Blogger: Michelle Ule
What Writers Can Learn From Kodak
Part 2 of 2
Rachelle Gardner’s excellent blogs earlier this week raised a question in my mind: How does a writer know what readers want and thereby remain marketable?
1. Keep on top of what is selling.
You need to know what readers are purchasing and why. Check on The New York Times Best Seller’s List. How many of the top books have you read, or do you at least know about? Why are they there?
The Help has been made into a movie, Steve Jobs’ biography close to the date he died, Kristin Hannah writes women’s fiction, Heaven is for Real answers a felt need. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–don’t get me started.
Over on Christianbooks.com, the bestsellers list also includes Heaven is for Real, Courageous, Jesus Calling and a biography of Tim Tebow.
Ask yourself why readers are buying these books. How can you position your projects to meet reader needs or interests? (Your books won’t necessarily appeal to readers for the same reason the best-selling books do, but your books must appeal to a significant group of readers.)
2. Be Aware of How Your Reader Has Changed
Readers are google heads these days–their attention span is short, and they’re reading fast. They don’t read the same way they once did, and your writing needs to both recognize that fact and respond to it. That doesn’t mean you have to water down your content; you just need to be careful how you present it.
For example, I rarely write a paragraph more than four or five sentences long, three is best, because the physical act of looking at all those words on a page with no breaks can turn off a reader. While working on manuscripts for our authors, I routinely put in paragraph breaks. I won’t read a page that doesn’t have at least three paragraphs. (This isn’t just a reaction against having to read Ulysses in college . . . )
Depending on the genre, some readers prefer shorter chapters. They probably need more white space on the page. Subheadings, boxes and other visuals serve to keep the attention of readers used to jumping around on web pages.
3. Consider the Reading Medium.
While 75 percent of “books” currently sold in the U.S. are printed on paper, the number is changing rapidly. Publishing analyst Michael Shatzkin believes the percentages will switch within five years until only 20% of books will appear on physical pages. That means in the future, many people will be reading cyber-inked pages on electronic readers. Does that make a difference in how you write or your subject?
If the majority of your readers are teenagers and they’re more likely to read on a smart phone . . . how much material will they read on a smaller screen? Should you consider having auxiliary content like links to websites, trailers, or even photo galleries?
4. Note trends in titles
Look at those best-seller lists again. What types of titles are people using? One syllable? Two word titles beginning with The? Long convoluted titles with subtitles? (This will vary depending on the book’s category–and check out Amazon for the books’ full titles.) Styles come and go even in the title business.
5. Stay in tune with the times.
Novelist Gayle Roper reads People Magazine every week to keep up on current events, entertainment resources and her readers’ potential interests. Googletrends will tell you what people are hunting for on the web at any given hour. This can give you insight into what is important to the world you’re trying to reach with your manuscript.
One businessman I know routinely purchases the latest technological gadget and hands it to his teenager. “I like seeing the creative ways she uses it, and it gives me ideas about businesses I should be investigating.” He recently purchased an i-pad for a four-year-old nephew for the same reason. “I want to know if there’s a market for the interactive kids’ book my friend is writing.”
5.Read and experience entertainment outside your preferred genre.
You need to know what types of stories people are spending their time with. Dystopian novels may not be your interest, but if you’re writing for young adults, you need to know what they’re experiencing in their culture–and it’s probably not Amish fiction.
To creatively address the interests and needs of our society, writers need to know what that culture is.
You can’t be innovative, creative, and cutting edge if you don’t know where or what the edge is.
What am I missing on this list?
What else do writers need to pay attention to?
How do you keep up with culture?
What steps do you think writers need to take to remain marketable in a complex and fast-changing world?