Friday, September 11, 2009

How to Grab a Reader

A recent discussion by a writer group focused on how readers choose and read a book.

Several participants who have worked in bookstores commented on their observance of readers and noted they seldom made a judgment based on the first few pages of a book. Instead they seemed to observe the cover, read the back cover blurb and then examine pages “within” the book. Most of us were surprised to learn judgment was not based on the first few pages of a book.

There seems to be a lesson here for us writers on how to grab a reader. Presentation is important. And writing should be consistently good throughout a book.

A more important issue to me in the discussion was how readers read. Many contend they skim books, ignore the boring parts and don’t like books that are lengthy. The comments didn’t surprise me, many of the participants being from the speed-reading and television generation.

As a writer and reader, I abhor the idea of skimming. Speed-reading may allow one to get through more books in less time. But are they being enjoyed and digested? Aside from the fact the author’s hard work is being minimized, the reader doesn’t have/take the time to savor all the work has to offer.

As to the boring parts—what might they be? Elmore Leonard’s classic advice to writers is to “leave out the boring parts.” But he never defines what those might be. There is a difference between writing good narrative and padding. There are readers who don’t like lengthy description. Others do. That’s a personal choice. This does not necessarily mean one writer who uses description is less than another. I like and read both Dickens and Hemingway. I know of several popular writers who pen beautiful prose but their characters and plot leave me cold. I don’t read them. Again, that’s a personal choice.

The same applies to the length of a book. I’ve enjoyed novels that barely topped a hundred pages and others approaching a thousand pages. What they had in common was a good story.

What it all boils down to is readers (like writers) are different. You can’t please everyone. You’ve just got to do the best you can.

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