Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baseball Teams and Breakout Novels

Welcome, author Drue Allen, who's patiently awaiting the upcoming release of her debut novel. Today she's got some fascinating insights into our future readership. She's included a video clip, and I encourage you to watch it. And that's saying a lot, because my normal tolerance for clips is in the 2 minute range, and this one runs five. And be sure to leave a comment, because Drue's offering a great prize to one lucky commenter.

Tomorrow’s Readers

What do baseball teams and breakout novels have in common?

I’ve become something of a baseball fan recently—and not ONLY because the Texas Rangers are in the pennant race. It’s exciting to hear the crack of the bat, sit in the stands and cheer, watch the fireworks each time Michael Young smashes a homerun.

Writing is a little like baseball. You want to hit one out of the ballpark, but doing so requires focus and determination. In truth it probably requires more than merely writing an excellent book. We also need to know what TOMORROW’s readers will want to read.

How much time do you think passes by the time I write an 80,000 word manuscript, send it to my agent, she sends it to a few publishers, they get in a bidding war over it, a contract is signed, and I’m given a slot? I’m a quick writer—some people say I’m obsessive-compulsive, but I find that terminology harsh. Best case scenario for me is six months to write, then another six months from agent through contract negotiations. At that point we can tack on another twelve to eighteen months for production before the book actually appears on a shelf—if things go well.

So when I open up a brand new document, as I did last week, and begin a sparkling new story—I need to envision what readers will want to read two to three years from now. What will seem fresh and exciting to them?

Keep Reading...

Have I mentioned that writing rocks? It certainly does. I love it, and I’m awed by the entire process.

This idea of envisioning what my reader will want to read in two to three years is a bit daunting though. Some days I feel as if I’m attempting to write science fiction. The enormity of this task was brought home to me this week when I was directed to the following video.

It’s entitled “Did You Know?” I’ve watched it five times now, and I’m still fascinated. Researched and designed by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Brenman, I believe there’s something there for most everyone—but certainly for anyone trying to communicate. To date, it’s received over 2 million views on youtube. So even though it wasn’t designed for writers, I think it bears a little attention in this discussion.

Part of our job includes envisioning our audience. I write romantic suspense, a wonderful blended genre—and one that is constantly changing, both in content and in readership. As I watched the video, quite a few items jumped out at me (and the song is catchy too). For instance, I learned—
• China will soon be the #1 English speaking country in the world
• 1 of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met on-line
• There are over 200 million registered users on MySpace
• There are approximately 540,000 words in the English language today, five times as many as there were during Shakespeare’s time

WOW! Each one of those facts astound me, and they each change the picture in my head when I envision my reader and my novel which will appear on the shelf in two years. (Okay, maybe not the last fact, but it is very cool and gives me pause each time I choose a word.)

I also think Fisch/McLeod/Brenman do well when they end their video with “So What Does It Mean?” They don’t even attempt to interpret their findings, but rather leave it to their viewers.

So how did I interpret what I saw? I immediately started thinking about my readers . . . the ones in 2012. The ones who will be reading the book I just started writing. The video reminded me that instead of becoming caught up in minutia such as whether my book will appear in hardback, paperback, ebook, Kindle, or on someone’s IPhone . . . perhaps a wiser use of my time would be to spend it considering my reader’s background. What do they consider a romantic gesture? Will they recognize my male lead as heroic? Can they buy into the basic premise I’ve so carefully laid down on page one and will it thrill them in the way I intended?

I believe romance in its truest form doesn’t change. When you strip away the trappings of our time—technological and societal—romance remains the same. I teach collegiate age young adults, and they still love a good story. The question for me is whether as a writer I have the ability to catch and hold their attention long enough to place my tale of love in their hearts and minds.

As authors, when we do that, we’ll have earned ourselves loyal readers. Kind of like true baseball fans—ones who stick with their teams through good seasons and bad.

I’m interested though. What do you think of when you picture TOMORROW’s readers? Are they different from today’s readers, or pretty much the same? Does technology change our conception of romance? Leave me a comment here on Terry’s Place, and I’ll pull a random name and send you a small Texas package. I’ll even be sure to include a Texas Ranger souvenir. Winner will be announce here on Thursday, so remember to check back! (Note: Drue will be at work, where she can't access the blog, but she'll respond to comments as soon as she gets home.)

Drue Allen’s debut novel, The Cost of Love, will be published by Five Star Press in March, 2010. For more details visit her at http://drueallen.com.


Carla Buckley said...

Hi Drue--

What a fantastic post (I especially loved the video--my viewing time's about two minutes as well, Terry, but this proved the exception.) I think you raise an interesting point, Drue, and one all writers should think about: what will be current and fresh and interesting when our books actually hit the shelf (where's my Magic 8 ball when I need it?) Congratulations going forward with your debut novel, Drue, and writing the next one, and the one after that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Terry, for having me here at your place! I promo'd this blog a bit on FB last night, and ALREADY pp were arguing with me (imagine that) - esp about China being the largest English speaking country.

I did research the video before I posted it, and I believe they did their homework. IMO, it's a numbers game. But regardless which country has THE MOST English speakers. . . it's a little mindboggling all the same--and certainly can expand our markets if you're a writer. Or a baseball team? : )

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Carla.
And if you find that Magic 8 ball, share it. I'll send WAY more than hot sauce and Rangers' stuff. : )

Andrew Peterson said...

Nice job Drue. As authors, we have to stay competive with the electronic rage sweeping he world. I used to frown on e-books, Kindle and such, but not anymore.

I've had to really cut back on "social networking." For me, it eats up too much time. I think there's a difference between social networking and marketing.

I enjoyed the post. A big thank you to you and Terry O.

