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Changing Readers Habits, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the power of comfort and habit when it came to readers’ buying practices.  There was some perception, due to my inelegant writing, that I thought that a) the market of books wouldn’t change and b) that I didn’t want to it change. Au contraire my dear readers. (I’ve always wanted to say that in real life but have never had the opportunity.)

Market change is already occurring.  The recent spate of self published successes have a lot in common. Not only are the protagonists fairly young – often in their late teens to early twenties – but the stories are told primarily in the first person and often in the first person present tense.  Think back a few years.  First person narratives were not sellable. No one wanted them. Not editors, not agents, not readers. Anna Campbell has a wonderful article here about the varying points of view used in romance novels but in 2009 when the article was published Campbell acknowledges the primary point of view in romances is third person, likely close point of view, as she terms it. (Another good POV post is by Chuck Wendig)

According to Heroes and Heartbreakers, “Elizabeth Mansfield acknowledged in an AAR interview in 2001 that editors discouraged first-person point of view because they believed readers disliked it, an assumption Mansfield found supported by many of her readers who confessed they found first person POV ‘distracting.'”

In this Amazon thread from 2011, an aspiring writer asks whether she should change her POV from first person to third and readers generally agree that they prefer not to read first person.

A popular series by Kelli Maine was even in second person (which is as crazy as it sounds and not something I could get into but thousands of other readers loved the series and Maine was eventually picked up by Forever).  Today a book can be in any tense and readers aren’t dismissing it out of hand. But this change happened primarily in the last year or so.   Whether the change occurred because of Twilight which used first person or whether it is because there has been a rise in pulled to publish fan fiction which is often told in first person, the fact is that first person narration is as popular today as it ever was and that is a turnabout that has happened quickly.

Another quick POV shift that is occurring is the dual POV.  I think this has to do with the fact that many readers want inside the male character’s heads but want to enjoy the POV shifts inside one novel (rather than having to read a companion novel).  When we discussed point of view in 2009 here at Dear Author, it was the general consensus that we want the male POV, no matter the tense or point of view used.

Readers who came to the genre via 50 Shades may not realize that male POV was a thing until they started reading more traditionally published romance. Now you see these same readers say that dual POVs are their favorite way of storytelling. And here’s the tie in to Charles’ Duhigg’s piece.  There are so many stories with first person point of view right now, you can barely find a contemporary told in third person. Another shift.

The fact is with publishing is that change happens and with self publishing such a predominant player, change is happening at an accelerated wait.  The current spate of books not working for you? Wait six months. Something else is hot.  It only takes one or two big success of something different to jump start the writing of others.  Just a few years ago, Sarah Wendell and I were banging are drums for more contemporaries and now we’re swimming in them.

Another article I wrote that ruffled a huge amount of feathers was my call to let the historical genre as we now know it die because the sameness of the genre was killing me. I’d read a decade of regency romances and couldn’t bear another decade of the same. But there are authors and publishers who are seeking to push the envelope.  Harlequin has gotten behind Jeannie Lin. I’ve heard that both traditionally published and self published westerns are selling in solid numbers.  Willow Aster, a self published success of the True Love Story, just released In The Fields, an interracial romance taking place in the 1970s.

Change happens a lot in publishing when one fearless author takes a chance of publishing something outside the norm.  Colleen Hoover wrote  a book with slam poetry in Slammed. Tracey Garvis Graves published a book featuring a far young man and a woman over a decade his senior, surviving on a deserted island and falling in love On The Island. Today’s release from Graves is about emotional infidelity in Covet.  And while infidelity stories used to be verboten no one can argue with the success of the S.C. Stephens’ Thoughtless trilogy or Molly McAdams’ Taking Chances.  Neither books were to my taste, but they appealed to hundreds of thousands of others.

My point?  There’s an audience for nearly every type of story. It sometimes takes only one author to make that shift.  One author who seizes the hearts and minds of readers and who inspires others. And yes, that one author’s story becomes stale in the retelling.  And readers are ready for another new and bright and shiny thing.  The pace of that the market turns is faster now because of the huge catalog of books available for readers.  That might mean that the market shrinks for individual author but it might also mean that it is more stable as readers begin to gravitate toward comfort reads that they didn’t know existed.

