Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Would You Write Differently If You Knew How People Read?

Guess what?  Not only does your e-reader give you books to read, but it can also supply data on how you read - where you stop reading, whether you go to the end, how long it takes to read.  This raises lots of questions about things like privacy, but I wondered: how will this affect writers?

If non-fiction tends to be put down after 50,000 words, will publishers only buy works of that length?  Will writers cut down on their word counts because they know 50,000 is the 'right' length, even though the subject demands it?

If we know that many readers skip the descriptions will we stop writing them?  If literary fiction is read more slowly, will even fewer literary novels get published as slow read = fewer sales.

What really worries me is that, as a writer, I don't see how you can write anything worth reading unless it comes from your heart and guts.  You have to believe, utterly, if the reader is to believe along with you.

All this data is head stuff.  It's like writing for the market, the tail wagging the dog.  The customer may always be right, but sometimes the customer doesn't know what it is they want until they see it - isn't that how Steve Jobs made Apple the company it is by giving people what they didn't know they wanted?

Many things have worried me about publishing over the last couple of years, but they've seemed all answerable by putting one's head down and just plugging away at writing the best book you can.  But this worries me the most because the best book you can write will be written with the potential customer saying 'add a bit of this, take that bit out'.

Mind you, I suppose it's like someone suggesting that they supply the ideas, you do the writing and you split the profits.  The answer (which I've never actually given, being too polite) is, go and write your own b****y book and leave me to get on with mine.


John Magnet Bell said...

I'm in absolute agreement with you, Sarah. You should always write from the heart/gut/soul.

Art first, market second. A book should first and foremost be good; the best books of all are uncompromising.

In the long run, being true to yourself brings the dividends you deserve.

Jim Murdoch said...

This reminded me of the show Episodes where, if you’ve not seen it, they take Lyman’s Boys, a successful British show and remake it for an American audience. Somehow the writers end up working on a star vehicle called Pucks starring Matt LeBlanc (because the studio can afford him) who eventually finds himself getting nudged out of the spotlight once the ratings start coming in and the studio bends over backwards to cater to the only demographic that seems to be showing any interest in the show. I cannot imagine being a writer trying to work under such circumstances. This is exactly what Holden Caulfield meant when he said that his brother D.B. was out in Hollywood “being a prostitute”. This is why everyone and their dog is writing vampire romances at the moment. I couldn’t do that. It’s not even a matter of sticking to my principles. I’m simply am not that kind of writer. I’m sure there are those who hope by following a trend they’ll make it big and then, when they’re right and famous, they’ll be able to write what they want. Worked out for Kenneth Williams didn’t it?

Edith said...

I have begun my first novel and am still really just in the planning and plotting stages though I write bits of chapters when I have had enough planning...sometimes the words just have to be let out. But my question is this -- I believe too in writing what I feel compelled to write, the voices I hear in my head, the settings I love which I want to catch in lyrical descriptive writing (i wish!). But I also am enjoying my attempt at writing short stories for women's weekly magazines. Now these stories demand stating within pre-determined parameters. Some days I despair of my self ever being a consistent writer. I 'd love to read your opinion.