As I was plodding through my editor’s comments on the manuscript she’d returned to me for revision, I couldn’t help but think about those comments in regard to those who might read the book, and it got me to thinking about books and readers in another light.

Certainly, people read fiction for different reasons, but primarily for escape or enjoyment, I’d guess, unless they’re critics, editors, reviewers, or agents… or possibly other writers. I read some books primarily to find out about how that author writes, and I may enjoy or escape into them, but that wasn’t why I picked up those books or loaded them onto my Kindle.

But those are reasons why, and whatever the reason why might be, it doesn’t address how individuals actually read. Does an individual attack the book as though the book represented a track to be sprinted through to get to the end as fast as possible? Or does a reader approach it like a snack, reading it a bit at a time as if between meals, just for a taste at any one time? Or does a reader sink into the book, enjoying every word and phrase, letting the book carry him or her along, not worrying about the pace? Or is the reader an analyst, trying to figure out what’s going to happen, why the author did or didn’t do something, pouncing on every typo as an indication of someone’s fault? Or perhaps the reader’s the type who seeks action or significant revelation every few pages.

Now, obviously, most readers have a bit of all of the “types” I’ve listed, as well as other reading preferences and characteristics, but I’d guess that in every reader, one of those “types” predominates more than others, sometimes varying by their mood and the book they’re reading.

But when a writer does something different, such as adopting more intricate internal structures and more measured pacing, readers who are used to something sparer or faster-paced often get angry or claim such a book is a failure, even when it’s well-written. The same often happens if a thriller writer attempts something more measured and detailed. That’s one reason why the traditional publishers often insist that authors adopt a different pen name for work that’s more than marginally different.

Readers aren’t all the same, and even the same reader can read in different ways depending on many factors. Yet some publishers – and even some readers – seem to think that writers should deliver every book the same way. I’m very fortunate my publisher isn’t one of them.

7 thoughts on “Readers”

  1. M Kilian says:

    I’m glad your publisher doesn’t look for the lowest common denominator in the market either. I enjoy books that make me think, challenge my current way of thinking, and lends to me the ability to entertain alternative worlds and scenarios.

    Fantasy, whether science or no, helps deliver this, but one thing I really appreciate about your books is that they’re still human. Human in that they seem to capture just how complex human interaction can be, and how inexorable time’s effect on our history, present and future is, despite our best efforts.

    It might not be a household items for the masses after the next fad in text, but it’s still worth money to people who care about things that matter beyond the price tag.

  2. William F McKissack says:

    The publishers want a specific brand to market to. As pointed out, fast paced or very descriptive are examples of this. Though it seems like they are marketing as though books are fast food and in some genres that may be true. But science fiction and fantasy that makes you think are more like a gourmet meal. Your underlying discussions of government and power are consistent themes throughout your works and could be your brand though I am sure that is hard to market. If more people had at least thought about the issues you raise, we would be in better shape as a country.

  3. Tom says:

    I was on a long flight and so I looked for something to read. The first one of your books was chosen because although it described you as a fantasy writer the story line seemed interesting SF. Since then I have tracked down everything I could of what you admit to have written (still have not found you’re original poems).

    So … how individuals actually read.

    I read your books primarily because you write in a style that makes me feel good. The choice of what you write about quickly became irrelevant. I do not agree with all your opinions. I spent a lot of time re-reading your ghost series and arguing (with you) about your opinion about students and teachers and their individual responsibilities. This increased my interest in what you write about, rather than diminished it. Mostly I read your books twice: the first time as if dying from thirst, the second read to indulge in the matters brought up for meditation. So for me it really is irrelevant what you chose to write about, nor does the form matter; short story, novel, poem or blog.

    I follow only three current authors of fiction and each has a very different writing style so my reading is also different. One I have to mentally prepare to be persistent with because I know I will be glad that I read the book by the end. A second author I know I have to pay attention from the first paragraph because the clues start then. You are my third author and the one I just enjoy.

  4. Matthew David Runyon says:

    I have to say that I read your books because they make me think of things in our world in ways I never would have otherwise. I also enjoy seeing magic subjected to all the pressures of economics and scientific approaches and the like, and my favourite books are the ones with protagonists that are…Well, like me. Bookish and crafting sorts who, had circumstances been different, might have happily just enjoyed working on their field.

    Dorrin, for instance, is one of my favourite characters of all time, and has been very inspiring in my professional life.

  5. John Mai says:

    I have such an eclectic taste in books that I’d have to say how I read a book depends on the story. Some are sheer mind candy that get devoured in a gulp and are forgotten, others make me think and read more carefully. (many of your books fall into that category.)Yet others are analyzed, cross referenced, and dissected like a frog on a tray. *shrug* I’m weird.

  6. John Prigent says:

    I read whatever appeals to me. Your Recluse tales, for instance, because of the way your characters develop. I buy other authors’ works or similar reasons – character development, ‘world’ development, or just an exciting story that sucks me in after a few pages. But what I find odd is that an author can thrill me with a series but then change genre or setting ans simply fail to impress me. And I do get tired of themes that are overblown – there’s been a fad for post-apocalyptic stories but I find most of them too similar to be worth bothering with.

  7. Daze says:

    SF&F isn’t the only field where this dichotomy/problem emerges, applies to crime fiction as well, and no doubt other genres. I’ve just finished the weight-bearing exercise of reading Jo Rowling’s 930-page Troubled Blood for the second time, because I needed to check through all of the complexities of clues, and the way that characters are developed (well beyond the TV adaptations of the earlier Strike books). I then read a review of the book that marked it down because the characters were never in jeopardy. What? Good detective work doesn’t involve being in danger – anyone who pursues the murder suspect alone into a dark building without telling anyone else might as well put on a red shirt before beaming down to the planet.

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