I have a great time finding out what readers want. I often ask them as I browse the fiction rows in bookstores. If they respond with any tangible inkling or order and it happens to coincide with what I like, I immediately recommend my choices according to their preferences.
I’ve shared with you how I evaluate “the average reader”. It’s based on my experience with several readers of all ages and discussions with many more people with either a voracious appetite for fiction or a steady pursuit of reading novels or even those who dabble at selective fiction. Readers of all kinds maintain expected various opinions, but most of them have a general desire to simply enjoy the story. Most of them will not comprehend the particular styles of writing choices from the authors they choose to read unless it’s unique and quite distinctive. For the most part it’s just not important to them.
The exceptions include those in the publishing industry and those readers who prefer what’s been termed “literary fiction” where names like Flannery O’Connor or Madeline L’Engle pop up repeatedly. If you choose CBA fiction, you’ll likely hear the names of Tom Morrisey, Tosca Lee, or Chris Fabry mentioned as artful writers.
There can be a real gap between what publishers want and what readers want. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of not getting a book the attention it merits which usually makes it a marketing problem. Sometimes it’s producing books which just don’t catch on for whatever reason. Sometimes books fail because they really aren’t that good.
Don’t misunderstand my point. I’m all for publishers producing well-written fiction, but sometimes what they consider well-written and/or commercially viable simply aren’t. The process is generally reliable and definitely valuable although interminably slow, but I still maintain it often goes under-noticed and unappreciated. The average reader might recognize skillful writing, but what they will celebrate or recommend to their like-minded friends is the story. Those overrated rules which might be observed or broken will not even register on their reading radar. Some professionals insist it’s the observance of those very rules which contribute to making the reader experience pleasant and more meaningful, but when you consider a few of the bestsellers either in ABA or CBA fiction, you know it’s just not always true.
Some writing purists and publishing professionals complain about the lack of quality in fiction and berate the absence of excellence in certain bestsellers and other novels. To what end? Books making money push the industry along and readers are the ones who spend the bucks to make the machine go. We can lament quality if we choose, but it’s all about the story for most readers.
Lord, give us the grace to appreciate the work of those who labor to serve you. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.