Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Post 3 - Fiction Focus Group

We publishers have basically one way to determine if a book was a success -- SALES. But we don't have many tools that can tell us exactly why one book failed to move on the bookstore shelves while another book flew home with shoppers in droves. We get some reader and bookstore feedback and can make assumptions about marketing tools, sales methods, cover, price, content, and so on. But it isn't scientific, and I'm reminded that publishing is often a matter of intuition and gamble.

Anyway, in hopes of getting some direction for a future publication list and to test our intuition, we threw together a fiction focus group yesterday made up of 5 people in the office (not editorial) and 7 from outside. We had the group rank our full-length fiction into three piles (best, average, and least) and talk about what makes a book appealing.

A few things of interest came out and may help the writers out there.
  • Readers want multiple-level plots in a story. They want more than just a romantic/emotional conflict. There needs to be "meat" to the story.
  • They like characters with "flesh on their bones" who the reader can really get attached to like a part of their family. They like to be moved on an emotional journey with the characters.
  • Avid readers can pick out tricks authors overuse in storytelling. They don't like anything that makes a book predictable.
  • Flash endings are disappointing. The author may be running out of time or words or enthusiasm, but the reader wants a satisfying ending that will linger in their mind for days.
  • Books don't necessarily need to come in series (that can be an expensive commitment for a reader), but they do like to revisit characters in other books.
  • For this group, the presence of an inspirational theme was an important part of moving the reader's emotions and causing them to recommend the book. Some use of scriptures was appreciated by most.

Hope you find some insight in my notes that will help you on your own WIP. JoAnne and I had fun meeting with the group. They even gave us some story ideas.

That's all for today.



Rachel Hauck said...

Hey Becky,

Great post. I love the list. It's interesting because when you read some writing books that advise conflict on every page, it makes it hard to slow down once in awhile and let the readers "meet" the characters.

Thanks for posting. It's encouraging.


Lynette Sowell said...

Thanks for sharing the list. I know we ultimately write for readers, and this helps us remember that. :)

Mary Connealy said...

It's great of you guys to go through books in this analytic way. I often know some book really appeals to me, but putting it into words isn't always easy. There's a lot to learn from this post.
Mary Connealy

Katie Hart said...

I appreciate the 3rd item of interest. I've stopped reading many authors because they became predictable.

Kristy Dykes said...

Great info. Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

You said: Readers want multiple-level plots in a story. They want more than just a romantic/emotional conflict. There needs to be "meat" to the story.

I wonder if you would mind giving a few examples of books with multiple-level plots. Would early K. Kingsbury be such?

Mary Connealy said...

I had to quit hugging Petticoat Ranch so I could type.
They're beautiful, Becky. Barbour did great work on it. Thank you.
Gotta to pick it back up now. All 25 of them need a big hug. :)
Mary "The Crazed" Connealy
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