Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Over/Under-Estimating Readers


It occurred to me that sometimes we writers (and the rest of the publishing professionals) have a tendency to either overestimate or underestimate our readers and readers in general.

The "rules of writing" give evidence to some writing professionals thinking without fairly strict adherence to most of these rules, our work is going to repel readers and give them fits while trying to elucidate what we've written. However, if anyone has tracked the sales' numbers of some, shall we say, less-than-fabulous writing according to most or many or at least some standards (need I mention The DaVinci Code, The Twilight Series, 50 Shades of Grey), readers have a habit of ignoring the writing in search of a story they like. We can certainly disagree with their choices of those stories, but if you start a dialogue with them about the "writing" and why it appealed to them, those readers will look at you like you just oozed a third eye.

Now we can proclaim that readers of literary fiction demand more from our writing, but unless those literary readers are writers, they tend to be far more discriminating when it comes to the nuances of story, the meaning of symbolisms, and the quality of the metaphors than when the POV switches without an appropriate break.

Readers love reading stories and will do whatever it takes to decipher an author's writing if they like the story.

Now before all you writers - and readers - and editing professionals get in a tizzy and start explaining that without observing the rules, those stories wouldn't be as successful, it's high time you admit a lot of "successful" novels have less than impeccable writing as shown by those three examples above. (I haven't read any of them in case you're curious, but the overwhelming commentary coming from the professional community is that all of them lack real writing skills.) And it begs the question to agents and publishers: Wouldn't you have liked getting your percentages from the earnings of those poorly written stories? Ka ching, baby! I know: Christian agents will answer appropriately about the content of those books.

Readers come in all varieties which is precisely why certain authors ride the waves of their appeal for years. Those authors have established a faithful following regardless of what and how they write. Other authors earn a discriminating and devoted audience, but in comparison to big names who assembly-line bestselling novels, they don't always make a great deal of money while nurturing tremendous respect.

It's hard to criticize "success", but of course we do. We're disgusted with tomes like the pornographic/sadistic 50 Shades of Grey, but the publishers high-five each other for taking a chance on it. In Christian circles we might silently berate bestselling novels by certain authors because of how they write (because we tend to think it's "inferior"), but who can rightfully criticize the readers who enjoy and support their work?

Believe it or not, this isn't a post against the rules of writing - even though I think they're highly overrated. This is a commentary about the reading public which includes those of us who write novels. Whether or not we decide so-and-so is a lousy writer only matters when it comes to our wallets. Improving our writing takes a solitary effort to get it to the place that satisfies us with the hope it will find homes with other readers via the traditional publishing methods or the self-publishing buffet.

And the truth is we don't often know what kind of readers will like our stuff. We keep hoping a large number of them will.

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. Somewhat rebelliously.

Raw Romantic Redemptive    



Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great thoughts--brings me in mind of the "Resist the Urge to Explain" idea...don't over-explain what's going on and assume your reader can figure it out. On the other hand, I'm also always aware of the news-writing caveat to write at a level a fifth-grader can understand (much of the reading public is at that level).

I suppose in the end, we determine our audience, and that will determine HOW we write. I was actually one who enjoyed TWILIGHT for the storyline, but also for the smooth way it was written. It MOVED right along, without grammatical errors or fancy huge words to hang people up. Not that I don't enjoy huge words...I just realized writing can be simpler and still get the story across in a memorable way.

Nicole said...

Good thoughts, Heather.

"I suppose in the end, we determine our audience, and that will determine HOW we write." I definitely think we have an audience in mind WHEN we write, but it's strange how that audience sometimes morphs from who we think it should be to something else - until we establish a particular place within a genre, particularly in those fluid genres of Women's Fiction, Romance, and the Literary categories.

Some readers are disappointed when their favorites expand their repertoires and try new things. Others follow faithfully and remain devoted fans.

For me, ultimately, I have to write for me. I have to like what I write. As a reader, I refuse to read certain genres because they don't interest me - no matter how sterling the writing might be.

Ane Mulligan said...

Great article, Nicole. You've been a wonderful addition to our Novel Rocket staff! And I just finished (and LOVED) a book you endorsed: Becalmed, by Normandie Fischer. :)

Nicole said...

Thanks, Ane. And, yes, Becalmed would be right up your alley if my perceptions of you are correct! Carefully and honestly written with authenticity and a real Southern twang (with a capital S of course). ;)

Ron Estrada said...

Great post. It seems Stephen King said something about being a bad writer, but a great story teller. Does this mean we need to spend more time on the plot and less on the details of style?

Nicole said...

Ron, I think style improves a novel, but style isn't always submissive to "the rules". As a reader, I appreciate unique styles but then I'm a writer too. Sometimes I think the professionals assume certain types of writing will only attract a niche audience, and they prefer to cater to a wider audience which sometimes means (to them) less style and more adherence to those rules and familiar story-types (code for formulaic and predictable). What do you think? As a reader, what do you prefer? As a writer?

Nicole said...

P.S. to Ron. That "bad writer but good storyteller" applies to Hemingway for me, but so many think he's the best. Ugh.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Oh, I totally hear you there, Nicole! And I agree. I won't write what I wouldn't enjoy reading. It's just a waste of brain cells. Hee.