Friday, June 1, 2012

What Do Readers Want?

Are we are on the verge of a new way of reading and writing books? How much emphasis do we place on editing? We all know (well, maybe not the big publishing houses) that publishing is turning a corner and what we find down the next block of the digital world may or may not delight us. 

Last week, I took an unofficial survey of what readers looked for in a story and what would cause them to discontinue reading a book they’d already started. Most based their reading on:
·        plot
·        character development
·        subject matter

Since a lot of the free e-books (and not free) coming out have mistakes in them (punctuation, grammar, story technique, plot and story evolution), I wondered what elements would keep people from reading poorly edited copy, if at all? It seems our minds can easily read over minor mistakes (as in the selection above), and maybe even some major ones. But at what point would you stop reading?

Here are the results of my very unofficial survey. People read for a variety of reasons, the main ones being evenly divided between:
  • plot/story:
      -to get lost in the story (escape)
      -a problem to solve; a mystery
      -interesting story line
      -effectiveness of weaving a tale (voice, included)

  • well developed characters, including:
      -a love interest

As long as they above was met satisfactorily, most said they would allow for minor violations of the rules of good writing as long as the errors didn't interfere with the enjoyment of the story or interrupt the flow. 

So, writers, concentrate on the winning elements and don't stress on the minor ones. 

Any additional comments, disagreements or questions? (The answers will still be unofficial.) 


S.J. Driscoll said...

Very interesting, Cora! Thanks for doing the survey.
That's a useful list of story aspects to keep in mind while writing.
Do you think some readers may respond to stories despite poorly edited copy because they themselves are less concerned about making grammar/spelling errors?
Also, might such "unimportant" errors make readers feel more like the writer is just a regular person?
I'm not one to answer those questions since I make my living as an editor. :))

Cora said...

I wonder about that as well. Something to think about for sure.

Prudence MacLeod said...

This is great, Cora. I've often felt this way myself when I'm reading, but I didn't really know how the rest of the world felt about these things. It will indeed change what I pay attention to when editing. (less concerned with finding every last typo and poorly phrased sentence and more concerned with do the characters seem real? Does the story hold together?

Prudence MacLeod said...

Oh, by the way, I had no trouble at all reading the passage at the top. What does that say about me; I wonder?

Unknown said...

Interesting survey and passage (no trouble either, but I am a skimmer).

I read for story and characters. There is a big BUT, if there are more than 2 or 3 typos or major formatting problems in the first five chapters, I will put the book down.

When I select books to download on Kindle, free or otherwise, I tend to go to only those that have "Read Inside," so I can ascertain how the writer puts their story across.

Jodi Lea Stewart said...

If we continue on the Path of Horrible in editing and publishing standards, we are editorially and literally lost!

I understand that commas, semicolons, dashes, the ellipsis and other punctuation marks have undergone "surgery" in the last years, and that we are extremely more relaxed in our reading and writing styles these days.

HOWEVER, misspelled words and poorly phrased sentence structure (which go right along with wavy syntax, inconsistent characterization, poorly developed plot structure, etc.)are the main reason that so many of the Indie and self-published authors are being snubbed. When they turn out crap work like that and won't spring for professional editing (from at least two outside sources), they should be snubbed. Ease of publication doesn't mean everyone out there is author material and needs no editorial supervision/training/classes/seminars to learn the craft of writing.

If writers want to go the Indie or self-published route, that's superb! It's an incredible freedom! But don't expect to change the ladder of expectations of the readers out there because you'll most likely find yourself on a roof with no way down and, certainly, no way up. Readers won't repeat their mistakes if they buy a poorly written and/or edited book.

I've noticed that traditional publishing has precariously slipped downward many notches in their editing excellence in the last decade. I am constantly amazed by the errors I see in books published by the Big Six. Still, they are way ahead of the game when compared to the majority of self-published books. That's just wrong, and it could be changed if writers would go through the proper channels no matter how they publish.

Personally, if I find multiple errors in a book, I throw it across the room! It doesn't deserve the precious time I took from my schedule to read it. Harsh? Maybe. But so are the facts about American literacy.

Julie Farrar said...

I agree. I'm getting used to all the errors in e-books, but shocked when I she ones that were supposed to be edited. No excuse. Pure laziness.

Rabia said...

I know that writing has made me a far more critical reader. Bad writing in all its forms, from typos to awkward sentence structure, grates on me and makes it impossible for me to enjoy the story.

I sample a lot of self-published books, but I buy and read a very few of them.

elizabethfais said...

Great idea and wonderful feedback. It's also a good reminder that our WIP doesn't have to be PERFECT! Thanks for this.

Cora said...

I agree it gives one more insight into what drives readers and therefore what writers need to be most mindful of.

Cora said...

I think it shows that our minds don't pay attention to the non-essential mistakes. Our mind builds bridges quickly to make sense of the words. I think readers (who read a lot) can probably easily read that selection. So, I'd say it shows you read a lot:)

Cora said...

Thank you for your comments. If a book upsets you for any reason, then you should stop reading it. I know I have a low tolerance for poorly written books--immature writing, poor concepts or unrealistic emotions. And I have a pile of books I've started but have not picked up again because they didn't grab me and hold my interest. But I'm not bothered by editorial mistakes so much (unless, as I've said, it interferes with the flow of the book)as long as the plot keeps me enthralled or I love the characters.

Thanks for taking the time to fully give your view. I appreciate it.

Cora said...

It seems the numbers are growing, too, sadly.

Cora said...

I have to agree with you; reading some of the books I have, has made me take a more critical look at my own writing. So, that's a good thing.

Cora said...

Yes, I think we can have the opposite problem of taking too long to finish a book because of perfectionism. Thanks for commenting.

Liv Rancourt said...

I'm with Jodi. Errors pull me out of the story, I don't care how compelling the characters and plot are. And like Rabia, I download alot more samples than books. Interesting post!

Cora said...

I've downloaded a lot of books as well that sit sadly on my Nook unread (started and not continued). Thanks for your comments.

Diane Capri said...

Good to know, Cora. But I have to say, I get e-mail from readers every day saying they noticed one or two typos in a 400 pg. book. Some do read very carefully. (To be fair, I encourage them to let me know when they find errors so that I can correct them in updated editions.)

Mike Schulenberg said...

I've actually forced myself to plow through some books I didn't really enjoy because of bad writing. In some cases, they get start to get a little better about halfway through or so, but it's never enough of an improvement to make a bad book into a good one. I'm sure I'd be happier if I just put down such books, but sometimes I'm just too stubborn to do it, particularly if I paid money for it :)

Sharon Clare said...

Great idea, Cora, and good to know.

C.J. Lyons said the same-ish (uh oh, not a word) thing recently. The most important thing is to tell a good story and then give it time to sell. The readers will find you.

Sara Walpert Foster said...

The above passage that many of us find easy to read despite it's unusual, flipped or misplaced characters is very different than a standard novel passage that has blatant mistakes in language or usage. Our minds automatically adjust to make something physically skewed look normal but many of our minds find it impossible to adjust when what is off is uncared for/unedited/poorly executed writing.

I do think many people are not bothered by repetitive word usage or poor grammar or flat characters if the plot is very exciting or mysterious, yet I find that to be a huge societal problem. If the lowest common denominator is accepted as just fine or worth the read or interesting, we are not encouraging people to invest in reading that can actually transport them in a fuller way into a world where they can escape or learn or dream. That, to me, is a very sad state of affairs, which I hope we can change before it goes any further downhill.