For readers, while it is almost as hard for us to be brave, if authors are going to write without limits, shouldn’t we try to read without limits? Try it, and in the words of Yo Gabba Gabba, you might like it. ;)

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Ros
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 05:47:37

    “Today a book can be in any tense and readers aren’t dismissing it out of hand.”

    Present and simple past. I’ve yet to read or hear of a book written in the future tense or the pluperfect, for example.

  2. HelenB
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 06:00:17

    Quote “The study of modern languages has been greatly influenced by the grammar of these languages (latin and Ancient Creek), seeing that the early grammarians, often monks, had no other reference point to describe their language. Latin terminology is often used to describe modern languages, at times erroneously, as in the application of the term “pluperfect” to the English “past perfect”, the application of “perfect” to what in English more often than not is not “perfective”, or where the German simple and perfect pasts are called respectively “Imperfektum” and “Perfektum”, despite the fact that neither has any real relationship to the aspects implied by the use of the Latin terms.”

    Now my brain hurts.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 06:35:23

    I sold the first Richard and Rose book in 2002. It’s a series, featuring the same couple at the centre of each book and it’s set in the mid-eighteenth century, so not Regency. It’s also written in the first person. Samhain believed in it and gave it a new lease of life and it’s sold well ever since. It was a killer to write, because first person isn’t usually my thing, but this series couldn’t be written any other way. I know, because editors asked me to try. I had lots of “if only this was in the third person we’ll take it” from editors at big publishing houses and agents, but when I tried, the books just died on me. Rose had to tell the stories or she wasn’t playing.
    So does that make me a pioneer?
    If an author has problems with point of view, one of the techniques taught is to write in the first person, then “transpose” to third. Deep third, which is first person in third, if you see what I mean (think early Brockmann and Howard) has always been popular.

    Historical romance, I agree with you. I hardly read any any more. I think it’s because historical accuracy went completely by the board. The Regency of many Regency romances bears only a glancing resemblance to the real thing. So with the backgrounds flat, the characters and stories were often flat, too. But I stopped talking about it because obviously the books were selling by the thousand and I was out of step. Somebody liked them and who was I to upset the boat? I just stopped reading them. Even some of my favourite authors got blanded out.
    I’ve just sold a new historical paranormal series to Samhain so maybe this is the start of a new trend!

  4. Heather Massey
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 07:26:16

    >readers begin to gravitate toward comfort reads that they didn’t know existed.

    When I read that sentence, I couldn’t help but think how technology has helped niche genres become more accessible. I will forever be in awe of that phenomenon. And as a fan of the niche, I’m also grateful because it’s meant more choices (and far more affordable choices) for me.

    >shouldn’t we try to read without limits?

    Between this observation and your ones from Part I, I’ve been pondering the concept of readers becoming more proactive in seeking out book (and movie and TV shows) options more suited to their individual tastes, as opposed to passively consuming products dropped into their laps by corporations with the most money. Why do we place so much trust in these companies to meet our every entertainment need?

    I’ve always been willing to make the extra effort to seek out niche stories in various mediums (and once upon a time was shocked to learn they even existed), but in the past it usually involved a lot of effort, patience, money, and waiting. I can understand why many consumers would be reluctant to take extra steps, especially if one is busy with work, kids, etc. Convenience is a strong consideration for many folks (i.e., it’s easier to choose a book from the top three featured via a marketing arrangement rather than a list of 100).

    But now, with more choices available as well as various ways to procure different stories, it seems to me that a new(ish) consumer skill set is in order. We’re no longer in an era of three or four TV networks and a handful of terrestrial radio stations. Barring real life time constraints, there are many, many different types of books, films, and TV shows one can take advantage of, not to mention ones far more tailored to individual taste.

    For me, embarking on a path of entertainment discovery is a true adventure. I can’t help but think many folks are missing out on that kind of fun if they don’t adapt. So yeah, I’m of the belief we should question the status quo and re-frame our approach to reading as a “no limits” scenario. And the convenient, making-life-easier choices would still be around if we need them.

