It Ain’t What You Write, It’s The Way That They Read It

It Ain't What You Write, It’s The Way That They Read ItHey, guys! Remember when you wrote a book and it was nominated for lots of prizes and everyone said how great you were? No? Well, read on then.

If, on the other hand, you’re somebody who does remember getting loads of accolades and serious prizes for your work, I’d suggest you get back under the duvet now.

This article in the Guardian caught my eye.  And then brought a tear to it. Before you say anything, I’m not going to go into the merits or otherwise of gender-specific prizes such as the Bailey’s women’s prize for fiction. You can if you like. But this isn’t about that.

The article is ostensibly written about the 6 contenders for the 2015 Bailey’s prize. But in a stunning feat of journalism, in one short article about those fortunate and talented enough to be shortlisted, it also somehow manages to slag off all 6 shortlisted works by talking about how poorly they were read. Specifically, the fact that lots of readers apparently didn’t finish the books at all.

It seems that e-books now allow us to judge a book not by its cover, but by its reader. Kobo ebooks can tell us how much of a book readers actually read.

In the article, it says “The ebook retailer is able to track and analyse how far readers get in the books it sells, with [Sarah Waters’] The Paying Guests completed by 63% of those who downloaded.” However, on the other end of the scale, only 34% of Kobo readers finished Ali Smith’s already award-winning How to Be Both.

Think about it. You’ve written a book. It’s been published. It’s won prizes. It’s been nominated for one of the biggest international literary prizes for fiction in the English language.  It’s sold a very respectable multiple thousands of copies with potential for even greater sales due to the praise thrown at it. It could be considered, by any measure, to be pretty damn good.

And then the Guardian goes and tells people that only 34% of Kobo ebook readers finished your book. And not only that: the forerunner – the one who’s doing best – still only had 63% finishing her book. Ouch.

I’d be gutted! I’d be so gutted I would be arming myself to the teeth with literary missiles and searching desperately for a half-decent target at which to fire them.

Embed from Getty Images

Up to now, I thought that statistics on people abandoning books without finishing them were a good thing. Even a great thing. As a reader, I thought it might be really helpful to know if the self-published books I bought in particular were being read in full, because the reviews I depended on to guide me have become even more toxic and unreliable than when I spent half of last year giving out about them.

I particularly liked the fact that they can report on average reading times and the number of sessions engaged in to read a book – the inference being that the longer you read a book for in each session, the more gripping it is. The Unputdownability Factor. (Don’t steal that. I’m copyrighting that as soon as I’m let out again.)

I still like the idea of these things. But this article has made me see things in a whole new light. Not least that I realised I really couldn’t be arsed about whether Kobo ebook readers finished a book I’m interested in. It tells me nothing other than one tiny portion of readers of a widely-read book didn’t manage to read something they either spent good money on, or were given for free.

It’s a world of ups and downs, this is true. But imagine the bone-shattering reality of having to realise that being shortlisted for a major prize exposes you to a new type of criticism you didn’t even know existed. Pity the poor Shortlistees of the Bailey’s Prize. There’s nothing like your thunder being stolen before it’s even rumbled.

Over to you. Do you think the implications from these sorts of statistics becoming more widely available are good or bad? Do you want to know? Do you care? And will it ever stop raining in Ireland this summer or should I just emigrate now?

It Ain't What You Write, It's The Way That They Read It

  80 comments for “It Ain’t What You Write, It’s The Way That They Read It

  1. June 4, 2015 at 8:27 am

    You raise a whole lot of excellent points in your – as always – well-thought, eloquent post. So, let me be the first one to answer.

    Move to Greece. It’s been pretty balmy here.

    * Sadly, that’s the only answer I can come up with. As for the rest of your questions, I was happy to read the stats. That way, I won’t feel bad whenever someone admits they never finished my books… 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 9:15 am

      Thanks, Nicholas. Can I pitch my tent in your back garden? It’s only small. 4 bed, 2 bath, 3 pergolas. And 7 kettles.

      Liked by 2 people

      • June 4, 2015 at 1:40 pm

        You had me at the kettles. Let me just chop down a couple of trees, and you’ll be fine.

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm

          As long as we have an unobstructed view of the pool, we’re happy.

          Liked by 1 person

          • June 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm

            Ah, yes. The pool. I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. How soon before you’ve dug it up, you reckon?

