The Journal: Reader Taste—The Final Take

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: Reader Taste—The Final Take
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“[T]he big money, I think, for long term is probably in self publishing.” New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin

“I think after Christmas would be better for publication: I am hardly a Christmas present.” Oscar Wilde

Topic: Reader Taste—The Final Take (and a question for you)

In an email regarding my recent post on reader taste vs. writer skill, my young friend wrote, “… what if one reader doesn’t like a book but another reader does? Do you mean the writer fails the reader individually?”

Nope, that isn’t what I mean at all.

Certainly, one reader might enjoy a story and another reader might not enjoy the same story. That’s an indisputable fact, right? But with such a small sampling, whether the result is down to writer skill (or lack thereof) or reader taste is anybody’s guess. So I don’t think you can go one reader at a time. One reader liking something and another reader not liking the same thing is essentially an invalid sampling.

But say 1000 readers buy your book. Say you get 50 five-star reviews (they love it), 50 one- or two-star reviews (they hate or dislike it) and the other 900 reviews are all three and four stars. Would you tally all of those up to reader taste? Did the book just happen to suit the taste of 950 readers while not appealing at all to 50 other readers?

I posit that both this and the opposite effect are down to the writer. The more skilled the writer, the more likely he is to get that sort of positive result. And the less skilled the writer, the more likely he is to get the opposite result (950 one- and two-star ratings and 50 three-, four-, and five-star ratings).

As you know, I believe reader taste primarily determines which genre(s) and type(s) of stories the reader will even attempt. If a reader doesn’t like westerns or SF or romance, for example, he won’t chance buying and reading them. But otherwise, as I wrote above, I believe the work of a skilled writer will suffer far fewer reader-taste casualties than will the work of an unskilled or less-skilled writer.

But if we wanted to nitpick, I suppose there’s really no accounting for reader taste. Hey, we might even  recognize there are different kinds of readers. There are those who only skim, for example. I suppose getting into any kind of depth for those who skim would do no good. And there probably are millions of other subsets of readers out there, each with their own little reader-quirks and sets of reader-expectations.

Now remember, we’re talking here about unwary, unsuspecting readers who are reading strictly for pleasure, not those sticks in the mud who are focusing on each individual word and punctuation mark, looking for any reason to stop reading. So overall, I’ll stick with my earlier reasoning: the more skilled the writer, the better his chance of weathering reader taste.

I advocate writing with depth in order to pull the reader into the story and keep him there. I believe by controlling what the reader sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels (physically and emotionally) as he reads, the writer can cause the reader to be more likely to continue reading. I also believe if the writer does not control those things, the reader is more likely to leave the story and go find something else to do.

I also advocate continual learning to improve one’s craft in depth and in other aspects of storytelling (pacing, tension, etc.), all to the same end: to give the reader a more interesting experience and to render the reader less likely to punch out early.

But I promote all of that because I believe that I, not the reader, am responsible for my own success or failure. I am solely responsible for how well or poorly my stories are written, and that, not reader taste, is the factor that determines the success or failure of my career.

If I believed that I had zero control over the reader or that the control I levy has no effect—that my own success or failure as a writer was down to something so arbitrary and unaccountable as reader taste—I probably wouldn’t write at all. Or I would write primarily to entertain myself, which is what I do anyway. But I definitely wouldn’t invest money and time in learning and improving a craft that makes no difference.

I suppose all that’s left is to determine what all of this means to you as a writer. So I put the question to you: Can you learn to write well (and does that matter), or is your success or failure determined primarily by reader taste?

And for goodness’ sake, pick a side, even if you do so privately. Don’t cop out with “Both.” Everyone knows there’s a certain amount of reader taste involved, just as there’s a certain amount of reader mood or reader piety or reader drunkenness etc. involved at any given time. The real question is whether to bother with learning the craft at all.

No matter how you choose, here’s my final bit of advice on the topic:

1. If you believe skill matters, invest some time and money in learning how to gain the reader’s interest from the first line of your story and how to ground the reader in the story and pull him to depth so he’ll be less likely to leave before the end. And study the business side too, especially how to write compelling sales copy.

2. But if you really believe your success as a writer is subject mostly to the whims of reader taste, then more than likely you also assume things will work out to about 50/50. In that case, may I suggest you save the money you might have spent on learning the craft and focus instead on learning the business side: how to get more stories to more readers more quickly. Learn how to inundate the market. Oh, and learn to write compelling sales copy to entice potential readers to actually buy the story.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “On ‘Significant Authorship’: Writing as a Team” at And see PG’s take.

See “The Sad State of the Traditional Publishing Backlist” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1070 words

Writing of WCGN 5: (tentative title, novel)

Day 1…… 2786 words. Total words to date…… 2786
Day 2…… 2536 words. Total words to date…… 5322
Day 3…… 1205 words. Total words to date…… 6527
Day 4…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for December……… 10865
Total fiction words for the year………… 636749
Total nonfiction words for December… 10400
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 29540
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 838559

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.