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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Authors Should Not Know That Much About Their Readers

Posted by on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 7:48 AM

NPR reports that e-booksellers are allowing writers to see what parts of e-books readers are responding to. They talked with a couple of novelists about this idea, including Seattle's own Jonathan Evison:

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about the reader all the time. I always think about the reader," says Evison. "I'm trying to create an effect for the reader, and sort of engage them in a sort of collaborative dance ... But I'm still trying to be the leader...Moby Dick is one of my favorite books, but let's face it — it's a hot mess," says Evison. "If I had software that said, 'Look, maybe this four-page essay on scrimshaw isn't gonna fly with your 28 to 40 male [demographic],' what would we have lost with that? Sometimes, you know, it's just got to be a little bit of a dictatorship."

Evison doesn't speak for every author when he says he thinks about the reader all the time; I think as a rule of thumb, the more literary an author gets, the less likely they're willing to admit to that. And I'm sure that one day, there will be another distinction between the commercial authors who admit to tailoring their books to market research, and those who don't.

 

Comments (7) RSS

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1
I disagree. I think all writers should keep their audience in mind.
Posted by Charlie Mas on January 31, 2013 at 8:38 AM · Report this
Jeffrey in Chicago 2
Sounds like Basil Valentine's "novel factories" in The Recognitions. Also, I found Evison is a genuine asshole in person.
Posted by Jeffrey in Chicago http://www.somethingawful.com/flash/shmorky/babby.swf on January 31, 2013 at 8:41 AM · Report this
pfffter 3
There is a whole school of literary criticism built around the idea of the importance of the engagement of the reader with the text -- reader response theory, some of the big guns being Stanley Fish and Roland Barthes.

I don't see how this really alters any kind of literary landscape to be honest. Nothing to see here.
Posted by pfffter on January 31, 2013 at 9:01 AM · Report this
treacle 4
It's just like music: you can use statistics and research to craft the perfect hooky bubblegum pop song (eg. "Call Me Maybe"), or you can just create good and compelling music that means something (eg. Peter Gabriel). So what? We get 50 Shades of Boring Sex and we get Moby Dick or Infinite Jest, there's room for all, I would think.

Look, computers are going to be writing novels here pretty soon, within our lifetime probably. The news almost certainly will be. Will you be out of a job? No, because there will be interesting stuff written by humans to review, forever. The schlock will go on the Kindle e-reader, and the good stuff will actually get published in bound books. Probably.
Posted by treacle on January 31, 2013 at 10:12 AM · Report this
5
This reminds me of Komar and Melamid's "Most Wanted Painting" project. Writers learn about what their readers want by being readers themselves and reading a lot. I don't think it's "unliterary" to care about the reader's experience, and in fact that's what writing is, really. The reader you're satisfying first is yourself. You're writing the book you want to be reading. And your taste arises from everything you've ever read.
Posted by Ryan Boudinot on January 31, 2013 at 10:29 AM · Report this
6
Paul just hates amazon and the kindle. There is no story here.
Posted by reads books and tablets on January 31, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Report this
biffp 7
Everything should not be by referendum. Most people don't know shit about literature, and making it more palpable for today's audience is not going to increase a book's relevanace and lasting impact. It's the fucking Marketing department that thinks this is a good idea, and after the HR department they are the stupidest people in every company.
Posted by biffp on January 31, 2013 at 1:40 PM · Report this

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