The other day, I walked home in the rain. Not a torrential downpour, but a good, hard rain. The kind that seeps slowly into your hair and clothes and rolls over your nose in slow droplets. I probably looked like a rejected hipster trying to profess their “ironicness” with the plaid button-up, the starbucks coffee in hand, and my cheap glasses that cannot decide whether they are thin or thick framed, but either way, the rain put me in a thinking mood and I realized something.
People really don’t want to read your original fiction.
They’ve gotta be forcibly dragged down to it and coaxed by promises of epicness that probably will not come true throughout the course of the story. Think about it. We look over a new book like a fish at the market: we pick it up, heft it for weight, take a peek inside to make sure there’s nothing rotten, ask where it came from, whether it was farmed or naturally occurring, then we set it down and pick up the one next to it because it looks prettier on the outside.
I know that my own book-reading litmus goes more like a thorough background check from the CIA followed by a rigorous interrogation routine. By the time I actually pick up that book or click on the link, I know the author’s bio, how many other books they’ve written, what awards they won including that 4th grade “best penmanship” prize, and I have seen a slew of reviews and recommendations. Then, without purchasing the material or committing myself to it, I examine said book, back and front, inside flaps, the first three pages. “How is the writing?” I ask. “Does it provide an adequate hook?”
You get the drill. I think the only time I do not hesitate to read a book is when I know the author personally or I have been asked personally to provide feedback.
The short of it is readers are tough sons-of-bitches to please. I recently spent a good deal of time writing fanfiction and reveled in the fact that I immediately rose to high status in that community. Fanfiction is different though. We’ve cut down to the specifics of what a reader is looking for and as long as you’re a good writer and are providing and engaging storyline or romance, you cannot go wrong in fanfiction.
Original fiction is another story, or so I’ve remembered. I recently revived my long-dead fictionpress name in order to give my fans something to drool over while I finish my manuscript. Having made a name for myself with two successful fictionpress novels already and the recently earned reputation on fanfiction.net, I thought I would have tons of readers.
33 hits on the story. That was it. I did get one review, however, which stated the writing was good, but they did not know what to make of the story since they only had one chapter to go off of. They wanted to see more. I had hooked a fish.
It doesn’t matter if the first chapter causes a riot or not, as long as the reader has that little urge to click ‘next chapter’ or flip the page. That is what we as writers need to strive for, the ability to get readers to keep going to the next page.
I find that perhaps this post is fueled by my own anxieties as a teacher. With so much of the educational community online, I stress over ways I can get my students to read all the paragraphs I type out for them. This has resulted in a series of subpar pop culture references littered throughout my discussion posts. I’m in my early 20s and have become one of “those” old-timers out of touch with what is hip! Perhaps I should switch to my usual strategy of estranged literary references. Then I’m just weird instead of desperate.