Before I was a writer, I was a reader. My mother tells me I’ve been reading since I was four, and I accept that, because I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was reading at a college level, and I know this, because as a homeschooled kid, I had to take standardized tests years before that became a thing in public schools. I love to read, and I will read pretty much anything if I can’t get what I want. Cereal boxes, the bottle of Dr. Bronners soap in my shower (have you ever looked at the label on that? Way out, man…), my kids’ pictures books, and of course, more novels than you can shake a stick at.
As I have grown up, gotten busier, and become a writer, my reading habits have changed. I just can’t read 3-4 books a day any longer. Not sure I could in the first place, Mom used to grouse at me, but my grades were fine in highschool when I started ‘real school’ so I suppose it didn’t hurt. I’ve gotten a lot more selective about what I read, and why I read has changed, too.
I read for pleasure, soaking up unconsciously a lot of good and bad writing habits along the way. About a decade ago, I started studying writing, and my consciousness of how well a story was written began to raise. I read slush for a publisher for a couple of years, and I saw just how bad stories could be, too. All that was part of my learning process. Now, I read to learn, I read to promote, and I read for pleasure. It’s a rare story that can give me all three.
Reading to promote? Well, I’m an independent writer. I feel that by reading other indies, whether they are solo, or small press, I can review and promote the good ones, and help them out. I don’t tell them what I’m doing, but my hope is that by doing this, it will come back to me as my work is discovered. What I’m finding is that wading through Amazon and Smashwords is like reading slush. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to make this comparison.
Two things have caught my attention recently. One was this article: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/amazon-cracks-down-on-kindle-books-under-2500-words_b69390, where Amazon may be cracking down on stories pubbed through KDP that are less than 2500 words long. Now, we know that a short story may indeed by a complete story arc in far fewer words than that. So what’s behind it? Reading some of the attendant comments and forum threads, I see that people are publishing their work one chapter at a time. Hm, reminds me of the fan-fic I have seen. I know I have found and bought a few stories that looked promising, I got to the end and… where’s the rest of it? I’m not talking about a cliff-hanger, I mean that only half the story arc is there. In order to read the rest, you have to buy it. Okay, grumble, go look because that was pretty good… and it’s not there. What do you mean, not published yet?
Needless to say, that author is in my mental Do Not Buy list now. I really need to write that down, since I have the memory of a gnat sometimes. As a reader, that offended me terribly. As a writer, I learned something. Don’t offend your readers. Simple as that.
The second thing was pointed out by my best friend. Novels that go on, and on, and on, and… Enough already. Edit all the info dumps out. We neither want, nor need, to read the intimate details of your world’s history. Ever noticed these are almost always fantasy novels? I understand as a writer that it was lots of work for you, and you want to show it off. As a reader, I’m bored, and I don’t have time for this. Which is probably how you feel about this blog post about now.
So put yourself in your readers’ heads (not literally, ew!) and try not to betray them. Give value for their dollar, they work just as hard for that money as you do. Don’t bore them with long, rambling stories that never end. When you choose beta readers, try to find a few that are not also writers, and get their honest opinions. Remember why you started writing, to create stories you would love to read.