Readers are strange

I mean that in a good way. Although some of them may be strange in the sense that they dip fish fingers in custard or like to wear a fez and a bow tie, the vast majority of readers live relatively normal lives. What makes them strange to an author like me is how they behave when it comes to reading.

A recent study quoted here in The Telegraph shows that even the most downloaded ebooks of last year were not necessarily ever finished by readers:

The Goldfinch, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt, was completed by just 44 per cent of readers who downloaded it, according to bookseller Kobo.

While Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup, became the ninth most downloaded book of the year thanks to the film of the same name, it was finished by 28 per cent of those who started it. Indeed, the top ten bestsellers of 2014, according to Kobo, did not overlap with the top ten most-completed books.

It's a great book, but will she get to the end?

A great book being read.

What’s an author supposed to do? Readers are everything and yet it’s so hard to, a) reach them, and b) know what they’re likely to think about your book.

Goodreads is a great site for finding readers, but it can be a very tough crowd. Someone in India who just indicated that they’re reading Silent Symmetry, the first novel in my Embodied trilogy, has given Orwell’s 1984 only a 3-star rating! There’s always going to be a range of responses from literally the 1-star “I didn’t get this book at all” to the 5-star “This is the best book I’ve read all year” and yet when you go on Goodreads and see what people are saying about the books they’ve read, it becomes clear that – you guessed it – readers are strange.

For example, a reader can clearly like a book yet only give it 3 out of 5 stars. Others can write a critical review yet still give it 4 stars. And even more bizarrely, some will write a review saying they didn’t really enjoy a whole bunch of things in the book, then round it off by saying that they can’t wait for the sequel!

The only possible explanation I can come up with for this phenomenon is that momentum is key. Once a reader has started a series of books, they’re likely to plow on until the end, even if they’re dissatisfied with what they’re reading. On the other hand, this explanation is belied by the study quoted above!

Interestingly, for a writer of sci-fi fantasy like me, the article notes:

…little-known romances, crime novels and fantasy proved to be the page-turners, with more than six in every ten being finished. Michael Tamblyn, president and chief content officer of Kobo, said: “A book’s position on the bestseller list may indicate it’s bought, but that isn’t the same as it being read or finished. People may wait days, months, or even until the following year to finish certain titles. And many exercise that inalienable reader’s right to set down a book if it doesn’t hold their interest.”

So readers remain a mystery. And yet they are the reason I do what I do. There’s probably a book in there somewhere…

Photo credit: BrittneyBush / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND