To Please Everybody

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Readership out there now is truly global. As a writer, you can never know exactly who’s reading your book(s), or where, or why. Perhaps most importantly, you never know what a reader individually takes away from it – unless they tell you.

And do you always really want to know? I’m struck at times also by how some readers review a book on social media evidently hoping they had read a different book. I say that here because a review I’d recently seen on Goodreads of another author’s novel included – and I’m paraphrasing – this weird observation:

I liked it a lot. The characters are great. But it’s a romance novel. I don’t like romance novels.

As the author, how could you possibly satisfy someone like that? Answer: you couldn’t. “I’m sorry it’s a ‘romance’ novel,” I’d think, “but the book’s description made that pretty clear. Treatises on the Battle of Midway are found elsewhere….”

Relatedly, I’d also had this pop up and it caught my eye, too:

Screen capture of Goodreads.
Screen capture of Goodreads.

How time slips by. That book is now – I’ve just realized it! – about 20 years old. It was a huge seller in, uh, “its day.”

Seeing it brought back “memories.” I happen to own it: I have the hardcover from sooooo long ago. It wasn’t the best history book I’d ever read, but I do remember enjoying it and feeling I’d learned a bit from it.

And it has received mostly good Goodreads reviews. However, there are some scorching negatives. Several I read lambasted the author for the likes of using “big words” and being “dull” and “academic”:

Screen capture of Goodreads.
Screen capture of Goodreads.

Yes, it’s written generally in an “academic” style. But it also aims for a “popular” audience. As I recall, it’s got a light touch.

But that’s my take away. Yes, his narrative might be termed “dense” in spots – with “complex” sentences and often long paragraphs. A casual reader may find some of his historical references to be decidedly obscure, too.

However, that almost has to be the case with a book like that: it’s not People magazine.

Yet all of that begs the eternal question for every author: who’s your audience? It’s a constant struggle between assuming “too much” knowledge on readers’ parts versus treating them like fourth graders. (Sorry, I have to remember, global audience: that’s school age nine in the U.S. 😉 )

Including history as background for the fiction, I’m constantly questioning myself. Is that paragraph too “long?” How many readers have heard of “him?” How many will “get” that reference? Is that point going to be “lost” on too many, causing them to throw up their hands and declare, “This is soooooo difficult! I don’t understand!”

On the other hand, some readers are much more deeply knowledgeable about this or that. It’s impossible to predict who will be, or about what. Too much “simplicity” and “background” may also lose or irritate them: “Yeh, yeh, I knew that, pal. [Yawn.] Let’s move it along….”

What to do? The fundamental problem is you just can’t possibly hit “the right pitch” for every potential reader on the planet over the age of 18.

All you can do is content yourself with the reality that at some point on social media you’ll likely stumble on contradictory critiques of your book(s) along the lines of “What the hell is he talking about? He lost me. I needed more info….” followed immediately after by “God, everyone knows that! Duh. I didn’t need that explanation! He thinks we’re idiots!”

Happy Sunday – whatever you’re reading! 🙂

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