28 July 2013

Ways Authors can lose a Reader.

This post came about because of thinking when walking. It shows walking is dangerous. I first thought of 10 things that annoy readers but then thought more things that authors do that annoy readers. Below is the result of some of the thoughts. I am also going to do a post in a day or so about what authors do that make a reader happy or how authors go the extra mile but still working on this post. 

Over the past few weeks there have been some interesting discussions on different forums which got me thinking what makes me as a reader not want to read or buy a book by an author. The Book Club Network has had an ongoing discussion about cussing in christian books and then Seekerville had a blog post on social media and I could relate to both. 

Firstly swearing in christian books to me is not acceptable. I tried to read a book last year which had one word which is bad in Australia and just could not read it. The word is not an issue in America which explains why it was up for review. As it was a review book I did let the people who sent me the book know why I could not read it and I did put a review as a warning to other Australians explaining in America it was fine but here it was likely to offend Australians. When I saw the book  in one of the major bookshops here I did put in a complaint. To check I wasn't over reacting I counted how many times in one chapter the word was used and it was 30. The bookshop was understanding and accepted the complaint. I also made comment in person at the Adelaide bookshop and was happy to see it removed from the shelf. I have since found out that if they get complaints about a book containing swearing or cussing they will remover the book from the shelf. Following the discussion on The Book Club Network and giving my thoughts I agreed with most people that swearing and cussing should not be in a Christian book sold at a Christian bookshop. I also talked to several non christians and they were even more horrified than I was that swearing would be in a christian book. In saying this I have since read a couple of books where I have encountered this issue albeit only a couple of words, it was enough that I spent the rest of the book wondering when the next bomb would be dropped. I have to say it disappoints me to find swearing in books and it also is a reason I will probably not buy future books from the author as I would be worried I would be seeing more swearing.

While the  Seekerville post on social media was a positive post alerting authors to the dangers of social media it also made me think of the times as a reader I have read rants about readers by authors on public forums. From posts blaming readers for lack of sales or for being uninformed about certain books, to readers being blasted for a review, to being disrespected for their opinion. I have also read blog posts which call readers ignorant.

On rants about readers not buying books and being uninformed they will turn a reader against the posters very quickly. Authors have a right to there opinions and yes, readers may be annoying etc, but if you want to rant consider using a closed forum where no readers can read the rants or using a writers group. Readers are sensitive and there are so many books out there that if we do get offended we can easily find another author to support. Not all readers read the same books maybe they are not reading an authors book because they do not like the genre.

Being abused for a review is also something that will turn of a reader. A few years ago I read  a book I didn't like. It was one of my bottom reads for the year but while looking at the top ten reads for the year from fellow bloggers many had it in their top ten. While it wasn't a book I liked it was a book many others did, does that make me wrong, no it means my opinion is different but it is still as valid. In this incident my opinion wasn't challenged but I have seen posts complaining about a 3 star review with the author blaming the reader for not understanding the book etc. This is a sure way to upset a reader but it doesn't just upset one, that reader tells their friends and they may even blog about it. It could be a potential loss of many readers.  From a poll at Goodreads a few years back most readers said they preferred authors did not comment on a review as it feels like big brother and they are being spied on and that they feel they can't give an honest review if the author is going to challenge what they say. (I do not have the link to this survey as the person who shared it didn't save the link).

Also on social media if a reader puts up a question or query about books we are looking for balanced answers. For example how do you feel about edgy Christian books? I am asking to get feedback to see what others are thinking. I have posted questions like this (different questions but still generic) and had an author go on the defensive and state it's their right to write like this and if the reader doesn't like it thats too bad. This will also turn a reader off and to be honest having had it happen to me I lost respect for the author, and as much as I liked her books, do not wish to buy or read anymore at this stage. The question was not aimed at the author or any author and was actually aimed at readers. This is where a friend's 24 hour rule can work if a question or comment upsets you before you post sleep on it and if after 24 hours you still feel really strong about it then tactfully respond or send a private message to the reader. Remember unless they state the book or author they may not be talking about your book at all.

