What people really want from authors

Author Kate Harrison
Kate

Author Kate Harrison has done her own survey on people’s reading habits – what they love, loathe, buy and borrow, what they recommend and why. Fascinating and informative for writers, publishers and other readers.

Amongst other questions, Kate asked which three words best summed up what you wanted novels to be like. The top 4 words (number 3 and 4 were very close) were:

 4: Funny (39%)

=2: Thrilling and moving (both scored 40%)

And number 1, with 55%: Thought-provoking.

She also surveyed publishers and agents. Here are three of the comments made:

Nicki Thornton, of Mostly Books in Abingdon, said: ‘Readers are always on the lookout for something that really speaks to them. It takes a lot of time to read a book and if it feels like time not well spent at the end  of it I think people do feel disappointed. People do seem to be looking for something ‘a little more’ out of their reading rather than something very throwaway and lightweight.’

Agent Maddy Milburn said that debut authors are having orders cut, and she’s seen an increase in the demand for accessible literary books – as did Avon editor Sammia Rafique, who called these books ‘smart fiction’. But Maddy also pointed out that how the book is marketed makes a huge difference:  ‘ONE DAY is essentially a love story but was given an iconic cover that appealed to both men and women.’ Sammia also called for more imaginative engagement with readers via social networking, to tap into their enthusiasm and interests.

Agent Carole Blake loathes the ‘chick lit’ label and its connotations of air-headedness – for me, she sums up the debate in the following:  Books that deliver a satisfying reading experience, but also leave the reader feeling they have learned something (historical facts, emotional intelligence, anything else) will leave the reader with the feeling that they have not only been entertained but also educated – they are validating their own leisure time and carrying away something more than ‘mere entertainment.’

Have a look here at all the survey results.

 

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Miami v Midsomer

We’re all used to American cops spraying bullets around like they were going out of fashion, killing possible criminals and conveniently avoiding the expensive route through the justice system.

But in Britain? More and more we are seeing dramas about British cops on British streets armed and licensed to whack.

Some, like the hugely popular Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, give the central characters weapons willy-nilly: I think the fabled Gene Hunt wandered round Manchester and London with a Colt .45 Magnum in his armpit. The writers said, apparently, something to the effect that they knew it was silly, but it was fun and underscored Gene Hunt’s mythic status as a heroic Sherrif with his Mancunian posse.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Gene Hunt as much as the next Gene Hunt fan, but I loathed the glamourised US-style gun violence. The writers made a point about the nastiness of beatings and knifings, but the guns seemed to be a running joke.

Rant over. Here’s a BBC report on 2011 murder statistics, including gun crime.

Hideous enough in reality, but nowhere near enough to account for the wholesale slaughter committed by crime writers in any one year. Please note that two murders were committed with crossbows, which seems very Midsomerish.

A careful comb through the stats might give writers the spark of an idea, whether you’re writing crime fiction or not.

And while you’re at it, think about the comparison with US stats:

Number of murders, United States, 2010: 12,996

Number of murders by firearms, US, 2010: 8,775

Number of murders, Britain, 2011*: 638 (since Britain’s population is 1/5 that of US, this is equivalent to 3,095 US murders)

Number of murders by firearms, Britain, 2011*: 58 (= 290 US murders)

Number of murders by crossbow in Britain, 2011*: 2 (=10 US murders).

The main characters in Life on Mars, from left...
The main characters in Life on Mars, from left: DC Skelton, DCI Gene Hunt, DI Tyler, DS Carling and WPC Cartwright (Photo credit: Wikipedia)