            Liked by 1 person

            • June 4, 2015 at 1:47 pm

              Oh, no time at all. There’s 17 in my extended family as you know, so as soon as we all move in, I’ll set them to work.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. June 4, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Come on, aren’t you overstating the case a bit? I mean you are blogging! Don’t you check your stats daily (if not hourly), see how many hits you got, how long they stayed, if they click through to more articles?

    Better a metric you see than one you don’t I always say! (Well OK, I just made that up.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 9:19 am

      I beg your pardon, Alexander. I’m down to a mere 365 site stats checks (a week). This post is warring with my innate love of statistics, this is true. But if I don’t carry out my self-appointed role as High Complainer For Bestselling Authors seriously (the position having been conferred upon me, instead of a best-selling author, in order to protect them from trolls) who, I ask you, is going to take up the baton of finding dubious angles in newspaper articles as fodder for blog posts?


  3. Ali Isaac
    June 4, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Well that made me feel a whole lot better! These lists always make me feel so inferior a. Because Ive never heard of most of these books. b. Because I’ve never heard of the authors, and c. Because I must clearly be an uneducated, ignorant idiot due to a. and b. The fact that half the population guiltily rushes out to buy them for being made to feel the same way and then abandons them halfway through because they are so crap makes me feel a whole lot better! See how differently I interpreted the statistics???

    Actually, you did make me smile when you were talking about the ‘gripability factor’… most people I know just dont have the time to fritter away on a long leisurely read; we squeeze it into the commute from work to home, or the half hour between putting the shopping away and the kids coming home from school, or the ten minutes it takes from getting into bed at night and falling asleep. I havent read freely to fill time since I was a teen, and I envy you if you do!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 9:44 am

      It’s all in the interpretation, Ali – so true! I suppose I was putting myself in those authors’ shoes. Plus I reckon that the impact of such small-sample statistics – coming from one device and media type, with users concentrated in one geographical market – could be so disproportionate as to be damaging to a book’s future success. If they can get the same stats from a larger sample it would be so much more telling.

      A long leisurely read is definitely a luxury. But I have to say that in recent experience – remember that post about falling in love? – when I was reading that book, you wouldn’t BELIEVE how much time I “found” just to stay stuck in it. Nothing would tear me away. In that sense its unputdownability trumped everything else I was supposed to be doing. My dedication to it was damn near immoral!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ali Isaac
        June 4, 2015 at 9:52 am

        Ha! You should become that author’s promoter! Hope I find a reader like you for one of my books one day! I do feel sorry for those authors, it really is a kick in the teeth after being so ‘bigged up’ by the literary world, but maybe its more of a reality check. What’s the point of being lauded by the publishing industry if actually the book buying public dont read you? I’d rather be read, and I sincerely hope that the person who was kind enough to buy my book last month is determined to read it from cover to cover!!! 😁

        Liked by 2 people

        • June 4, 2015 at 10:10 am

          Sadly that particular book doesn’t need me or anyone else as its promoter, Ali – it’s already a classic! That’s an interesting point about the relevance of literary prizes. I do take it as an indicator of books I might like, but I’m disappointed as often as not. And have faith in your books. You have every reason to!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ali Isaac
            June 4, 2015 at 10:18 am

            I love reading old classics every now and again. They are timeless, and kind of reset the mind somehow. David Copperfield and Silas Marner are two of my favourites, but there are lots of others, too, inc some more modern classics. Most of my reading is Indie these days, not deliberately, it just is, if you know what I mean…

            Liked by 1 person

            • June 4, 2015 at 11:04 am

              I know what you mean, Ali. Those indie books sneak into your bedroom at night… prising open the eyelids, and infiltrating our reality. Cheeky of them, really. But we love them anyway.

              Liked by 2 people

        • June 8, 2015 at 6:44 am

          That sure is a reality check, and I think an author either knows this is going to happen, or they should learn it very fast 😉

          Liked by 1 person

    • June 4, 2015 at 6:56 pm

      Ah, but Ali, one day they leave home and everything changes. My guv’nor watches TV and I don’t (unless there’s rugby on, in which case she’s nowhere to be seen*), so when I’m home she listens through wireless headphones and I sit beside her and read. I get through two novels a week that way. To say nothing of a little hand-holding.

