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How reading habits shape the publishing landscape and what authors and...

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

28 Comments

  1. Lia
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 05:52:57

    Well, that’s me belting out ‘Hey ya’ for the rest of the day. And I always change the channel when Maroon 5 comes on, can’t stand the dude’s voice.

    Am currently reading ‘Steal a Plot’ (at 3 euro’s an absolute steal in itself!) and it basically states that their are a certain number of plot motivators and story spicers, and combining these delivers a plot. This fact in itself is not new, but the way it is presented in this book is interesting. Would definitely recommend.

  2. Cara Bristol
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 07:52:02

    So when a reviewer says, “I’ve never read a book like this before,” it’s the kiss of death. This explains why fast food (besides being fast) is so popular. You can walk into any McDonalds and know exactly what you’re going to get.

  3. hapax
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 08:13:43

    This is one of the most cogent and succinct analyses of publishing trends that I have read in many a moon, and believe me I read a LOT of them.

    It makes me think of reading to my children, when they were quite little. Every parent knows the “Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie” routine — the child wants you to read the SAME book, night after night, until just the opening words make your stomach roil.

    Yet we forget what a thrill that is for the very young; every day they are bombarded with new experiences, shake-ups to the familiar: Yesterday was sunny; today there is rain! This morning I ate cereal; but tomorrow it’s scrambled eggs! Last week there were puppies on my television; this week there are kittens!

    It must be an incredibly exciting revelation that no matter how many times Mama reads me THE RUNAWAY BUNNY, the words and pictures stay just the *same*. How magical it is, that something can be fixed and permanent in a world that seems to be always in flux.

  4. carmen webster buxton
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 08:31:08

    This is an excellent illustration of the folly of trade press publishers who think ebooks are the enemy. NOT READING is the enemy!

  5. Shelly
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 08:58:00

    Had a recent discussion with my editor that plays off of this. I was pitching novel ideas to her and even though we both kinda seem to like one idea, she urged me to instead try to shoot more in the vain of the style and type books I’m already writing. Part of me wants to be like a petulant kid and shout “But I don’t wanna do the same thing!” but the other more practical part realizes that readers like sameness and to betray those expectations is folly – at least early in your career. Publishing can include art, but its also a business and most modern businesses include branding. You identify a product with a name like McDonald’s or Apple, just like you identify a certain style of book with an author like Nora Roberts or Dan Brown. As much as readers complain that hate seeing the same books over and over again, as you apply point out, the same books on bestseller lists shows that they seem to be reading the same types of books over and over and over again. It can be very frustrating from an author’s perspective when you want to break out of the box but wonder if the audience is there.

  6. Rashda/Mina Khan (@SpiceBites)
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 09:36:25

    True…but sad.

  7. Helen
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 09:44:13

    This is a bit off topic but I am dying for a new Linnea Sinclair book. She is hands down my favorite scifi romance author. I hope she is still writing, but it seems like forever since she has had a full length book published. I recommended her books to everyone I know. Even people who insist they won’t read sci-fi. I refused to lend them other books until they read one of hers. They all ended up liking her style enough to read the rest of her books.

    I do think that it is very difficult to get readers to try something new. It is like pulling teeth! I read every genre so I can’t understand when someone objects to reading something they have never even tried just because of the genre the book is in.

  8. Jeannie
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 11:21:48

    I’m going to reveal my annoyingly stubborn nature when I admit that every time I read the Outkast example, I think to myself, “But there’s a chance!”

  9. Janine
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 11:37:13

    @Jane

    Fascinating post.

    To really make a sea change in publishing, I think you have to inundate readers with the foreign until it becomes familiar. This means publishing not just one book but a slew of them until that thing that is unfamiliar becomes ordinary, or in other terms, oversaturated.

    Yeah, but what is to motivate publishers to do something like this? If publisher A tries it, publisher B may continue selling the genres that have traditionally sold well and in so doing, win some of publisher A’s market share while publisher A is taking that risk.

    @hapax: Great comment. It’s depressing from the perspective of an experienced reader who doesn’t necessarily want a steady diet of same old same old.

  10. Laura Florand
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 11:49:10

    I wonder if Jeannie Lin has talked about this much or would care to comment? Her books are so amazing, and yet I had the impression that it was an uphill battle to convince readers to try them? I don’t know this for sure, but seem to remember seeing comments from her about that. And how has Harlequin gone about wooing those readers? And by readers in this case, I don’t necessarily mean reviewers who tend to be eager for something new and very exploratory in their tastes, but the more casual reader, who might read fewer than 50 books a year. (Already a huge number of books, really, for most people. A book a week.)

  11. lawless
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 12:52:20

    Because even while we readers cry that we want something fresh and different, we want it to be fresh, different and, yet, familiar.

    So true. However, given the risk/reward calculation, I do not envision the big publishers (or even many publishers) going the route you suggest. If anything, this seems to be what self-publishing and indie/small/genre press publishing is for (I’m including Harlequin in genre publishing), with the Big Six (or however many of them there are) only stumbling onto such things accidentally.

    The same is even more true of movies, where the indie movement has shrunk and the cost of entry makes the equivalent of self-publishing a full-length movie close to impossible for an outsider.

    I’d love to see some movement on the demand side, but I cannot think of an effective and positive way of convincing more people to put their money where their mouth is and try something different, even if only once in a while. Anyone have any ideas?