The other huge turn off for readers or this reader when they use places like Facebook to constantly ask you to join their author page or constantly sending a link to buy their new book. I have actually unjoined a few Facebook groups where self promotion seemed to be all that happens and one author seemed to be on every group around and daily sent the link to her book. The book maybe a best seller and the best book ever written but I can guarantee I will never buy it or read it.  I have left groups because of this and know other readers who have unfriended people on twitter for the same reason. 

On the same issue authors who add you to their mailing list just because you commented on there blog or a blog they are a guest on and you comment so they think they can add you to their mailing list. Readers will join mailing lists to authors they want to receive newsletters from. The same goes for emailing readers to ask them to buy their new book. Letting us know they have a book out (If you are on there emailing list) is fine but to constantly send reminders will have you blocked very quickly and may lose you readers and yes this has happened to me and the few authors in question no longer have a reader in me.

This doesn't even cover things like red herrings in books that go nowhere and leave me after the book is ended trying to work out why we were told the cat went missing but it was never found now I have to know who stole it, is it ok, why did they do that to me. Don't they know I cant sleep until you tell me the cat is alright. (If its not alright I don't want to know). But that will be another post and hopefully by then I will know what happened to the cat.


Beth said...

Right on, Jenny!
Something else that turns me off is authors who constantly put down men, and diminish their place as the head of families. There is one author in particular who I will no longer read books from for this very reason.

Linda Rondeau said...

Thanks for your insights. It took me a few years to learn the importance of writing for the reader and not for my own pleasure. If our writing is truly a ministry than we need to be sensitive to who we are ministering. Thank you for your forthright statements. We can write edgy and not offensive.

Jenny Blake said...

Thanks Beth and Linda.
I agree Linda books can be edgy in a good way without overstepping the mark. I used that as an example as I have put up post asking about something I read in a book and wasn't sure what others thought. (Like the book I mentioned I had to ask on a closed forum if the word was ok in America).

Mary Hawkins said...

You have shared very important points for all of us, Jenny. Thank you so much. My mother tried to teach her kids "if you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all." I think this also applies to a certain extent here. All published writers I've met over many years are readers also. Sometime back I had to very reluctantly put this principle into practice after winning a giveaway on a blog. I was really delighted as it was by an overseas writer I'd met, become friendly with and enjoyed a couple of her previous books. This one was quite a big disappointment and I felt I could not even give it 2stars. I've also discovered that readers's tastes vary. What I like other readers don't! And I certainly don't expect every reader of my own books to think they are wonderful! This book had nothing in it like swearing etc not suitable for a Christian novel. However, it just had other problems which jarred me too much. It received reasonable reviews by other readers. Was I wrong not to post a review at all?

.Michelle Dennis Evans said...

Thanks for writing this post Jenny. I love hearing thoughts from a reader. xxx

Deborah Raney said...

Jenny, I found this very interesting, and you make some excellent points! As a reader, I have some of the same pet peeves you do.

As a writer, I want to know what the "swear" word is that is offensive in Australia so that I don't offend readers by using it! I've never heard that was an issue, so would feel terrible if I was offending readers there unintentionally! I know you probably don't wish to post it on your blog for obvious reasons, but if there's some way you can let us know so we can refrain from using it, that would be helpful.

Thanks for all you do to promote Christian fiction and encourage Christian writers!


Elaine Manders said...

Hi Jenny

I couldn't agree with you more on all points. Being a writer as well as a reader I understand how hard it is to portray a bad character without using the words he'd naturally say, but it can be done and well worth the effort because this can be a slippery slope. It's irritating to have something explained over and over as if we couldn't get it the first time. Just give us the facts. We can figure it out. The very worse to me is complaining about what readers say. The customer is always right.

BTW, I also do some of my best thinking on the treadmill.

Kathleen Y'Barbo said...

Echoing Deb and the others here, both as a reader and a writer. I, too, am curious what the word/words might be.

Daphne Self said...