      *Just before the 2003 rugby World Cup kicked off she appeared from the sun room, to which she had banished herself, and said, “If this doesn’t go the way you hope, I’ll be going out. And I may not be back for some time”.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ali Isaac
        June 4, 2015 at 7:03 pm

        Lol! This is a rugby mad house too! My hubby coaches it and both boys play. I dont watch tv either, except for GoT, that is. Do you know, it occurred to me recently that in only 4 years my oldest will be officially an adult! How did tbat come around so quick? More time for reading? Well I guess everything has its compensations lol!

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 4, 2015 at 7:19 pm

          Listen, becoming an adult isn’t obligatory for boys. Girls have to do it — they have no choice — but it’s optional for boys and it’s a choice I never made. One of my granddaughters got some strange looks when she told her teacher that her Grandy (that’s me) was 12, but that’s the choice I made. 12 used to be a great age — you could play cricket all through the summer and girls hadn’t started to intrude. That last bit probably isn’t true any longer.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ali Isaac
            June 4, 2015 at 7:30 pm

            Haha! That is so true. Actually, my oldest is 13 going on 30. He took the pledge, doesnt like discos, goes to homework club at lunchtime… wtf??? I was not like that at his age! Dont know where he gets his responsible attitude from! The 11 year old has already announced his intention to get drunk when hes fourteen, ride a motorbike, etc. Same genetics, same upbringing, totally different kids! Question is, are you still as athletic as you were at 12?

            Liked by 1 person

            • June 4, 2015 at 8:17 pm

              Er…no 😦

              But I have a t-shirt that says, “The older I get, the better I was”.

              Liked by 2 people

              • Ali Isaac
                June 4, 2015 at 8:19 pm

                Lol! Love that! 😁😂😄

                Liked by 1 person

  4. June 4, 2015 at 9:39 am

    I know what’s going on here: China.

    I think I’m right in saying that in China it’s impolite to eat all your food because it suggests the host hasn’t given you enough. Well, maybe books are read in China the same way. They always leave a little bit unread as a sign of respect to the author.

    Big market for books in China, and that could distort the stats…

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 4, 2015 at 9:46 am

      That is a most excellent point, Chris. Maybe also it’s that in English-speaking society it’s impolite to finish an award-nominated book in case your own opinion differs violently from that of the judging panel. Yeah. I’d say that’s it all right.


  5. June 4, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Interesting post. I like reading stats, but think using in a celebration type scenario, as a contest is bad form. It’s kinda like saying your great, but these are all the ways you screwed up. I think stats are good, but I think in that particular form bad use e.g. almost like being a bad loser so let me bring you down with me kind of thing, but what do I know.
    Happy IWSG day!
    Juneta at Writer’s Gambit

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 4, 2015 at 10:14 am

      I had to look up IWSG day – but yes indeed, right back at you Juneta!

      I don’t know why I felt there was an undercurrent of ‘bad loser’ as you say about that article, I just did. I agree with you completely. The stats are interesting, but there’s something icky about them being used in this way. It’ll be interesting to see who wins later and what it might really mean – or not.


  6. June 4, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Stats are valuable if they are reliable. The truth can often hurt but like a bad fire “better out than in”
    “When fiction rises pleasing to the eye,
    Men will believe, because they love the lie;
    But truth herself, if clouded with a frown,
    Must have some solemn proof to pass her down. “

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 4, 2015 at 10:17 am

      That’s a fabulous quote, Adrian, and thank you for posting it… yes indeed: it’s a fine line between interesting and reliable. Both truth and fiction are so subjective that it’s a wonder any of us ever get out of bed in the morning.


  7. June 4, 2015 at 10:43 am

    I will now scroll through all the pages of my downloaded books whilst watching the telly, just because I don’t want to offend anyone.
    Thank you for the tip off.

    Liked by 3 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 11:02 am

      Hahaha!! That’s the spirit. Thanks, Scarlet. I’m going to follow your lead. 😀


  8. June 4, 2015 at 11:29 am

    To be honest, I think these statistics are really more of a refection of readers (and society) than writers. I feel far too many people don’t take the time to read an entire book because our daily high speed, high energy routines have developed ungodly numbers of devotees of the Short Attention Span Theatre.

