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.
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?