goldfinch? They won’t all be people who can’t handle the complexity and bought it primarily as a coffeetable book!).
They want what writers are counseled to produce: a good book
So it got me to thinking about my writing, and what I am trying to produce, a good story, a book that is worth the time invested in reading it, a book which will make the same Reader want the next in the trilogy.
It’s easier for me to vet my potential Readers than for me to try to please everyone (an impossibility).
So I’m going to try to QUANTIFY the ineffable
There’s an example: If you are potentially MY Reader, either you already know what ‘ineffable’ means, or you will figure it out from context and a dictionary – because you like words and enjoy pinning down ones you’ve seen before but don’t remember exactly what they mean. And either way, it will give you PLEASURE just sitting there on your page.
If ‘ineffable’ appearing in your reading material is annoying because you think the writer’s being elitist or you’re done with SAT words, your are NOT my potential Reader.
Because ineffable came to my mind as what I wanted to say (and I did a quick check to make sure I didn’t have it mixed up with something else – fatal to the point I’m trying to make). Something unquantifiable because it is big and complex: how to help Readers know the value of my work – to them, the only people they are really interested in satisfying.
Everything else is miscommunication.
And I’m going to quantify it in a very me way
I’m going to make a list of books which have influenced Pride’s Children by being favorites of mine still years after I’ve read most of them, and why.
I’ve done this on Goodreads when carefully looking for potential reviewers, using the Compare books feature, especially if they’ve reviewed and I can see if our reasons for loving a book are compatible.
All you have to do to find out if you are potentially a Reader of my fiction is to see if several of these hit you in similar ways.
For the actual writing part – because we can love the same books without me being able to produce a coherent sentence in a similar style – I will make my standard recommendation: go to Amazon, to the print version – because my formatting is part of how I want to write. The ebook is available and I love it, too, but ebooks have reflowable text on purpose so you can change fonts and sizes to suit you; great for reading, not so great for seeing if you like everything about the author.
- Read – but don’t get hung up on – the description; these are always being tweaked to occupy the very limited real estate on the book’s page. It is an indicator, not the definitive reason for choosing or not choosing a book.
- Read some of the reviews. I’d choose several of the top reviews (most of the longer 5* ones from older men) and maybe a couple of the few negative ones (you’ll know what I mean if my writing will appeal to you). Go for the long ones – but not the ones which summarize and ruin the plot: you’re looking for reviewers like you.
- Read a few pages of the Look Inside! – by the end of the third scene you will have met all the point of view characters, by the end of the first chapter or two you will have picked up the as-needed style of alternating them, and by the end of the sample, if not much sooner, you will know if – in your opinion – I can write.
- Ten or twenty minutes spent will tell you all you need to know. And you should spend that on a potential book; Pride’s Children PURGATORY will take you a good while to read.
That’s it: checkout my list of influencers and read a bit of the actual writing, and then, if you’re one of us, buy in your favorite format and get to reading.
I can guarantee it’s a good story; after all, it has occupied all my usable writing time for the past twenty-one years, I’m almost finished with volume 2 (which ends well but still leaves you wanting more), and volume 3 is completely plotted and exists in rough draft form (so you know I know exactly where we’re going).
What kind of a good story?
Well, here is a partial list of the themes woven in there somewhere:
- Family matters
- Love is based on trust
- Children matter – and must be protected
- Beliefs are important
- Beliefs lead to action
- Right beliefs lead to right action
- Dignity matters
- Good will prevail
- Life throws stuff at you – how you handle it is who you are
- You can’t stay married to someone who doesn’t want you
- Some people are objectively better than others
- Integrity matters
- Evil exists – and can’t be excused
- Love transcends age
- We have a capacity for intense love: of a character. Of an actor. Of a story.
- Disability themes: how common it is, the intrinsic value of the person who is disabled, and the empathy I want developed in readers and the world.
And the overall theme: How you live your life PROVES what you believe. And believe in.
Now for those influencer books:
(you will want to have read – and liked or have been affected by – at least several):
- Dune (plus Dune Messiah and Children of Dune)
- Jane Eyre
- Wuthering Heights
- On the Beach, Trustee from the Toolroom
- The Thorn Birds
- The Left Hand of Darkness, Roccannon’s World, Planet of Exile
- Leviathan’s Deep
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
- Great Expectations
- Strong Poison, Have his Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon, Talboys
- Lucifer’s Hammer
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Dr. Zhivago
- The Exorcist
- The Dying of the Light (also named After the Festival), A Song for Lya
- Ender’s Game
- Huckleberry Finn
- The Foundation trilogy
- The Crystal Cave, The Last Enchantment
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes
- Brave New World
- The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
- Black Beauty
- Silas Marner
- Snow Falling on Cedars, Our Lady of the Forest
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass
- The Handmaid’s Tale
- The Three Musketeers
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Way Station
- A Canticle for Leibowitz
- The Name of the Rose
A good serving of these plus a familiarity with Shakespeare and the Bible.
That’s basically it
Spend a bit of time vetting your reading material – you will be spending hours of your life you will never get back – and then settle in to a nice long encounter.
You may also pray for good health for the writer; in this case, she needs to be semi-functional to be able to write at all.
IF you are persuaded, leave a comment saying why – feedback is crucial to writers, especially if you want more work from them.