Book buyers today are not the same as in the good old days.
With the advent of ebooks, print-on-demand paperbacks, Kindle, self-publishing, online book buying and of course, the rise and rise of online book reviewers, the book market has changed in almost every way possible.
Nothing is the same as it was ten years ago, so anyone involved in the book publishing industry has had to change, adapt, accept and modify to suit an ever-changing and evolving market.
Except in one regard, however. The ever-so-slow moving story.
Fiction is still a slow moving animal. Literary fiction is even slower. Yet, books are being consumed by readers who have less time, less attention span, and less willingness to spend reading hours waiting for the action to begin. Dostoevsky would have been a total flop in today’s book market.
Today’s readers are now consuming more and more books on phones, which means that thousands of words describing how a pile of dirty dishes rest in a sink would lose a reader in no time. Apologies here to Joyce Carol Oates.
But in today’s reading world, perhaps it’s time to forget all this old sage advice, and apply a new writing rule. One that says, give readers what they want, and give it to them damn fast.
In a recent article in Salon, well-known author Lydia Millet takes up this point in an in-your-face way with her article, “Porn is the secret of my future success.” She makes a number of points that are relevant to writers today.
We don’t get to the point, not for 200 pages at least. Sometimes 3,600, if we’re Knausgaard. At writing workshops they taught us to show not tell — well, showing takes time.
Black words on a white page. We figure we can get away with that. Laughable. Honestly. No wonder only a handful of us carve out a living from this activity. Give us a few years, we’ll have to cast our lot in with the poets. Those poor saps.
Millet uses the example of pornography in her article, but I can see how her idea would apply to many genres. Get to the action, stop world building and stop worrying about nuance. On how porn is perceived, she writes:
No one critiques you for missing the mark with a metaphor, for example, or for inconsistency of character.
Let’s say you have a fireman, right? He’s dressed for a four-alarm fire, he’s got the fiberglass helmet, the pull-on boots and high-vis yellow jacket. He goes to a woman’s front door, rings the bell. She lets him in, wearing an apron. He instantly removes his pants. No one says, Hey, a fireman wouldn’t do that! You haven’t earned that moment!
Readers today want entertainment, escape and most importantly, instant gratification. It’s worth considering the point that reading is not an activity that is solely applied to books and ebooks. The Internet is all about reading text, so ebooks and books are but a small part of a very competitive market.
The reader and book buyer of today is not the same animal as ten years ago, so would I be right in assuming that like me, as a writer, you are still writing for yourself, and for a time long past? I’ll admit it, and plead guilty here.
When you look at ebooks in particular that are selling well now, they are clearly written for a particular market niche genre and get to the story quick smart to hook the reader. These books are products created for the market, and not for the writer’s ego. Even the covers of best-selling books in certain genres have a similarity in colours and design that are clearly designed to attract a particular reading demographic.
The book is not a book anymore. It’s a product competing in a highly competitive market.
Perhaps it’s not about writing at all. It’s now about producing a marketable and saleable product that today’s book consumer will want to buy.
So, are you still writing for yourself, or for today’s readers and book buyers?