  5. Amanda
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 08:26:09

    I never disliked first person POV, really did not think about it much, but now I find that I prefer it.

    I am wary of the trend in the guys POV of the same story in a separate book. While I have enjoyed the Curran POV’s from the Kate Daniels series I have not enjoyed this technique with other series. In fact Travis’s POV from the Beautiful Disaster series actually took away some of my enjoyment of the first book.

  6. DS
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 08:38:40

    Once upon a time, 1st person was the usual choice of romantic suspense authors. Rebecca for one, then a lot by Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and probably hordes whose names and books I have forgotten. Sometimes when I don’t have any thing else to think about I wonder why the shift to 3rd person, but I can’t think of anything it really correlates with because I never heard anyone complain until I started to hang out on listservs with other readers.

  7. SAO
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 08:39:42

    @ Heather
    You’re talking about the Long Tail. It was a book by the editor of Wired. Well, really an article, but to cash in, he had to make it into a book. The long tail theory is that you have a curve, on y axis of units and an X axis of sales ranking. Your bestsellers are at the top left and you have a tail that goes out to the 100,000 ranked item, which sells one copy. His observation is that you can make a lot of money selling a few copies of a huge inventory.

    The next observation was that in this tail, you have a ton of genres and sub-genres. How does Loretta Chase compare to Lee Child is maybe not a very interesting question, because they might not have a huge overlap of audience. But how Loretta Chase compares to Lynn Connelly, might be a useful question.

    He wrote the book using music examples, because it was before Amazon really got the Kindle going and ignited digital books, but it’s the same phenomenon.

  8. Heather Massey
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 08:58:41


    Thanks for bringing that up! I’d forgotten about his book despite having blogged about it at length in 2009. D’oh! Yes, the long tail. Exactly.

  9. JL
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 09:04:17

    Maybe it is because I am primarily a UF reader, but I certainly prefer first person. I always feel like a weirdo in these discussions because everything seems to fly right over my head. I love the intimacy of the first person experience and I have no idea why people dislike it so much. Kristan Higgans, who is very hit and miss for me, writes first person contemporary romances. It was a bit jarring at first, simply because it is unusual, but I really like it. It makes the whole ‘does he like me or not?’ angst much more believable. IIRC, Cara Mckenna writes in first person for her erotica, and I really enjoyed that, too. I’ve been re-reading Hard Evidence by Pamela Clare, and I think it’s a good example of when third person doesn’t work for me. The female protag, a journalist, is so convinced the crime she’s looking into is gang-related when the reader and the male protag knows that’s not the case. It’s frustrating to watch her go round in circles when the readers knows more than the protagonist. That being said, Pamela Clare is generally awesome and this is her weakest book of her I-Team series.

  10. library addict
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 10:05:01

    First person POV and books written in the third person but only about the heroine’s side of things were basically all that was available back when I started reading romance.

    I read enough books back then where the hero treats the heroine like dirt through the whole story and we get a 1 or 2 page confession at the end explaining his actions and how it was all because he was really in love with her. All is forgiven, HEA. So while there are a few authors and tropes I will read in first person I much prefer third person and getting the hero’s POV throughout the story.

    I think the overwhelming use of first person in YA/NA is one of the reasons many of those novels haven’t worked for me. But it is more that the stories just didn’t work for me so I tar most first person books with the same brush. Maybe that’s unfair of me but between my experiences with it all those years ago and more currently with the new trend there aren’t all that many first person POV books on my keeper shelf.

    As for being brave, I’m probably not as willing to read outside my comfort zone as I was in the past. But on the flipside my comfort zone has been developed over decades and it became my comfort zone for a reason. Infidelity is not a trope that works for me. Except in rare instances as there are a few of those books on my keeper shelf as well. I always say I don’t like secret babies, but I have a lot of them on my keeper shelf. I just usually don’t buy the heroine’s reasons for keeping the baby a secret so the book automatically starts out in the negative for me and it takes a lot to move it over the line into the keeper zone.

    I think I will follow a trusted author into unliked territory. But unless a book comes highly recommended by one or more readers I trust, I wouldn’t read a book with tropes I dislike by a new to me author no matter how many raves it was getting.

