What I Learned As A Reader

26 Apr

       Everyone tells you that if you want to be a writer you need read read read. And this is so true. We learn so much by study the works of people we respect.

      But what do we learn from just being a READER? So, so much.

1. Love the reader

      I know as a reader I expected to be respected. I make a decision every time I walk into a book store to plop down my (very) hard earned cash to support you by purchasing your product. I’m not asking for handwritten thank you cards, but I am expecting to be respected. I can think of three authors who I now only read their stuff from the library. My money (my vote so to speak) goes to others. Why? Because these three writers were *incredibly* rude when met in a reader/writer situation. I’m not talking about running into them in a bathroom in a general setting. I’m talking: book signings and conferences. Did I push my luck? No, I said (each time) I just want to tell you how much I love your work and to say thank you. — Insert rude response — ME: ok, so that’s $7.99 I’ll be saving next time she releases.

2. Love the bookseller

      I was at a book signing for a *huge* seller. One of my favorites. I totally respected her work. I couldn’t wait to hear her speak at this *insert major chain* bookstore. So, she’s standing up there, with the Manager, Assistant Manager and 2 runners for her convenience standing behind her getting her every little thing she needs. Half way thru her talk she begins to tell a story. At first I think I’m misunderstanding here, but from the look on the MC Bookstore employees’ faces standing behind her so everyone can see them, I can see I’m not. She talked about how after that bookstore had supported her for years, took chances on her pimping her when others didn’t, and then she no longer wanted to be considered in the genre that gave her her start. In the middle of a book tour, she sent an email to the president and (using insulting, vulgar, unprofessional language) said she wouldn’t be showing up at her next day signing…. or any others until her romance book was moved out of romance.

      I felt embarrassed for those people standing behind her doing everything to make her comfortable and successful. I felt angry that someone would dis a genre that had made them a super-star because her following books weren’t in it. I felt bad for the romance readers who had their intelligence insulted because they read romance.

      But mostly I felt like putting the $27 book in my hand back on the shelf. And I did.

3. Love the genre

      Easy jump to this one, huh? If you write in a genre, respect it. Love it. Pimp it. Do not make excuses for it or do everything you can to disassociate yourself with it. It’s insulting to the reader (yes, I’m looking at you Nicholas Sparks). That genre is making you your money, giving you your shelf space and introducing you to your readers. Also, you must like something about it if you’re writing it.

       And, let’s be honest: If the genre becomes more successful, all it’s writers become more successful.

      Let’s be honest some more: If you dis your own genre, you look like an idiot. It’s like me telling blonde jokes but meanly.

4. Follow the Rules

      I hate rules. Hate them. I learn them so I can see if when I break them, that I do it well. But, there are certain things that are just too important to ignore — In a way, these rules continue the Respect The Reader topic. Let’s stick with romance for this discussion. One of the very few die-hard rules of romance is the HEA ending (Happily Ever After ending) – this means that the hero and heroine end up together in a way that satisfies the story and shows them continuing on in the future as a happy couple. Killing the hero or heroine totally breaks this rule (unless you’re JR Ward, but when dealing with the undead to begin with, well…) I have never been so angry as when I followed a pair thru tragedy, heartache and struggle only to have some random person shoot the hero 7 pages from the end.

      Yes, another author I won’t be buying again. Actually, this one I won’t even be reading again.

 4. Don’t Break the Reader’s Trust

      Obviously, this one ties into the one above, but there’s more to it. “Rules” aren’t the only way to break the trust of your readers.

      Here’s a great example: One of my favorite writers (and yes, she still gets bought LOL) broke my trust. I let her get away with it just this once 🙂

      I’d been following a certain series for several books (which of course means years). The anchor character was your standard hard-nosed, tough, protective, obsessed with honor hero. I loved him. I loved what he brought to the books he was a secondary in. He was so clear. Her writing was *amazing*. You knew the secondaries as well as you knew the hero and heroine. So, each book he becomes more solid, more clear. I’m counting down the characters left till Anchor Hero gets his own book and then… ARE YOU KIDDING ME? He becomes a completely different person (not character change) and ends up with a heroine who would never be with the guy from the first books. I read the first 50 pages disgusted. I jumped 50 to see if we find out something new that makes this makes sense. Nope. I call a friend to ask what they heck? She knows! What the heck?? I skipped to the end. Yeah, nothing makes sense. I go back and reread the earlier books because I KNOW it must be my earlier reading of him that’s skewed. Nope. And so, I gave up on that book and went into the next series a little leery.

