Sunday, March 17, 2013

How Long Can Authors Keep the Magic Alive? A Reader’s Perspective

I’m a reader, first and foremost. Sometimes I have to be pulled away from a book. Aside from a couple phases of my life when there was very little time to (pleasure) read—namely, school and babies—I don't see myself giving up my hobby. I love getting lost in a book.

I started reading before the internet was around to offer reader reviews, recommendations, and author emails detailing up and coming projects. Aside from a close friend in junior high who shared my love of the romance genre, there weren’t a lot of ways I knew of to find new authors. (Newsletters and review publications were around, but I didn’t read them. Live and learn.) So the way I found new authors was hit and miss, scanning library and bookstore shelves. And, of course, when I did find one I liked, I’d pour through her backlist, giddy about there being more to love.  

Because when I find an author whose work I love, I go all fan-girl. I LOVE those books. And I stay a faithful, devoted, grateful reader for a long time. I buy on release day and stay up all night reading, then usually rereading all over again. Er, until one day I don’t.

We all have our favorite authors. Hubs prefers the term “auto-buys.” But even though some of my old-school auto-buys are still publishing, I’m not reading them as much as I used to. And newer authors on my fav-list sometimes only stay there for a few years.

So, as a newer writer it makes me wonder what changed? How does a published author lose a reader? (Especially a reader who LUH-HUH-HUHVED her books?) Is there a way to get readers back who no longer love—or even want to read—what you write?

While I realize examples help to demonstrate points, I’m making the decision not to name names. That’s not what this post is about. We’re talking ideas, not particular writers.

Here are some possible causes for why I fall out of love with certain authors’ books:

1. I’m a picky reader. Oh, absolutely. I stopped making myself read a book I wasn’t loving long ago. Life’s too short. I read for pleasure, not work.

2. I want to LOVE it. As much as I can be a low-risk kind of person in real life, I adore the roller coaster of a good story. Move me. Make me cry. Make me shake my fist in frustration. Be so funny I’ll read a section to my husband—who will also laugh because it’s that good. Sometimes I wish I could just enjoy any book from the romance section, but I can’t. When I find an author I like I read what she writes for at least ten to twelve years. (See? Picky, but loyal.)

3. I wasn’t that into them. Since I am aware of my pickiness, I do try to lower those expectations and give a new-to-me author's book a good try. And sometimes it works. I’ve read amazing books this way. Books I wouldn’t have stuck with if I had let myself set them down the first time the author did something that bugged me. (Noting this here: sweatpants bug me and in a post-Fabio world, longhaired heroes sometimes bug me. But those are topics for another day.) I’ve noticed that with authors I am slow to warm up to, I don’t tend to stick with them for long. To be specific, for one such author, I read at least twelve of her books. At least. Some of which I still go back and reread happily. But some of the things these authors do in their writing, they continue to do and I've moved on. The books aren't badly written. Just no longer my cuppa.

4. The writing is amazing but the (sub)genre is outside what I like to read. I’ve found some of my favorite new authors when someone I already like recommends their work. This just happened again last year and I spent most of the summer agonizing how I had missed this writer (for years!) and yet loving that there was a long backlist to work my way through (woo!). For another such writer whom I found from an auto-buy’s rec, her writing style is evocative, layered, and just plain gorgeous. Seriously. Every random paragraph is luscious. But, this writer writes in a sub-genre that I don’t particularly enjoy. Still, because the work is so good, I’ve followed her into it. Some of her books I can handle, and some I just can’t do. But it’s really the sub-genre. For each book she publishes, I decide whether I want to brave it.

5. The writer doesn’t write in my favorite sub-genre anymore. I get it. At least, I think I get it and I don’t blame them. This is a creative profession and writers need to push themselves, expand, and try new things. Sometimes readers go along with them and sometimes they don’t. Same goes for me. It can be the author’s same voice, but if I don’t like that genre, I may not stick around that long to read more in it. No harm, no foul.

Corollary: I’ve learned to like new sub-genres this way. My favorite subgenre of romance is historical. Love, love, love it. So when some of my favorite authors started delving into paranormal in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I dragged my feet. Briefly. Sometimes a favorite author branching out can teach their readers to love something they never thought they would. Just try it, you’ll like it as you can imagine was a tough sell for me as a kid. But I do it and have been pleasantly surprised. And, yes, now count among my favorite subgenres paranormal romance. Adore it. This is the same way I fell in love with romantic suspense. Dipped in my toe, swirled it around happily, and then jumped in. Well, toe-dipping along with a long fling with Sidney Sheldon’s books back in the day. Ahem.

6. I’m over the series. This has got to be a tough one for writers, if certain readers want more from a series and others are tired of it. Or the writer is tired of it. Yeesh! What a dilemma. Sometimes what has been the final straw is the build-up of a book featuring a favorite secondary character that falls flat. From my own reading, if I didn’t love the whole series anyway, I was getting ready to move on and for auto-buys, it takes me a long time to fall out of love with a series I adore.  

As a reader, I walk the balance between wanting something great to read and branching out, sometimes feeling a bit disappointed when I can’t love everything I read. As a writer, at least from my perspective, my list shows me how freaking subjective it all is anyway. So, yes, being aware of trends seems important and may work in terms of pulling faithful readers along to new ones. Some readers may stick with you for decades and some for just a few books. While I may not read all of my old-favs’ new work, I still love their books. Hard. And probably always will.

So what’s a writer to do? Write great books. Readers will want to read them. Some will follow you along every journey, and some won’t.  They may not love everything you write forever and ever. But that’s how it goes. Keep writing because you might pick up some new readers who will delight in finding you.

What do you think? In terms of their writing, what are things an author can do to keep readers? As a reader, what makes you move on?

Comments are welcome, but please play nice. Just stick to themes or issues, and no identifying specific authors. Thank you.

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