    Just my opinion here, but unlike even a few years ago, people don’t MAKE time to finish even a great book.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 11:57 am

      That’s a tough one, Thomas. Are books not finished by readers because readers can’t concentrate, or because the books themselves aren’t what they need to be in order to hold their attention?

      For starters, when you think of the way the Penny Dreadfuls were denounced in Victorian times, it shows that what’s gripping or popular isn’t always what’s respected. Or you could say that books have been devalued through discounting and freebies. One way or another, I don’t think we can dismiss readers if they aren’t interested enough in a book to read the whole thing. And the shift of audiences to complex long-form and slow-moving drama on TV rather disproves the theory that our attention span isn’t what it used to be.

      Liked by 3 people

      • June 4, 2015 at 8:36 pm

        Those complex, long-form, slow-moving TV dramas convince me that Literary and Fusion Fiction do have a market (one reader said my 480-page paperback was “way too short!”)

        As a retired Registered Nurse, I can say with confidence that adults who genuinely can never sit still and focus on reading for 30 minutes at a time, have problems that giving them short books may salve, but cannot cure.

        And who decreed that long books can’t be read in short bursts? Isn’t that what scene and chapter breaks are for?

        Moreover, people who think they don’t have the time to sink into long books also may think they don’t have the treasure to sink into them; nevertheless, a series of eight or ten continuing-story novelettes, bought separately, may well siphon off more shekels than they’d shell out for a 200,000-word tome.

        Skinflints who hoard freebies they never read like to brag about their huge TBR lists. I don’t do free, so we won’t go there, but verily I say unto you, they have their reward.

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 4, 2015 at 9:23 pm

          I don’t think anyone has a problem with a long book, Christine, as long as it’s only as long as it needs to be, and no longer! Clear as mud, I know.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. suburbansimply
    June 4, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    I have just returned from Barcelona where I was reading a certain Irish bestseller. I started on page 50 as I had downloaded and read a sample first. My companion read the same e- book over my shoulder on the plane (very annoying). He then purchased a paper copy and we both read it thereby abandoning the e-book at about page 120, but both of us read pages 60 to …oh please help me with the statistics. Does anybody remember a sketch by Maureen Potter where she is helping her son Christy to do his maths, filling a bath with coal or something. Trying to apply statistics to reading is similar.


    • June 4, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      I’m laughing at the images you’ve painted here, but your point is serious. Who knows how robust the statistics really are, let alone the sample size? Also, sometimes when I finish a book I flick back to a favourite bit. What if this is 40% the way through and there I leave it forevermore, sitting on my device? Anyway… I hope you charged adequate book rental on the over-the-shoulder loan. It’s the curse of the digital classes.


  10. June 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Commenting to let you know I read to the bottom of the blog post 🙂
    Do you think most writers just want people to buy their books and if they read them that’s a bonus?? Love getting positive feedback though.
    Fecking media – they always have to pour cold water on something don’t they? They are turning into farmers! My darling husband said to me yesterday ‘you do know you’ll get a lot of flak when your book comes out don’t you?
    Erm yes, of course, it’s about perfect farm wives and I’m so far from being one, the critics won’t be able to poke fun cos it will be so obvious 😉


    • June 4, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      There’s always a way to ruin a good news story, Lorna! Your husband sounds very helpful. You should use him for preparation if you’re ever challenged in a debate. And never underestimate the power of being taken literally. You could come out of this Queen Of Farm Wifery, called to appear on TV for your sage wisdom thrice weekly. Can I have your autograph in advance?


  11. June 4, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Beyond “The Unputdownability Factor,” the line “There’s nothing like your thunder being stolen before it’s even rumbled” is worthy of some serious trademark consideration. And did I already mention you’re hilarious?

    This issue is slightly alarming, actually: I’d wondered if they really COULD tell how much of a book was read (since that’s also part of the payment formula for the Kindle Unlimited subscription program of which I do not belong), but apparently they can. Is it me, or is that a tad scary and invasive???

    I agree with you that there’s something pitiable about a good, solid writer being nominated for an award only to be side-swiped with a report of readers’ unfinishability (you can have that one). Given the glut of crap that readers DO finish (I mean, really, there’s now to be a new sequel to 50 Shades but from “his pov”… this is necessary???), NOT finishing a beautifully rendered piece of literature should mean nothing. I know people who didn’t finish All the Light We Cannot See and it won the damn Pulitzer!