      I’m happy to say, there was no further trust breaking from this author, but it was definitely one of those things that made me question if I’d stick with her. There’s a lot of ways to break trust. Listen to your gut, your beta readers and your characters.

5. You Are Not The Only Smart Person Out There

      When I read a book where the author gives me the same information over and over and over again… almost holding up a sign that says “Hey! Idiot! Don’t miss this plot point!” — I eventually put the book down. It obviously wasn’t written for me, a smart person. You know, someone who reads. My brain-ego can only take so much talking down to me before I put the book down. But, not only is it insulting to the reader, it’s distracting. It slows the pace. It stops the story. Don’t do that. Respect the reader’s intelligence, they were smart enough to pick up your book!

6. What Makes A Good Read

      I’ll admit it: I skim.

      Thick description, over-wrought narrative, useless back story. I skim them all. (Also, but this is preference: violence and sex.) If I don’t want to read too much of that stuff, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Here’s a positive author example:

      When I first read Tessa Dare’s first book, Goddess of the Hunt, I stopped reading to get my Critique Partner (I was visiting her for the week at the time) and promptly read the first chapter out loud to her. And then we both read it again. Tessa manages to make every sentence work in two, three, sometimes four different ways. Smart, sharp hardworking lines that told us so much but didn’t make me stop to go “WOW” each time. It wasn’t until I was at the end of the chapter that I realized what I’d just read, how smart it was.

      There is no excuse for long, boring details when we can study and learn how to work a chapter like that.

7. Back Story – Another Reason You’re Not The Only Smart Person Out There & What Makes A Good Read

      One of the things we see a lot of is how much back story and how to do you work it in. Every writer struggles with this in certain times and places. But, as a reader, I’ve seen that there ways to tell us without telling us. One liners that the reader can read into. Every day we meet people and make immediate decisions about that person, the idea that we’re unable to do that with even more information (an entire book) is not only insulting (again) but absurd. Find the middle ground.

8. Be Easy To Find

      There is nothing worse than getting excited about a book/author and not being able to find any of the information you want. Be easy to find to keep people interested in your stories.

9. Be Gracious

      You may have seen my Letter To My Future Successful Self last week. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years – a lot of it (unfortunately) from bad examples. Be gracious, say thank you. I can not stress enough how important this is.

      I read a new author’s book this past month and *loved* it. I follow her on twitter and we have several overlapping friends. I tweeted how great I thought the book was not once, not twice, but three times. Unlike email (which I don’t think there’s a lot of excuse there either, especially at the new author level) a quick “hit reply, type thank you” would have gone a long, long, looooooong way. Her next book, no matter how much I love it, may not get my tweets.

      Word of mouth is vital. Say thank you. Because just as I’ll tell people I love a book, I’ll also mention the tweet story above.

10. Know What You Do Well

      Apparently I’m funny. Um, yeah.

      Anyway, I just read a book where the author decided she wanted to write a funny book. It was *painful*. So, so painful. I could see her working at being funny. The weirdest part? What she typically does in all her other books is so amazingly impressive that it made me a little sad. I wanted that journey she’s so good at and instead I slogged through reading something because she wanted to try something she’s not great at.

      I’m not saying don’t try new things, but definitely work with your strengths. And, sometimes, know when you’re being self-indulgent. Should you write that story anyway? YES! But know when it’s just for you. Don’t harm your brand by putting out something just because you “always wanted to try it.” Do or don’t do. 😉

What’s the best thing you’ve learned from being a reader?

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15 Responses to “What I Learned As A Reader”

  1. cherilaser April 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    Lately, that there are lots of folks out there with great tips and suggestions! –Cheri

  2. Tami April 26, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Amazing, fantastic post. By the end, I was nodding so hard I got dizzy.

    And now I’m going to pick up Goddess of the Hunt. Immediately. ❤

  3. briaq April 26, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    Thanks Cheri (look at me assuming you mean me!) – I’m learning so much, putting everything in “sharable formats” helps me really absorb stuff.

    Tami – I’m so glad you agree. The saddest part of writing this post for me was how many things I learned from NEGATIVE examples. And yes, everything about Tessa Dare is a positive example.