Oh, I love this article. But now I'm wondering, what American word is considered cussing in Australia? And did I do that? My publisher is Irish and he helped weed out certain things, while mild in today's standards, I could still get the point across by rewording, that way no one would be offended.
It's a thin line, balancing promotion of my book and connecting with readers without overdoing it. :-)
I'm going to tag this post so that I can always come back to it and refresh myself.
As for the cussing, I agree. An absolute no-no in Christian books. And I'm a reader, too. Certain things turn me off...guess I should keep that in mind. If it turns me off, then don't do it to others. :-)
Thanks Jenny!

Jenny Blake said...

Thanks ladies I didn't want to write the word but will with a gap its blood y. Here in my mums generation it was very much like how the f word is used now. It may be more common now but it is still very much frown on in christian circles. The book featured a British officer who used it way to much. The word crap is another that was bad here but is becoming acceptable.

Thanks for stopping by. Mary I find it hard to give a review if its under 3 stars. I have won books on blogs and never received them which is really annoying.

Chill N said...

Jenny, such a good, informative read. And an excellent point about reviews being subjective/matter of opinion. I wrote a review several years ago and gave the book a 3 rating (3 out of 5). I'd never heard of the author, but she was apparently very popular, and I was one of the few who thought the book was okay but nothing fantastic. As you said, was I wrong? Nope, but I was honest :-)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Nancy C

Dorothy Adamek said...

Thanks, Jenny. Lots to think about here. I'm not a fan of swearing in books. Especially if they're sold as Christian fiction. I was always taught there's a better to way to say it, and authors need to know how to do this. Good to read your take on it too.

Dotti :)

Iola Goulton said...

I remember being taught at school that your swear word was literally that - swearing 'by our Lady' (Mary, the mother of Jesus). If we agree it is wrong to take the Lord's name in vain, it's hardly any better to His mother's name in vain. If authors are going to use the word, please stick to using it to describe an object covered in blood.

I'm also conscious of swearing in Christian fiction. One book published in 2012 used the c**p word three times - and it just didn't have to. Other words (like junk or rubbish) would have served the purpose equally well.

And I'm another person who has no patience for authors calling out reviewers, especially for 'not understanding'. If the author couldn't get the reader to understand a point in their 90,000 word novel, a comment on a blog post isn't going to help.

Jenny Blake said...

Thanks all. I think swearing and cussing is a hot topic at present for myself I choose christian books cos they should be clear of it. I started the church library and most of the borrowers are non christians. One of them who does swear like a trouper outside of the out reach group was praising the books and one of her comments to recommend the books was to quote her "and they are clean reads with now swearing or sex scenes". I donated some also to the town library and the head Librarian has said the same thing that borrowers have made the same comment and asked for more of these books.

Elizabeth Greentree said...

I was referred to this post because I am a writer that has a Christian message but allows their non-Christian characters to speak naturally (though slightly muted, I only use mild swear words). To me this discussion is ridiculous. You would take a book out of a bookstore totally regardless of its theology, message or purpose, just because it has some words you don't like in it? And by the sounds of it, these were debatable words?
I am prepared to change my writing because I will not be a stumbling block to others, but I just beg that you make sure you are not stopping people reading something that could aid them in their relationship with God, just because there is debate over a word. I believe there are legitimate places to swear, and also that you can have a life-changing message even if there are swear words in there. Please remember, the Bible has swearing in it, because it is a true reflection of humanity.

Jenny Blake said...

Elizabeth the book I complained about was more as an alert to fact of the swearing. I am not talking about a few incidents in the first 5 or 6 chapters it was used a min of 10 times per chapter to the max of 30 in one chapter. If it had been only occasionally I wouldn't have had the same issue.
Again I wrote this from my perspective and I don't speak for all readers.

Laetitia :-) said...

Interesting. For those who don't know me, I'm also Australian. I wouldn't turn a hair at the words that Jenny mentioned, particularly if they came out of the mouths of a non-Christian character. My mother, on the other hand, would.