    Yes, one would hope the writers being accoladed with high prizes would have written books that really WERE impossible to put down, but until there is true science to this “checking how far on their Kobo/Kindle they got,” that statistic should be considered no more reliable a gauge than the inadmissible lie detector test.

    But certainly it would make me sad to realize people weren’t finishing my book. I’d cry and then go put my Pulitzer Prize on the shelf. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      I’m rapidly running out of brownie points to give you, Lorraine, for saying such nice things. Any further run on stocks may result in a corresponding decrease in cynicism on my part which – I think you’ll agree – would be a terrible state of affairs altogether.

      Regarding your question – is the new and totally unimproved 50 Shades necessary – of course not, but sadly, comments on social media I’ve seen would suggest much of the target market begs to differ. Now if only stats could be got on that book! Pages completely ignored without being read at all… 73%. Pages read repeatedly… 6(.)9%. 😛


      • June 5, 2015 at 12:31 am

        Yes, we count on your cynicism to keep us in stitches…let’s not get carried away!

        50 Shades…I have no doubt the target market is salivating. Literally. That big, wet, messy literary event will continue for as long as female readers lap it up (way too many slimy references, I realize). I think you’re right about the repeat readings…. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  12. June 4, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Could this be a whole new employment opportunity? “Work at home, just paging through books! ” And when some hapless soul responds to the ad, they receive “employment instructions” such as “You only need 5 – 10 e-readers, each with a different account. Download and open these books, and flip the pages continually at appropriate reading speeds.”
    And on a different topic, up until now you have only focused on the inappropriate use of a stock photo each week — I think you might want to expand that category to focus on a stock photo’s inappropriateness in and of itself. You can start with the Goldilocks picture above. How can someone leave a child to howl like that during the time it takes to snap the photo? What is that terrible fence doing in the picture? And is the photo’s composition that bad on purpose?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 4, 2015 at 8:00 pm

      You know you’ve just invented a whole new multi-million dollar enterprise for the sort of people who make money from telling people on YouTube that they just bought lip gloss? Can I be cut in?

      I did have 2nd thoughts about the stock photo. Then I told myself that the child was having a tantrum over poor photo composition so I said… Yes! But great idea on inappropriateness. Do you do consultancy??


      • June 5, 2015 at 2:26 am

        No, because then I would have to be smart on demand. Think of your post as a big firework that sets off mini-sparks of creativity throughout the blog world, and today I happened to get some of those sparks! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 5, 2015 at 7:05 am

          You mean I should take all the credit? But… But…Yeah. No problem. Thanks!!


  13. June 4, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    I’ll tell you what annoys me. It’s the fact that, as the old song goes, “every move you make, every breath you take” they’re watching us.

    Really, is there anything the obsessive compulsive, shadowy data collectors out there don’t want to know about people and what makes us tick? What’s the reason for all this analysis and data hoarding? Is it only for marketing purposes, or could there be a more (begin scary music) sinister purpose (sorry, I’m in a paranoid phase)?

    Liked by 3 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      And I know where you drink.

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 4, 2015 at 8:55 pm

        Maybe that’s it. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 4, 2015 at 9:34 pm

          All’s fair in love and marketing, eh? That’s what they’ll say, anyway. Anything goes as long as it might increase sales. That’s sinister enough for me.

          Liked by 1 person

    • June 8, 2015 at 6:37 am

      I think the same. That’s why, even if I do own a Kobo, I buy very few ebooks and normally read only my material on it (mostly PDF free online, PDF I created myself, books the authors themselves forwarded me). I hate being dissected.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. June 4, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Interesting stats. I’m an end to end reader so it’s hard for me to imagine stopping in the middle of a good book. The more I learn, the more solid my conclusion that readers are a varied group with widely diverse tastes. I have to let it go at that, or I’d make myself crazy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 4, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      Try telling that to the marketers! Diverse? Varied? No way. We’re all sheep! How else can we be convinced to buy anything?!

      Liked by 2 people

    • June 8, 2015 at 6:35 am

      I’m a end to end reader too. I’ve only abandoned… what? Two books? In my entrie reading career, because I always think you should give the writer the benefit of doubt until you reach the end. I read quite a few books I could have judge very differently, had I not read the ending.