  11. Darlynne
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 11:38:27

    My lifelong love of first person is only a close second to first person present tense. SF and crime fiction lend themselves so well to this because of the immediacy it adds to the plot and the character’s thoughts. Ann Aguirre does it brilliantly and Ben Winter’s THE LAST POL ICEMAN series almost requires it in its world-ending intensity.

    I love the idea of “new” and its cousin “different,” a close relative of “quirky.” They’re what led me to Jonathan Lethem, Jasper Fforde, Christopher Moore, Graham Rawle’s “lost consonants.” Amazingly, different in these cases didn’t turn into gimmicks or one-hit wonders. Taking a chance, as these writers do with every break from the gate, has defined what I read in the most unexpected and welcome ways.

  12. hapax
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 13:41:53

    @Ros: “I’ve yet to read or hear of a book written in the future tense or the pluperfect, for example”

    A challenge! I’ve written a short story in the second person — it pretty much required it. I’ve got one noodling about that might just work in the future tense…

    Don’t we have Stephenie Meyer to blame for the “separate book telling the same story from the hero’s POV”? (Along with so many other things) I’ve still got the first few chapters of Midnight Sun kicking around somewhere — I actually liked it better than Twilight, since it made it much more clear what a pompous tool Edward was.

    @libraryaddict: “I read enough books back then where the hero treats the heroine like dirt through the whole story and we get a 1 or 2 page confession at the end explaining his actions and how it was all because he was really in love with her”

    I rather liked those, because in the hands of a skillful author, the reader could pick up all the subtle clues the irresistibly modest heroine missed. It was rather like Watson’s POV in the Sherlock Holmes stories. :-)

    Nonetheless, it takes positively brilliant writing (oh, say, the level of Mary Stewart’s Touch Not The Cat) to really sell me on a first person story.

  13. Fiona McGier
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 16:34:06

    Still not sold on first-person in romances. I really dislike reading only one person’s thoughts, which is why I stopped reading romances back in the day–I was tired of only knowing what the heroine thought. Once I began to read the more current romances, and I got to know what was going on in the heads of the heroes as well, I was once again hooked. And I don’t like only knowing what the heroine does. I like knowing how the others around her are thinking or talking about her. I think it makes for a fuller, more well-rounded reading experience.

  14. Jamie Beck
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 18:13:38

    I’ve never refrained from/discriminated against buying a book based on the POV, but suppose I do prefer third person/alternating H/H. I read mostly romance, and within that genre I enjoy contemporary, historical, paranormal, and suspense. I tend to rotate through those subs hoping not to ‘burn’ out in any one category because, as others noted, after a while, the stories within each can start to feel predictable or repetitive.

    I do find the sheer volume of books available now to be overwhelming (as Heather said, it is easier to pick from the top sellers than to look at a huge list of titles). I basically scan the blurb and, if it intrigues me, I’ll download the sample chapters. I probably end up buying the full book 70% of the time. Sometimes I’ll go straight to “buy” if I see b+ reviews from several established review/blog sites.

    The only real turn-off I have is the overly snarky and “big chip on her shoulder” heroines. I know a lot of people love those kinds of books, but I find myself questioning why the hero would be attracted to someone so antagonistic, so I avoid those stories even when I love the author’s other work. But that kind of subjectivity is what makes this topic so interesting and impossible to predict, right?

    I’m glad I’m not an agent or editor, because I can’t imagine trying to make the decision about what will sell and what will not, or predict the next big thing. Then again, if there is an audience for every type of story (which I agree with Jane is true), maybe the tougher and more critical job is simply figuring out how to reach the book’s target market. I’m not very tech savvy, but I suspect all the data-mining and digital footprints we leave behind with each book we purchase and rate will make that job easier and easier too.

  15. MikiS
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 23:16:27

    I cannot stomach present tense. I think it sounds like teenagers at the mall.

    “So, I go to the shop and, like, try on this dress…”
    “…then, like, the saleslady comes over and acts like I’m trying to steal something!”

    Gak. I just can’t stand it.

  16. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Does linkity really even need a title?
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 02:05:05

    […] More from Dear Author on the changing habits of readers. […]

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