BY LAURA GRIFFIN
I know a lot of busy moms.
Come to think of it, I also know a lot of busy people who don’t have kids. It’s safe to say most of the people I know (or want to know) have their hands full with a zillion different pursuits, some mundane and some interesting.
I think about these people often because they are my readers–the woman in the doctor’s office with the paperback stuffed in her purse, the guy on the subway, the mom at soccer practice stealing a few moments to read between homework and dinner time.
And, I’ll say this now without shame, I see it as my job as an author to entertain these people. I want to give them a reason to stuff that book in the purse / briefcase /gym bag before leaving the house. People’s time is precious. My time is. Yours is, too. I believe the best thing I can do as a writer is to value that time and give you a reason, right away, to keep turning the pages.
Most writers strive to do this, with varying degrees of success. The conventional wisdom is, the sooner you can interest people, the better. Otherwise, they’ll put down your book and do something else.
Is this because we live in the Age of Twitter? People’s attention span is only 140 characters long? Maybe so. I am a Gen Xer (note the shout out to Nirvana up there in the title). I know my attention span is limited by the general business of life, so I figure other people’s is, too.
I was at the park the other day with a friend of mine, and she was telling me about the last book she put down, out of sheer boredom. “I got a few chapters in and started to worry it was going to be, you know, a dud.”
That sucks. Who wants to read (or write) a dud?
I told my friend one of the reasons I like to read and write commercial fiction is because those stories usually (although NOT always, I know) tend to hook you in faster. It takes less time to get “into” the book.
She gave me a puzzled look, and so I tried to describe the difference between literary fiction and other genres… which quickly led to a discussion about mass market fiction versus trade paperback… and more puzzled looks. I started to explain it all. (Like I know what the hell I’m talking about or something. Actually, I didn’t know any of this until I entered the publishing industry and started hearing jargon all over the place.) For those of you who want the Cliff Notes, there are three major print formats in fiction:
Hardback, trade paperback, and mass market paperback.
Hardback you know. Trade paper is the next-most expensive (usually). It tends to be similar in size to hardback, with higher quality paper and larger font than you see in mass market paperback. Mass market paperbacks (usually around the $8 price point) are the smaller books, thinner paper, often seen in grocery stores, etc… Except they’re in book stores, too. So really, it’s very confusing. Mass market paperbacks often include romance novels, mysteries, sci-fi and other types of stories some people call “genre fiction”. (Notice all my qualifiers here? I’m covering my butt, because it’s tough to have this discussion without ticking somebody off).
Literary fiction tends to be seen as more “serious” or high brow. My book club reads a lot of these books. Think The Kite Runner, The Joy Luck Club, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Corrections. Sometimes these books deal with weightier issues. Sometimes they feature beautifully written prose. Sometimes they are dreck. It all depends. The same could be said about some romance / mystery / sci-fi novels, so I’m not throwing tomatoes at anyone.
Anyhoo, the point is, we can toss these labels around, but basically I’m a book lover and all I really want is to fall in love with a good book. I don’t care what it’s called in publishing circles. I just want to open the pages and be pulled in.
What’s your limit? I know editors and busy literary agents who will put a book or manuscript down after one chapter if they’re not hooked. Maybe I’m biased toward writers, but I try to give at least 50 pages. If I get 50 pages in, and I’m still not feeling it, I move on to something else in my TBR pile. I mean, the darn thing is toppling over. A girlfriend of my was telling me about putting down a certain book about a certain girl with a certain scaled-beast tattoo after she read for 150 pages and still wasn’t into it. Not me, babe. Not gonna do it. That’s too long to be bored.
The newest work of literary fiction awaiting my attention (I can’t wait to dive in!) is Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. His last book, which came out in 2001 (!!!) was called The Corrections, and Franzen made headlines when he supposedly snubbed Oprah and was uninvited to be featured by her book club. Oops. Bet the sales department liked that. Personally, I loved the book because it features this quirky and dysfunctional Midwestern family that reminded me of my own quirky and dysfunctional family so much, I laughed out loud at many points. Some people thought it was depressing. But, you know, books are subjective that way.
Freedom is absolutely a work of literary fiction. I know this because Newsweek just ran a cover (yes, cover) story about Jonathan Franzen, and the article talks about how it took him 9 years to complete the book. This has literary fiction written all over it. (It took way less time than that to write it, but he spent a few years coming up with the premise and so forth). That’s a long time to write a novel. But I still have high hopes that this book will be a good read because it features a discontented suburban mom (she sounds interesting) and because Franzen told the Newsweek reporter it was important for authors to write “compelling” books for today’s readers because “there is so much more distraction they have to resist.”
In other words, hook them in fast cuz they’re busy.
That’s what I think, too. Readers are, after all, here to be entertained.
What are you looking for when you sit down with a book? And when do you stop reading if the author isn’t hooking you in?
Anyone who comments will be eligible to win a SIGNED ADVANCED COPY of my upcoming anthology, written with Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dianna Love, and Cindy Gerard. For those of you who want to play the labels game, this is a collection of three novellas in the “genre” of romantic suspense. I’m so excited to share a book with these fabulous ladies, and I hope this week’s lucky winner will be excited to read it well before the Sept. 28 release date. Leave a comment for a chance to win!