Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How Good Is Your Book?

I’m a big believer in writing something, then setting it aside for a while before I go back to it to see if it’s any good.

A recent Goodreads infographic shows this system, favored by many writers, bears paying attention to.

We as writers have a lot of competition – and that’s just with other writers, forgetting the competition that comes from television, movies, the Internet and other sources of information and entertainment. What this graphic tells me is that for about 44 percent of average readers, we have less than 100 pages to snag their interest or we’re going to lose them.

And if we lose them, chances are that 44 percent isn’t going to pick us up ever again.

I have only anecdotal evidence for this – but I think it’s pretty persuasive.

Though I generally fall into the “I Always Finish, No Matter What” category (that 38 % of respondents to the Goodreads poll say they fall into) I have abandoned a few books when I was less than 50 pages into them. I don’t remember the titles – but I do remember the authors: Jules Feiffer (Ackroyd, I had to look it up) and Piers Anthony. I tried reading these books, just couldn’t get comfortable with them, and literally threw them away. That’s a pretty shocking thing, considering what a book hoarder I am.

There’s a third book that stands out and gives me hope, though, and that is Arthur C. Clarke’s 2061. I started reading it shortly after it came out and just gave up because it was so terrible. Years later, however, I picked it up again and read it, start to finish.

Then there are the other books: Clarke and Gentry Lee’s Rama II – which I finished but shouldn’t have, because they were terrible. They were less about the awe of discovery and more about the kaboom and flash of a Hollywood thriller.

Also in that category is Alexandre Dumas fils’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I recall reading that book in high school and really enjoying it. Earlier this year, however, I tried reading it again and gave up more than 300 pages into it, it was just that bad.

Thing is, of these four authors I mention, I’ve only read multiple books by one of them (Clarke) and only then because I’d read many of his books before I stumbled over Rama II and 2061. The other three authors just may as well not exist for me. And that’s probably a shame, because maybe they’ve written better stuff than what I started with. But I may never know. There are plenty of books to read out there, and why go through the pain of reading an author who has stung us before?

So as I look at my own writing now, I pay strict attention (well, stricter attention) to how I grab the readers in the first 50 pages – preferably, in the first chapter, yes. Haven’t written a keeper yet.

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