Monday, February 22, 2010

What Style of Couch Are You?

This is a guest post by author and speaker Jim Rubart. Jim also owns Barefoot Marketing. His first novel, Rooms, hits shelves in April.

When my wife and I shopped for our first couch many moons ago, I asked our salesperson, "What style of couch do you personally like?"

"Oh, you wouldn't like it. Because I deal in couches all day long, I don't like the same things a typical customer does."

When I pressed him to explain what he meant he said, "I guess my tastes are a bit more sophisticated than the average person."

When I lead fiction marketing workshops I often ask the attending writers, "What's your favorite movie?" It's a fun way to get to know them and tells me a bit about their stylistic leanings. None have ever answered:

1. Avatar
2. Titanic
3. The Dark Knight
4. Star Wars
5. Shrek 2
6. E.T.
7. Star Wars- The Phantom Menace
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
9. Spider-Man
10. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

(The current top ten movies of all time.)

Readers certainly want Dan Brown, Stephenie Myer, Paul Young, and John Grisham. But their work may not be touted as examples of stellar literary craftsmanship.

My point? We in the publishing business are likely jaded by being editors, agents, and professional writers. What the average reader thinks is original, we've seen many times. Our receptivity to a great story might be clouded because the craft used to tell the story is poor. And what we think should sell millions often doesn't.

I'm not saying we should write stories without excellent craft. But to understand the marketplace we might need to work harder at getting inside the head of the average couch buyer.


What do you think about Jim's words? Agree, disagree?


Lost Wanderer said...

I agree, except for Titanic. Totally love it, and would freely admit to it. But I see the point. It's been drilled into our heads that we must do our best about everything - plot, language, characters. So when we see some of the bestsellers that don't necessarily have all of those things, we scoff and say they could have done better. But public - or the majority of it - wants entertainment not literally satisfaction.

Timothy Fish said...

I've never seen Avatar or Titanic, but E.T.? Who can't love that movie? I've never been good at naming favorites of anything. There are a ton of movies and books that I love and all for different reasons. I suppose, if I were to pick one movie, I would probably say Them. I mean, who can't like a movie about big ants, but if you we really look closely at why we love a story, I don't think the typical writer is going to disagree much with the typical reader. We may choose a different "favorite," but that could be because we are more aware of the stories that are out there. If we just look at whether a story is good or not, you won't find much disagreement about the best stories.

Barbara E Brink said...

There is always another generation coming along behind and to them everything is again original. I find my grown kids think most things are original although I've seen the same plot a hundred times. They still enjoy it. So, I don't know if the originality of the plot matters as much as the quality of the writing. I know as a writer, I want to think I'm original but...
Eccl. 1:9 "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

N.Turner said...

I completely agree. Look at the Twilight series. Spurned by writers, editors, and the literary community, but embraced by the average reader.
The question is how do we get editors, agents, and publishers to look at stories that don't meet their "sophisticated tastes"?

Silverbill said...

Oh how many came from great authors? Was even one a book first? Something to think about.

Nicole said...

I've blogged about "the average reader" and the publishing industry being "out of touch" with them. It's true. Many of the book-buying readers do NOT notice craft. When I, as a writer, start talking technical, craft-y stuff, their eyes glaze over. They'll read the gamut of novels from well done to sappy and horribly written and love them all.

The follow-up to this is usually: But if you put forth the best crafting of the story, they might not be able to discern what's good/better about it, but they'll appreciate it so much more. Sorry, doesn't really fly.

I've given not-so-good (not mean) reviews to published novels with not-so-good craft, and, wow, readers who love the novels tend to get irate.

For "the average reader" it's all about whether or not they like the story.

Lynn Squire said...

I agree whole-heartedly.

Jessie at Blog Schmog said...

To illustrate Jim and Nicole. I just attended a book club meeting where we read a New York Times best selling book (christian) that absolutely tanked. I told my husband it was an F and if it weren't for the great premise I would have put it down 30pg in.

I did not share that agressively with my group. 9 out of 10 LOVED it!

When I pointed out what I didn't like about the writing... chapters and chapters of back story, slow beginning in a supposedly thrilling novel, slow middle...many, many supporting characters who were one dimentional... they agreed on every count but just couldn't get over the great story.

"Oh yeah," they'd say, "I skimmed the first 1/3 of the book but DID you READ the END!"

Ugh! They simply didn't care about the poor writing. Who can argue with New York Times BEST SELLER?

Well, now I feel better I finally got to vent. :)

But seriously, as an author, what does that mean? Write compelling characters?

Okay- I thought I was done but it reminds me, when the main character died toward the beginning of the book I didn't even CARE. So it can't be in the characters.

I'd say if you write to the populations biggest fears, hang ups, dreams... then you've got a compelling story no matter who you insert. I don't know, I could be wrong. :)

Jessie at Blog Schmog said...

Oops. Here you go (?) help Mr. Question Mark find his home.

Daniel Smith said...

I agree with his words, but that list! Alas, I could have laughed out loud. Especially at #7. The original three are far superior.

The top ten movies as voted on by regular people over at includes:

1. The Godfather
2. Casablanca
3. The Shawshank Redemption
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
5. Star Wars
6. Titanic
7. Forrest Gump
8. Schindler's List
9. Gone with the Wind
10. Citizen Kane

Now that's a list I could be proud of. The web site goes to 100, so here are the three on both lists.

6. Titanic
12. The Dark Knight
5. Star Wars

(I guess I'm not exactly going in the direction the post was meant am I. ;) )