Tag: novels

The art of selling stories

What’s the first question someone invariably asks when you tell them you are reading a great book?

“What’s it about?”

If you say it’s about good vs. evil battling it out in outer space and they aren’t interested in that kind of thing, they will shrug their shoulders and never bother reading. People make up their mind very quickly about whether they are willing to buy a story.

Once I was at work and I told a woman I work with that I had an idea for a story. I said I was writing about a woman who meets her soul mate, but is already married to someone else. Within the next couple of days, different women around the office were asking me about the book and saying they thought it sounded good, yet that one-sentence premise was all they knew about it.

I asked the women what they would do in that situation and each one said she would stay with her husband. I didn’t realize until much later that I was basically planning to write Bridges of Madison County, which makes me think about the difficulty in selling old stories.

Movies like Casablanca or books like the Invisible Man probably aren’t making much money at this moment and it isn’t because they aren’t any good. It’s because they aren’t front and center in our minds.

People don’t read books because they are well written and they don’t watch movies because they are artistically shot. Take the two following cases as proof:

The seven-year old son of a man I know was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt the other day. I asked him if he was a Star Wars fan.

“Not really,” he said. “But I’ll watch it anyway.”

I just finished watching a movie called Passengers, which was made in the past year and frankly wasn’t impressive. I watched it anyway, because the premise intrigued me and I was in a tired mood and needed to relax.

In both cases, the consumer would gladly watch a better movie, but would also be willing to settle for a mediocre one. Now I understand how so many bad books and movies get made. The public doesn’t demand good.

If I told that kid he could watch a great classic movie from 1956 or the latest Marvel superhero movie, he would probably choose the latter. Premise and freshness trumps depth of content when selling a story.

 

 

 

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Can I throw away my Kindle?

A woman I know loves to read books, but never finds the time. Recently, she became determined to make time for some books, so she went book shopping. She has a Kindle, but didn’t even bother to charge it up. Instead, she ordered print books online.

“I want a real book to curl up on the couch with,” she said.

We hear more and more lately about how people are going back to print books from e-books, but are they really? Are they actually reading the print books, or just buying them? The truth is, knowing the woman as I do, I am positive she won’t read those books she bought. If she ever finishes the books, it will be two or three years from now, maybe longer.

I think people like the idea of reading books and buying them is part of a fantasy world. They envision themselves curled up on that couch, drinking tea and digesting the latest historical novel, but that fantasy never quite fits into their day. We’ll see if she ever reads those books. If she does, I’ll let you all know.

 

 

The greatest compliment

I usually don’t get past the first page or two of most books, so the greatest compliment I can give any book is to finish it. I sample a lot of books and it’s a pretty decent compliment if I pass the first chapter. I found a random book yesterday that lured me beyond the nine percent mark on Kindle. The book is Deadly Messengers by Susan May.

I plunged right in without reading any blurbs and found the general writing style to my liking and the story intriguing enough. I will continue reading it today and see how far I get. The beauty of reading on Kindle Unlimited is I can quit the book anytime.

If I make it all the way through, I may even take a stab at writing a short review for this blog. I promise to keep it short to increase the odds that you will finish it.

 

Funny thing about bestseller lists

Consumers of entertainment love lists, like the Billboard Top 10, the top hits of the weekend box office, or the New York Times Bestseller List. The big difference between the first two lists and the third list is the honest, realistic sample size available.

If you see a list of the top 10 songs, it is reasonable to assume a music fan will have listened to all 10 songs and formed opinions about each. A moviegoer could easily watch three to five of the top 10 movies over a one-month stretch, but books require a significantly greater time commitment, meaning a reader might only read one book on a bestseller list before the list has completely changed.

The rest of the books on the list become irrelevant and vanish, like old blog posts. I remember back around Thanksgiving, everywhere I browsed for books I kept seeing the new book from Bruce Springsteen. His memoir Born to Run was all over the bestseller list for a couple of months. What list is it on now? Does anyone even remember that Springsteen wrote a book?

In a way, entertainment brokers’ lists resemble slow-moving social-media feeds. We glance over them the way we would glance over our Facebook page, reading only the posts that interest us and forgetting the others forever. Of course, there is only so much time in a day, so how many 70,000-word posts are really getting read?

Instant rejection

Yesterday, someone asked me if I had read any good books lately. It may be the first time that’s happened in a decade. The exchange that followed was revealing and educational for anyone thinking of selling a book.

I told her Comanche Moon was pretty good and her response: “That sounds like a western,” meaning she would never bother with a western. She didn’t have to see the cover or read a page or two. She heard the title and rejected the book immediately.

Even though I thought she might enjoy the book despite it being a western, I didn’t press the issue. Instead, I told her she might like Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. This suggestion seemed to satisfy her and she said she would look it up and try an e-book sample.

No word as to whether she started reading Beautiful Ruins, but that’s not important. The lesson here is that a casual reader will reject your book in a heartbeat if there is the slightest chance it doesn’t fit their idea of what they want to read. A title or a cover can turn away a reader before they ever give a chance to the writing or the story. Readers have preconceived notions about what they want to buy and if an author doesn’t deliver the goods from start to finish, there will be no sale.

Who are the greatest writers of our day?

As an English Literature major in college, I studied many great writers of the past. The old writers were celebrities of sorts, or so the stories seemed to suggest. Everyone knew of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. What writers do we speak of today?

If someone asked me who the best writers of the 21st century are, I wouldn’t have an answer. Maybe that means writing is totally irrelevant in our world today. If asked, I think most people automatically mention the old writers as the best. Jane Austen is still a big name today, thanks to movies made of all her books. Do people actually still read her books or just know her name from the movies?

If I asked my niece or nephew, who are both in high school, whether Jane Austen was a good writer, they would both answer yes. If I asked whether they had read one of her books, they would both answer no. Around Christmas time I asked them if they were familiar with A Christmas Carol. They were, but only the movie. They had no interest in reading the book by Charles Dickens.

Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for fiction this year for writing The Underground Railroad. Is Colson Whitehead one of today’s great writers. Whitehead has a twitter page and six novels to his credit, according to a Google search. Do modern great writers have to have a twitter page? Must they write novels?

Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature last year. He doesn’t write novels. He falls loosely in the poet category, if you consider modern-day song writers the equivalent of ancient poets. Do poets still exist outside of songwriters?

These are some of the questions floating through my head on this Wednesday night. Who do you think are some of the 21st century’s greatest writers?

Best laid plans

Most of us have at least heard of Lonesome Dove, a western novel turned TV movie years ago. I occasionally read from the book and just ran across a quote worth sharing. One of the main characters named Woodrow Call offers the following thought on making plans:

“Though he had always been a careful planner, life on the frontier had long ago convinced him of the fragility of plans. The truth was, most plans did fail, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. He had survived as a Ranger because he was quick to respond to what he had actually found, not because his planning was infallible.”

As much as I try not to plan things out too much, I fall into that trap a lot, so the quote served as a great reminder to me to take life one day at a time. It applies to all walks of life, but can easily apply to the life of a writer. There is a lot of advice floating around out there for aspiring writers, but in the end a writer just needs to write and see where the effort leads.