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what do readers look for in a book?



Well, different people seek different things, but there are some issues which are common to most.

What you see below are a few of my thoughts and...

I would invite you to add to it, so that the entire community can benefit from shared expertise.


‘It transported me.’

One term that has cropped up a lot in my reviews is “transport/transported.” It is quite important that your story takes the reader to somewhere they haven’t been before (or even a place they have been to, and love). This can be geographical or fictional. It can be the past, the future, or even another world. It can even be within someone's mind. Reading as a means of escapism has great value, particularly when tackling mental health issues or even just taking a break from daily pressures.



Creating a world that people fall in love with also secures your sequels. Neither does it have to be cerebral. I recently read a book about 19th century northern mill workers, which is something I’m already familiar with, but it did me good to exist in that world for a while.


Understand something better/empathise.

Although books do not need to be educational, it is helpful if you can leave the reader with a better understanding of something, and this could be a theme which develops their empathy. Writing is most successful when you can experiment with someone’s views, particularly if that view is a little prejudiced. My mantra is that we should always write about what we know or have experienced, as readers are quite good at spotting the difference.



If you have a point to make, it is always better putting the reader “in our shoes” rather than ranting about our beliefs.


Feelings

I’m sure you have all watched a movie or read a book that has made you laugh. This is something that is very important to me as a writer. I want readers to be so involved that they react to what is on the page. It is up to you to decide what you want them to feel, but people enjoy literature best when it affects them viscerally.


Verisimilitude

Is the story plausible? I feel as though I should issue a disclaimer before starting this section, i.e. this does not mean that your story must exist in the world as we know it.


A novel about ex-members of Parliament setting up a retirement colony on Alpha Centauri may well work (especially if they stay there), as long as the story is told well. But we have all read a novel or watched a movie where we feel as though the whole idea simply does not work and makes little sense. Much of this has to do with “holes.”



Today’s audience is probably more diverse than ever and I don’t mean that in the popular sense, I mean that one reader could be a well-versed detective who can spot clues, locations or characters that don’t add up and there will be another who just wants to enjoy some easy chronological storytelling, because it is what they enjoy.



We all know that you cannot please everyone, but you must ensure that what you are selling is watertight, and writing about what you know usually makes this a lot easier. Lee, myself, and Dave (My proof-reader) have recently discussed the need for diligent record keeping when writing. Why not log a character’s movements throughout a scene or even the entire book?


Entertainment value.

Just over a year ago, I was talking to a group of authors about this. One or two baulked at the idea that writing is entertainment. Although we would all like to think we are creating literary masterpieces, our work is there mostly to express ourselves but also to entertain, and if it doesn’t, it will not be read. I am lucky in that at last; I seem to have found my audience (which was never meant to be niche but is) and many of them know something about the period of which I write. Nevertheless, I still worry that when I take time to explain historical characters or events, I’m sending somebody to sleep for a few minutes. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable if I want to include essential background information.



I’ve had critical reviews and I’ve had a lot of excellent reviews, but it is the ones which say that they were happy, enjoyed the work or even laughed and cried that have been the most rewarding. I feel no need to be a Hemingway of Christie, just a decent storyteller.


You

I have just read a book by an ASPA member which really impressed me and it also told me a lot about the writer, not least their passion for the subject, the period and literature itself. When I read, I want to know that a human being is creating a narrative but also telling me something about themselves.

I also believe this is why AI 'writing' will never succeed.



I am happy when a review mirrors something about my personality (whether I like it or not!) because it means I am coming through.


Please add your thoughts on 'what readers look for in a book.'

Thanks

Rob

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4 Comments


Obviously a genre that I feel comfortable with. Susan Lewis is a current favourite.

A writing style which is neither flowery or choppy but somewhere in between, clear and concise but with complete sentences and not too many curse words.

A story which grips me and keeps the pages turning.


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Rob Owen
Rob Owen
Apr 10

I want to be transported to a different space in a way that I still think about the story and or the characters for days or even weeks after I have reached the end. For this to happen it must have authenticity. It must be in the writers ambit of personal experience, and in some way I must be able to empathise with this.

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Stories are like music it can provoke different emotions and reactions from different readers. Personalities are to me as important as the plot. Most tales have been written so it’s the reaction of the characters that gives it intrigue.

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I am very interested to read the comments on this. In the same way that we all write in different styles, I'm sure we would all pick up a different book in a book store.

For me, I like to step into a different world. I like to feel a distance from my own life, which is why I often turn to historical fiction. A modern protagonist with a sharp career or a lavish lifestyle sometimes appeals to me too.

Thinking about why that is, I put it down to the fact that as I have grown older, crime fiction and psychological thrillers disturb me more than they used to. A dead student at university or a woman attacked at…

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