Tag Archives: books

Why do we read…or write?

Image from Wikipedia

Fiction, stories, books, novels, that is.

Why do we read stories?  What is it about this form of communication that draws us in and absorbs our attention and focus until the words The End?  What do we seek from reading?  What do we receive from reading?

Conversely, why do some of us write stories?  What are our goals or intent?  Why do we do it?

Rather than go into all the many ideas I have about either of these I am including two polls below.  One for readers and one for writers.

All you writers out there should also be readers and should answer both polls. 🙂

Mark all that apply and then add a comment below to keep the discussion going.

Readers Poll

Writers Poll

First, thank you for answering the polls and discussing more detailed thoughts.  For me, the answers to the above poll questions are evidenced in the creation of the questions themselves.  In effect, I created polls that closely reflect my own motivations for both reading and writing.

The only exception may be my desire to be famous.  I would rather not be famous, actually, and would prefer to be successful and relatively anonymous.

So, let’s discuss.  Why do we read and write, really?

Who is willing to go first?


A Writer Reads

…but what does reading have to do with writing?

For most of us, we learned to write around the same time we learned to read.  It is likely our ability to read developed more quickly than our ability to write and if we liked reading, we did a lot of it.

I was such a child.  I read everything I could find that interested me, from story books, fairy tales, and fables, to Time-Life books about the planets, dinosaurs, Time, or the Earth.  I even read every word of those Publishers Clearing House envelopes stuffed with prizes and magazines to order.

What I most loved to read, though, were stories.  The Bookmobile stopped across the street from our house every Friday after school for years.  I found the selection limited, though, and began haunting my elementary school library and later the middle and high school libraries.  Once I could drive, I spent many Saturday afternoons browsing the racks at the city library.

Somewhere along the way, after reading the dozens of novels and hundreds of stories, all that reading flipped a switch inside me that illuminated my writer self.  I distinctly remember wanting to write a story for the first time in my early teens.  The story was about an evil janitor with occult powers to punish any kids who played hide and seek in the medical and dental offices near where I lived.  The story concept had some merit, but the writing itself was terrible.

Ever since I finished that short story, though, I’ve thought of myself as a writer.

But what does reading have to do with writing?

The act of writing is putting a story to words so that another reader can experience that story as you intended to tell it.

The more stories and novels an aspiring writer has read, the more proper story structure, format, characterization, description, plot, and theme permeate the subconscious almost like osmosis.

There is a rhythm to storytelling that is not always innate, but can be learned through reading and studying how other writers tell stories.  How do they evoke emotion?  How do they paint images in the reader’s mind?  How often do they address all five senses?  Are characters revealed through thought, dialog, action, or all three?  What word choices to they use?  How is action paced and balanced with reflection?  Are scenes long or short?  How are the best stories begun?  How are the best stories ended?

Much can be learned by simply reading, taking no thought to how the writer did it, but just enjoying the story.  Even more can be gained by actually studying how the writer wrote a passage that resonates with you or impresses you in some way.

By reading a variety of authors, genres, and both new and old stories, you can learn from the example of others.

If you did nothing else but read avidly and write, you would have a head start over those who attempt to write, but don’t read and thus haven’t saturated their minds and souls with the rhythms of story.

As an example, I’m currently reading Brotherhood of the Wolf the second in the Runelords series by David Farland.  I subscribe to his Daily Kick newsletters on writing and publishing topics and find his advice is generally outstanding.  I like the Runelords world and like to see how he writes epic fantasy, especially his earlier books in the late 90s.

I’m also re-reading Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.  I’m trying to deepen my understanding of characterization to improve my current novel in progress, The Lost Tower.

Remember that a writer reads.  Stephen King said in his book On Writing that you really can’t be a writer unless you read a lot.  Good advice from one of the masters.

And with that, what are you currently reading and why?


The Biggest Mystery in Publishing

What sells books?  Not who, but what?

This is one enigma for which opinions vary from publisher to publisher, agent to agent, media expert to media expert, and often writer to writer.

With all these opinions, though are very few facts or scientific data. How does anyone say with any authority what sells books? Is it the New York Time Bestseller list? Another list? Amazon’s online tools? Press releases? An author’s reputation? Media buzz? A movie version made and released? A clever title? A fancy cover? Word of mouth via social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or Shelfari? Is it some or all of these? Or is it none of them?

Since it indeed a mystery to the publishing industry at large, I will address this with one opinion, my own, naturally. In other words, I will provide evidence of why I buy books and then ask you to do the same.

Clarification. The following is why I “buy” books, not necessarily what books I have finished reading or recommend to others.

In order from top reason, to bottom reason:

  1. I’ve read a previous book in a series by the same author and eagerly await the next installment. (e.g. Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss)
  2. I’ve read a previous book by the author and liked the story telling enough to buy other works. (e.g. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, Under the Dome by Stephen King)
  3. I’ve read a previous book in a series by the same author, am behind in the series, and have several more to read to catch up. (Brotherhood of the Wolf by David Farland)
  4. A recommendation from family or friends in a genre I like. (Harry Potter series)
  5. A breakout author in one of my preferred genres that is generating great reviews and buzz (The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Elantris by Brandon Sanderson)
  6. A recommendation from family or friends in a genre I don’t normally read. (The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho)
  7. A classic in my preferred genre recommended by online reviews or ‘best of’ lists (Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams)
  8. Random browsing in bookstores or online bookstores. I tend to find new writing books this way, not fiction. (e.g. Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld)

Okay, clearly the books I buy AND read tend to come from the top four or five reasons. Books from the bottom three reasons are books I purchased with intent to read, but did not finish either the book or series because it wasn’t compelling enough in some way or I had books from the top of the list I preferred to read first.

Reason #8 has been nearly all non-fiction and I read those topically as needed, not straight through like a novel.

Now let’s discuss #8.

Why is #8 last on the list?

What about an unfamiliar book or author on a bookstore shelf or in an online catalog can overcome our buyer’s defenses and help us decide to buy it?

Here are some thoughts on why books sell off the rack or online catalog in no particular order.

  • Book is on the shelf (or catalog section) of one of your favorite genres
  • Book is displayed so you can see the full front cover and title
  • The title is intriguing
  • The cover is interesting
  • The back cover blurb/synopsis interests you
  • The cover reviews increase your interest
  • You read the first few pages and the story pulls you in.
  • Either a bookstore employee or an online catalog recommends the book
  • Positive online reviews from others who have read the book

Which of the nine reasons compel you to buy a book from a new/unfamiliar author?  (select all that apply)

Thank you for your participation. Check back often and see what others rank as their reasons for buying books from authors they haven’t yet read.

While there are many reasons we ‘buy’ books, I don’t think we’re any closer to what ‘sells’ books.  And so it remains the biggest mystery in publishing.

–Mark


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