    Dear Lord: May I never be someone’s negative example.

  4. Jess April 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    Things I’ve learned as a READER apply more to the actual writing: I see things I don’t like and know better than to do them in my book. Or I figured out what worked for me, so I learn how to improve element X of the craft. Reading lots of good YA has really helped my pacing and structure in the past few months.

    The things you’ve listed are almost more what you’ve learned as a *fan*. They’re all very true, too. I especially like be gracious and be easy to find.

  5. briaq April 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    LOL Jess – I tried to do 1/2 and 1/2 with the back story and stuff. I feel like, as a writer, if you want a career, we no longer live in the “just write a good book” world – Especially if you’re a genre writer. It’s a total package deal now. I think this is both great, and sometimes, not so great. But, awareness is a huge key.

  6. beth April 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    Whoa. I can’t believe that romance author was so callous!!! I don’t blame you–I would have put her book back on the shelf, too.

    Good stuff here! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  7. briaq April 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    Beth – I think we all have the opportunity to get so caught up in what WE want (and how we want to be seen, yeah, I’m looking at you AGAIN Nicholas Sparks) that we may not realize we’re being insulting and insensitive.

    Or, at least I’m trying to tell myself that 😉

  8. melsmag April 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    Great post. I agree with them all… although I do admit to having a hard time with number 5. With certain little points (but usually that was me adding it in afterward because of comments and confusions). *sigh* sometimes it’s so hard to know just WHEN you need to shine the flashlight on a certain thing or take it off the radar.

    I wholeheartedly agree about #4. But this isn’t just in books it’s in movies… it’s everywhere where I’m left with a dumbfounded look on my face because I just…don’t…get…it. Complete personality changes make me wonder what the heck happened that would have thrown me off so badly. For the most part I’d still read the book, but I’d probably skim.

  9. briaq April 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    So true about #5 – don’t skimp either. I’d rather have to add though, I guess that’s just me. And #4, yeah, especially after you fall in love with a character as they are and then suddenly BAM. If they change for a *reason* – rock on. If that reason is, I don’t know how to write a book (or don’t want to) for them as they stand… booooo!

  10. MG Buehrlen April 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    It’s *very* hard for me to skim. I’m a compulsive re-reader if I miss something. I have to read every sentence. I feel I owe it to the author. Skimming, to me, always made me feel like it was fast food fiction. If I end up skimming, it’s usually b/c I don’t connect with the book and will eventually put it down.

    I find it fascinating how there are so many different types of readers out there. I wonder if there’s a study on it?

  11. briaq April 26, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    I completely know how you feel! I used to never skim. Also, I’d never give up on a book, I’d stay with it till the bitter, bitter……bitter end. And now I’ve decided that, unless there’s something I can learn from a bad book/bad writing, to just stop. There are too many GOOD books… maybe even great books… out there waiting for me to read them. I don’t owe the reader anything actually, the writer (yeah, I’m talking to me here… and maybe Nicholas Sparks again) owes me a well crafted story.

  12. Linda G. April 26, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    Great advice! I especially love #5 & #7 — as a reader, I hate it when a writer assumes I’m too stupid to figure things out for myself.

  13. briaq April 26, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    I’m oddly (not) shocked by that 😉

    You’re blog and tweets are so sharp, I’m not surprised you’re in that camp at all. The funniest thing to me is when you hear back from a beta — you need to make this more clear so that everyone knows exactly XQB. Well, if you knew I meant XQB (and all the other readers did) do we really need to actually say XQB or trust our readers – yeah for smart readers and writers!

  14. Katrina Williams April 26, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    UGH! I am so with you on disavowing a particular genre…that you write. Like it’s shameful or something. It’s insulting to the readers and to the writers.

    As a reader, I’ve learned that I do have a choice what I read, especially as I get older and the day has fewer and fewer hours (or my clocks are all broken. Not sure which is worse LOL). Write something worth reading and people will turn off American Idol or whatever to discover something new and special.

  15. briaq April 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    That is so true Katrina! People are always asking me how I write and still manage to read so much. Two ways: One, yeah, I’m a fast reader, but not insanely so. And 2, I watch AT MOST three hours of tv a week (hello SYTYCD) and a lot of weeks zero.

    When did TV become a priority?

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