  12. lawless
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 12:56:47

    @Laura Florand – All I can say is that I live in an ethnically diverse town in northern NJ/NYC metro area, and my local library does not have anything of Jeannie Lin’s available in any format. (For whatever it’s worth, they don’t have anything by Meljean Brook, either.)

  13. Kay Sisk
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 13:27:09

    The very romance-savvy librarian in the next small town from ours has concocted a “blind date with a book” program for this summer. She wraps the books up so only the checkout info is visible for her computer. She puts the genre and level (YA, Adult) on the wrapper and more or less dares her patrons to pick up an unknown book and give it a try. Most of those that do come back for another by the same author, this time picking off the shelves.

    She does, however, have people who ask, “What if I don’t like it?” as if they were buying it. Uh… put it in the return box?

    @hapax: Thank you so much for the comment about rereading the same book over and over to your children. I wish I’d had this insight 30 years ago. I’ll pass it along to those children, now fathers.

  14. Laura Florand
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 14:08:09

    @lawless: You should start a campaign. :) Did you ask them about it? Some of the libraries I’ve given talks at are very responsive to reader requests, so it’s a good way to get a favorite author on the shelves. Very sad for so many people to miss Jeannie & Meljean’s books.

  15. Tasha Turner
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 14:13:17

    Interesting. I was once a harlequin historical & regency reader until 2 things happened

    1. They added more sex to the books
    2. I really did get tired of the sexist formula after 15-20 years

    I now read among many genres to keep myself from getting too bored by “the same thing”. But I do see people asking for recommendations and listing what they like which are all variations of the same.

    Interesting post and lots of food for thought.

  16. Stephanie C
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 15:01:17

    After the first album I would change the station on Maroon 5 because the song would just be boring but a couple of months later I would be singing along. It drives me carzy!

  17. Jenny
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 15:25:14

    My sister read somewhere that after 7 listens you will begin to like a song that you didn’t previously like. I’m not sure if it’s true all the time for me, but it has happened that a song grows on me. Some songs I hate immediately and never grow to like even though I hear them all the time, but in a lot of cases the more I hear it the more I like it.

    I’m not sure that the same is true for books. I do sometimes seek out books with tropes I know I enjoy, but sometimes I pick up certain books because they are so out of the norm of what I would usually read.

  18. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 17:44:53

    This is a fascinating post. Much fodder for thought. Thanks, Jane.

  19. cleo
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 18:14:11

    This is so interesting. I think this may be why category romances can have more diverse characters and settings than stand alones – because the novelty is wrapped up in a familiar package. I’m not a big category reader but I’ve read quite a few over the past 20 years and I’m pretty sure I read the following firsts in romance in categories – African American heroine, main character with PTSD, Australian setting, New Zealand setting, etc – I’m sure there are more firsts if I could only remember them all.

    And the Hey Ya example also gives me hope that other new things can be successful. I think are other examples of this – didn’t Seinfeld fail all the focus groups because it was too different from what was on tv at the time? And irrc the Sony Walkman also didn’t do well with focus groups because it was too different.

    ETA – seems like one thing my examples have in common with Hey Ya is that someone believed in them enough to take a chance in producing them. I don’t know how Seinfeld and the Walkman found their markets, so I don’t know if there’s a common thread in the marketing too.

  20. Fiona McGier
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 18:24:50

    This explains why even though I DETEST the music that plays in the retail store that I slave away in, sometimes songs will start playing in my head like the brain-worms they are, and I’ll have to take drastic action to banish them! Years ago as a kid, I figured out that if I memorized every note of a favorite song, I could use that to get rid of ones I didn’t like, by concentrating fully on every note, every breath the singer takes. It usually works. But sometimes I have to put my earbuds in and blast some industrial rock to clear my head!

    I really wish my muse would present me with the tropes that are popular. I’m still waiting for “the strong, alpha female who falls for the beta male who has to convince her they’re meant to be together for more than just hot sex”, to become the star of a popular trope…then I’ll be all over that!

  21. Hmm, an uphill struggle for me then… | Margaret Skea, Author
    Aug 07, 2013 @ 15:00:25

  22. Emma
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 13:15:52

    This is an excellent post, though sad for those who write things that are “different” from the norm. I was thinking about it in the car today when “Blurred Lines” came on. The song has been bombarding me all summer and I had been resisting, but suddenly I found myself singing along. It was such a perfect illustration this concept and so aggravating at the same time to realize that no, I’m not “special” and fit into the same psychologically predictable patterns as most people. (And for the record, I’m still totally humming Robin Thicke. “Everybody get up.” Argg.)

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  28. Martine
    Apr 12, 2014 @ 01:22:37

    Actually, I think the problem is that this generation is obsessed with “originality”. Shakespeare stole his plots from historical writers. That doesn’t mean his works are not original. Tropes are there because they are a part of the writing craft. They are actually more complex and necessary then readers realize, I think. The trick is to write something that is good, not something that is unheard of. Not to mention that I don’t think much of uncredited surveys. However, one thing I really am sick of are the post Buffy fantasy heroines. THAT really is a little silly. I walk by that section in book stores, and see dozens of these women with their tough-girl glares sneering at me from the book jackets. And every one has the blurb describing so and so as a smart, sassy, spirited ….and unique heroine. Its very funny.

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