To a certain extent, I also wouldn't have any problem with swearing coming from the mouths of Christian characters because (a) despite having grown up in a Christian home and having never knowingly not been a Christian, I still fall massively short of the Glory of God - and don't I know it - and (b) it allows for the fact that sanctification is an on-going process and none of us are going to be perfect until we pass from this life into the next. To me, my sometimes poor language is no better or worse than say prioritising 'me' time over marital relationship time (I'm selfish with time), prioritising my husband over God ("Oh, but God wants me to spend more quality time with my husband - it's his love language after all"...hmm, but not at the expense of time with God), fearing man's opinion more than I fear God's and therefore not talking to someone about God (justifying it by pre-judging them to be 'not interested')...

To have all the Christian characters be instantly squeaky-clean with no faults upon salvation is disingenuous and could portray the wrong image to non-Christians and self-aware-struggling-Christians. I'd rather occasionally read the words that the character would say than constantly read, "he cussed" or "he swore" (it's as sloppy as David Eddings' over-use of "in the way of the wolf" or "pennants snapping in the wind"). That being said, I don't want every second word to be an f-bomb. ;-)

Mary Hawkins said...

Laetitia and Elizabeth, as much as you as authors may want realism in your books to the extent of using what are at the very least unhealthy words not accepted by many, many people still, you have to accept certain facts of an author's life.
Unless you only want a relatively very small number of sales of your book - if it ever did reach a shop anywhere - you also must know what the majority of readers who buy from Christian bookshops of books released by Christian publishers expect. And while there has been a real change in recent years since the wonderful increase in the number of Christian Fiction books so that the general publishers are easing up on never publishing a book about Christians, I doubt if there are many Christian bookshops who would have them on their shelves. Certainly I know personally the conservative standards of American Christian publishers - some more strict than others of course - but I have yet to hear of one who will accept swearing or explicit violence and sex scenes that offend their readers. They know their readership markets often better than we writers can!

I wholeheartedly agree about having squeaky clean Christian characters who always do and say "the right thing". I certainly try hard to show failures I have myself or have seen in others over many years in ministry. And sorry, there is no explicit swear words in the Bible as there is no explicit sex scenes mentioned as such either although all are mentioned. Being a Christian who writes romance, I've used the Bible as my example! So much more to say about these things I feel very strongly about but this comment is already too long.

Narelle Atkins said...

Jenny, thank you for being brave enough to voice your opinion on these issues.

If a Christian author is writing for their own pleasure, they can include whatever words or content they want that fits their theological beliefs.

But, if a Christian author is writing with the goal of publishing a book in the Christian market, they are very foolish if they ignore the genre expectations of their readership. Their book is a 'product' and the goal of the author/publisher is to find a readership who are prepared to pay money to purchase their product.

I'm yet to meet a reader who has said 'I loved reading a Christian book because it has bad language in it.' Plenty of readers, myself included, have expressed their reluctance to buy another book by a Christian author due to cussing. Jenny has mentioned in her post that readers discuss these issues in reader forums eg. The Book Club Network, Goodreads.

Jenny, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and, as debut author in 2014, I value hearing feedback from readers. Without readers, authors don't have a market. A simple economic reality that authors really can't afford to ignore.

Rose Dee said...

Very interesting, Jenny. I think I have probably used the occasional word in my writing that a reader may find offensive, but I never, ever, considered it to be. I know that sometimes I can get wrapped up in making sure I write'real' conversation. But, the fact is - there are so many words in the English language, there is always something else you can use that is unoffensive. That's the challenge of being an author. You have to bear in mind that you don't just write for yourself. Some of the other 'turn off's' you mentioned were enlightening, and so true. Nobody wants to be hassled to buy something. Those telemarketing calls come to mind. Thank you for sharing - it all makes us better authors. :) x

Jenny Blake said...

Thanks Rose, I haven't noticed it in your writing. I am not a worried about some slang but the bigger words (and most seem to start with B)

Im glad the other turn off were enlightening as I think some of them are just as important.

I just had one of those calls tonight. I have been put on email lists just because I have commented on a joint blog with both Christian and mainstream books. The lists I ended up on were for the non christian authors.