Jennie Bentley said...

Good job, Drue! (And you were worried that nobody would be commenting... silly girl!)

Very interesting topic, and very wise advice, to worry less about the e-book vs. paper book vs. what-have-you and more about whether the characters and story will still resonnate with readers three years from now.

The first book I wrote will be published in 2010. Not the first to be published; but I wrote it before the three that will be published by the time this one finally sees the light of day. It deals with the real estate market, which is radically different today than it was in 2005, when I wrote the manuscript. Just goes to show, things change, and people change with them, and it's never a bad idea to consider those things.

Karen Dionne said...

Great post!

I had an interesting experience with my first novel. The book sold in January of 2007, and published in October 2008. When it was released, a LOT of the reviewers called it "timely." (It's a thriller about a solar energy company that wants to alleviate the world's fresh water crisis by melting Antarctic icebergs into drinking water, but of course, things go wrong.)

What I think is interesting about the "timely" responses, is that I started writing the novel in 1998 . . . .

Patricia Stoltey said...

Excellent post, Drue. This is part of the fun and challenge of writing, isn't it? We can assume there will always be love and crime, but how can we second-guess the way love and crime will be changed because of new technology or world events?

Donna said...

Wow...what a thought provoking video and blog! It's interesting how quickly things are evolving and changing. I hope we can keep up!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Very interesting!

Looking at my middle school son, I see some degree of impatience--he won't stay with a story unless it grabs him during the first few pages. I think this may have something to do with the get-it-immediately aspect of this crowd--instant communication via email/cell phone texting/etc.

Another reminder to have a great hook.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Maryann Miller said...

Very interesting post and video, Drue. To answer your question regarding readers of the future and what they might want, I think the basics of "story" never really changes. What made Shakespeare appeal to the masses in his time was a combination of engaging characters, the basics of drama - conflict and resolution - and a few surprises along the way. Those same basics will apply to story in 2012 and beyond.

Watery Tart said...

Extremely interesting! I think we have a few takeaway points as writers.

I totally agree with Elizabeth on the short attention span in teens--my 14 year old refuses (where it is optional) to read anything that doesn't suck her in ON PAGE ONE. She is all about texting and IM and has to be caught THAT quickly to read a whole book.

I think are maybe we are wise to back away from using too much technology because you may make yourself obsolete fast.

and finally, we should also keep in mind who really reads BOOKS. while the world is zooming so far ahead, I think there will always be a subset of people who LOVE BOOKS and read them voraciously--they are the group who buy most books, even if they are only... what 5% of the population? 10%--where do THEY live, and what do THEY like?

Sheila Deeth said...

Fascinating. I look at my sons and think, well if only I had daughters I might know better what they'll be reading in a couple of years - sons; they're still catching up on previous years.

Anonymous said...

I was never so glad to get home from my day job! It's like being late for a party. : )

Andrew, you make an excellent point regarding balancing the need to stay competitive (technologically) with the need to keep the main thing the main thing. How many "writers" do we know who blog but never produce a book?

Jennie and Karen - great examples of how you were able to craft a plot that was "timely" and yet fluid enough to be published at a later date. Hard to do in this age, as the video pointed out.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Patricia and Maryann - Hi, ladies. Nice to see you here. : ) I like this idea you've both hit on. That intersection of timeless things that drive a plot (love, passion, loyalty) with temporal things that anchor the story in our time.

When we pick up Shakespeare . . . and yes, I teach at least 2 different plays of his every year, it's amazing what he was able to do with 1/5 fewer words. (Was that the number from the video?) He's certainly anchored in his time by the setting and trappings of his age, but the timeless yearnings/motivations of his characters . . . well, those are what we can relate to still today.

Anonymous said...

Donna - I'm glad you enjoyed the video!

Elizabeth, Watery Tart, and Sheila - yes, I thought of my own college-aged son as I watched it. Hard not to.

But you know--and I may sound naive here--I think teens/young adults love a good story as much as the next person. You're correct that they like a faster-paced story. Definitely they want something that grips them.

I'm amazed every year when kids like Romeo & Juliet. I think I'm going to have to cram it down their throats--but no, they're spellbound by the tragedy of it. Crazy, right?

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Interesting concept. Definitely I think technology will play a role in the reader of the future. With downloads to smart phones and eread devices, a story will need to hook the reader right away. This means dialogue and action with description that's precise and meaningful. Think shorter attention spans. As for romance, the classic archetypes will always hold appeal.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, you summed it up so nicely. : ) Thanks for stopping by.

Gink said...

Hi Drue,

I'm a first time author, working on my first draft of my first novel. When I first read your post I started to panic. OMG - now in addition to coming up with a good story and character and pacing and all the technical stuff I've got to worry about my choice of language and if the subject matter will be relevant in five years. And I quickly realized that if I think too much about that, I'll go crazy and won't be able to write. For me, I think its best to write about what I love (always going on the assumption that there are others who love the same things) and then when its done maybe tweak it just a bit with language to make sure it can attract a range of ages, including younger people. But if I try to write a book specifically to attract a specific group of people predicted to be important in five years, it just won't be authentic and that, more than anything, would make it a failure. Or at least, that's what I'm telling myself!!

Anonymous said...


I agree with you totally. We have to let our passions drive our writing--if we didn't our books would all look and sound alike. Our passions give rise to our voice. And our voice is what attracts and ultimately holds our readers.

But the world is changing, and sometimes I don't get out enough, or open my eyes enough to realize that. Sometimes it just makes me too damn uncomfortable, so I close my eyes. (I've received a few private emails to that effect in response to this post.)

Write your heart.
Picture your reader--even when that reader is constantly changing.

Thanks for stopping by!