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What Readers Are Reading

My conclusion in all this is that once again, story proves to trump all. A good story matters more to readers than artistic writing or genre or even the reputation of the author.

Turning the corner slightly, I want to move from how a writer writes (see “Good Versus Mediocre” and “Another Look At Good Versus Mediocre”) and how a reader reads (see “Readers, Writers, And What Each Understands”) to what a reader reads.

Once again the question about speculative fiction, specifically science fiction and fantasy, in the Christian market has raised its head. The “speculative fiction doesn’t sell” mantra has slipped into several blogs, but this time it’s accompanied by the question, Why do so many writers write in this genre when it doesn’t sell? The suggestion was that somehow speculative readers must all turn into writers, so the appearance of many readers is false because there isn’t a “normal” writer-to-reader ratio.

I have to say, I see this “answer” as an incredible stretch. Ironically, in one Christian writers’ group I’m in, there’s currently a discussion about including ghosts in stories. Granted, “ghosts” would most likely fall into the “supernatural suspense” arm of speculative fiction, but I see the discussion as an indication that writers know the genre has captured readers.

In addition, agent Rachelle Gardner recently asked her blog visitors, among other things, to comment about what genre they read. At the time I posted, a quick search revealed a third of the commenters read fantasy of one variety or the other. I didn’t do a search for science fiction or for any of the euphemisms we use to refer to the genre as a whole, so I assume the number of her visitors reading “visionary” fiction, as the Christy Awards name the category, is higher.

Over at my site, I’m running a poll (you still have a week to participate if you haven’t voted already) asking what genre readers read. Not surprisingly, speculative fiction is leading the way. (But you might be surprised by what is coming in second).

I say “not surprisingly” because I’m a fantasy writer, and therefore probably have visitors prone to read speculative fiction.

What I find most interesting, though, is that many people at my site and Rachelle’s say in the comments that they really don’t care what genre they read as long as it’s a good story. Most, in fact, report reading in a variety of genres. I do myself. In fact, until I became a writer, I would have said I had no preferred genre.

My conclusion in all this is that once again, story proves to trump all. A good story matters more to readers than artistic writing or genre or even the reputation of the author.

Regarding this last, I suspect readers will give some writers a pass if one novel doesn’t deliver a good story. These writers would be ones who have delivered good stories in previous books. Readers are willing to forgive, I believe, when one novel fails to deliver the level of story they’ve grown accustomed to. They won’t desert the author because of that one less-than-stellar story. If the next one doesn’t deliver, however, fans may start to fall away.

I maintain that a good story can become a great novel if the writing is great. But I don’t think a poor story will become a great novel even if the writing is great. At the same time, I think a great story with poor writing might become a best-seller. It will not, however, become a great novel or move into the “keeper” category.

What do you think? Is story more important to you than genre? Than artistic writing? Than the latest by a well-known author? Is anything more important to you in selecting the fiction you read than whether or not it’s a good story?

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Sherwood Smith
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Rather than clutter this space with a long reply, I’ve committed a lesser error in good taste with a link.

Or, to put it simply, a keeper is a book that reward rereading one’s entire life, each time illuminating new things.

John Weaver
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Good article, Sherwood.

John

Kathrine Roid
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There are a couple genres I just don’t like: romance, paranormal, and horror (oh – and erotica and GLBTQ, but I guess that’s assumed on this site). I have my reasons. Those genres are simply not my cup of tea. Otherwise, if a book has either a) a good story or b) an excellent world, I’ll read it. Artistic writing. . . mleh. . . not really. Maybe if it’s a short story. But I wouldn’t track down a novel for it’s artistic writing.

I’ll look for stories with a strong story or world within my favorite genres to read first, and in that way I am playing favorites, but genre is merely the first street, not the guide, of my search.

Is anything more important to you in selecting the fiction you read than whether or not it’s a good story?

Whether it’s clean or not. 😛

So, does anyone else put “excellent world” next to “captivating story” in novel virtues? I very much love world-driven stories, which is probably part of what drew me to the speculative fiction genre.

E. Stephen Burnett
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oh – and erotica and GLBTQ, but I guess that’s assumed on this site

I’d make a case, sometime, that one can’t enjoy those and legitimately glorify God — unlike the others, including horror, paranormal, and (sigh) romance. 😀

But I’m guessing I wouldn’t need to make that case for this audience. I have noticed, however, that some “Christian” artists love to make excuses for Quasi-Nudity, e.g. erotica, so long as it Shows Things How They Really Are (and is presumably Edgy).

So apparently some professing Christians need to reconsider or re-learn: that stuff doesn’t help. As one of my pastors said over the weekend: gray areas may exist about modesty, what a man can “handle” without sinning, etc., but no one sees a sex scene (or in this case reads about one) who isn’t thinking wrongly about sex and is therefore dishonoring God — and missing the points of sex in the first place.

Galadriel
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Pretty much what Kaci said. I’ll read almost anything clean, but it’s only when options are really limited or brain cells are already dead that I’ll go for Westerns, bonnet books, or teenage angst.

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