Laetitia :-) said...

Jenny - if it's any consolation, I 'bought' a free e-book and the (USA) bookstore put me on their dead-tree catalogue list! (So yes, I got a catalogue in the post that had come from Sweden - evidently postage rates for them were cheaper if they sent them from Sweden.) I complained about that and got taken off the list.

Oh, and your comment about the red herring cat had me laughing particularly because I'd just watched a movie in which the criminal is shown getting a shoebox out of hiding more than once and then when the police raid his house we see them pull out this box, but we're never shown what's in the box! Why bother showing us the box, for crying out loud?! I have an idea as to what may have been in the box, but I don't know. I assume the reveal scene didn't make the final cut.

Mary - don't worry, as an Australian, I don't want explicit sex scenes either. If you compare secular Australian movies to secular USA movies you'll notice a big difference - an explicit sex scene is extremely rare in Australian movies (i.e. movies made firstly for the Australian market rather than the USA market). We tend to find them boring and a mild insult to our intelligence - we can figure out that a couple have had sex from a well written / dramatised story and we don't need to (almost) be taught how to do it! (General Australian tastes for violence vary but I personally don't need to read it.)

Rose - you say that due to the volume of words in the English language, an inoffensive word choice is always possible. The problem is that due to cultural differences, a word that is perfectly innocent in one variant can be offensive in another. For instance, there is a word that Jesus used that USA culture is very sensitive to. Australians are bamboozled by this. We're left going, "It's a proper noun, not a spell that will result in its appearance if spoken out loud. How are you going to tell someone not to go there if you won't state where and what there is?"

So, what do others think, if having a character swear is somehow integral to the story, could it be written comics style "$^%*@!" or simply as "-ing"? That second one is a reference to Terry Pratchett's "The Truth" in which a character keeps saying "-ing". It's actually the reader who is imaging the swearing.

Laetitia :-) said...

Hmm...the vagaries of the Internet and the written word. Just thought I'd let people know that I'm not trying to get up the noses of those who hold a different position from mine. When I write a comment, I am hearing it in my own tone of voice in my head but, of course, no-one else can hear that and it's hard to get the inflection of one's voice across in writing (hats off to published authors who manage this one).

I am trying to second Jenny's original post comment that there are cultural things that affect how we read someone's work. My apologies if I've done a ham-fisted job of it.

Jenny Blake said...

i found your comments insightful I am sure you didn't upset anyone.

Laetitia :-) said...

Ways writers can lose a reader - have their work published on a site that uses a bot to post spam on other writers' and reviewers' blogs. :-)

Jenny Blake said...

Thanks Laetitia, I had just got onto to this. I tend to walk in the morning and dont get to all the email as quick as I need to.

Melissa Jagears said...

The Cat? It's asleep on my treadmill, soaking wet from being out in the rain. Now you know! :)

Thanks for letting us know what you've seen make Christian readers unhappy. I don't know why any author wouldn't take this in to consideration and accommodate if it wasn't some moral stand not to--why turn off readers? If you're writing to gain readers that is.

And yes, my advice to all authors--resist commenting on any and all reviews on review sites. I'm actually having "fun" watching one author who comments on pretty near every review she gets, some are annoyingly unnecessary like "thanks for the review" and some show what side of the bed she woke up on. She's even changed her name on the different sites, but who else would comment on everything? It's a trainwreck waiting to happen...which is why I'm rubbernecking . . . not a good thing, it's not a way to interact with readers, gives you the heebie jeebies (that's not a bad word in Australia is it???)

And another thing, when authors rant about a bad review on social media, their followers sometimes go on a rampage and they go comment en masse on the review, and even if the author didn't ask them to do it, it feels and looks that way, which is just as bad. So authors, if they vent, should have a fellow writer to grumble to privately to get it out of their system.

Obviously the author commenting on everything would disagree with me, but if it turns off a section of your readership, why do it? And it's on the internet FOREVER!

Eileen Rife said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking reminders, Jenny. Walking does generate some good blog entries, doesn't it?!

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