      But I understand not everyone is like me. I even understand people who are not patient enough to read an entire book 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  15. June 4, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Tara, surely this is your irresistible opportunity for some stats fun. The profile of the Kobo reader… do they only shop in Accessorise, how many lattes do they consume per hour, do they own more than ten bikinis, have they ever read a Book (you know the paper sort)… I bet someone has the info out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 4, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      Well, I don’t have a single bikini for fear of scaring the horses. Mind you, I don’t have a Kobo, either, so I don’t know what that tells us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 4, 2015 at 9:43 pm

        Hilary, I bet someone’s already made up the best stats for that – hang on, was that you? Loving your work!

        John, through the logical process of elimination, I think that tells me that you don’t like skinny lattes and have never lied about piercings. Am I right?


  16. June 5, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Nothing to add, Tara, but great discussion. And I love all your fans. Nearly.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. June 8, 2015 at 6:56 am

    You know what? I think that’s what it has always been. I mean, especially with prize-receiving novels. I do think many people buy the book out of curiousity because they hear so much about it, but it may not be their thing at all. So they abandon it. It’s normal.
    They may buy a book because they hear about it all the time even if it hasn’t garnered any prize. But it isn’t their thing, so they abandon it.
    I really think this has always happened… only there weren’t statistics for it before.

    What I really find stunning is that people let themselve be told what they should like. Oops, sorry, what they should ‘buy’, which is what truly matters (apparently). I mean, I know people who bought (and read, that’s the creepy part) 50 Shades of Grey ‘because I can’t trash it if I don’t read it first’.
    I know that book is not my thing and I haven’t bought it (nor do I plan to do it). You know what? I don’t even care to trash it. I prefer to dedicate what (little) time I have to books I’m reasonably sure I’ll like and read to the end 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • June 8, 2015 at 10:58 am

      I’m pretty sure it has always happened and it’s only the available statistics and an increased tendency to make snap judgements which has changed. As for being told what we should like, that certainly hasn’t changed! It’s been happening since the Egyptians invented advertising on papyrus, and we’re all still hugely susceptible to it, whether we like to admit it or not!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. June 8, 2015 at 8:33 am

    I don’t care how much of my books people read. I just want them to buy them. Got that everybody?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. June 8, 2015 at 10:46 am

    I don’t give a toss about reviews or stats re other people’s books. I like to make my own mind up.
    However, as a writer I don’t think I’d necessarily want stats about MY work plastered all over the place.
    Yes, the rain will stop but give it credit for our green countryside.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. June 15, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Maybe it’s just my twisted mind, but I do wonder whether many books shortlisted for big name literary prizes actually get there on their merit or whether they get shortlisted because of much targeted promotion and publicity aimed at the opinion formers who place the books on the shortlist. Traditional publishers must view such promotion as part of their battery of promotional tools, for if they succeed in having one, perhaps more, of their books shortlisted, or even long listed, then the return in terms of significantly increased sales, and therefore profits, is good for the company.

    And the publicity multiplies in bookshops, magazines, newspapers, online sites and television programmes as successful authors are interviewed and wave their book, mentioning of course the publisher. Publishing is big business and uses big business methods.

    As for the rest of us, we often are persuaded to read very many of these books because they are pushed at us. The number ditched before the last page suggests they do not always appeal. But then I suspect publishers tend to publish what will sell (given significant promotion) rather than what may well be a stonking good book but which they might consider has less of a mass market (whether or not manipulated) readership.

    As I said, I have a twisted mind about such things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 16, 2015 at 11:31 am

      Literary prizes are most certainly a promotional tool for publishers but as every publisher will submit the biggest tools in their arsenal, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’ll succeed, or that it can be rigged to any measurable extent. Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is a case in point – published by a niche small press with neither power nor a proper marketing budget, and winner of the Bailey’s Prize in 2014 following its surprise win of the 2013 Goldsmiths Prize.

      I don’t think your mind is twisted at all. But whilst we sometimes need the literary prizes to pluck out shy gems hidden amongst the brash costume jewellery, we also need to take them with a pinch of salt, and decide ourselves from the blurb on the back of the book whether it’s really something we want to read or not.


  21. August 12, 2015 at 1:00 am

    Reblogged this on Asma Al shammari.


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