Why We Read Books

I read books for the stories, the characters, and the writing. Apparently, according to mega-agent Robert Gottlieb, I’ve got it all wrong.

"If you’re stuck thinking of authors as ‘writers,’ you’re never going to [understand branding]," says Gottlieb, some of whose clients work with up to six people, including writers, book packagers and a business manager.  "Remember: TV is a format, film is a format and books are a format. Unless you’re talking to Farrar Straus & Giroux; then it becomes a literary experience."

The quote came from a two-year-old Forbes article about James Patterson, who is the subject of a lawsuit that’s resurrecting the industry discussion about how little writing he actually does on the books that bear his name.Patterson  I fear that the publishing business has become more and more about "branding" and less and less about the "writing." They’ve forgotten why readers read…or at least why they used to.

Are readers really only buying brands now? Do they care anymore about what’s between the covers of the books they buy? Do they care how a book is written? If the story is interesting? If the characters are compelling?

As a writer, I can’t imagine putting my name on a book that someone else has written.Then again, I can’t imagine making $60 million from my writing, either. Maybe if I stopped thinking of myself as a "writer," but as a "brand," that could change…

(Thanks to Sarah Weinman for the links)

6 thoughts on “Why We Read Books”

  1. LOL! You guys are awful!
    Seriously, I buy books I enjoy. The Diagnosis Murder brand got me to buy your first book. Meeting you actually got it read. (Unlike the two Murder, She Wrote books I’ve had forever.) And liking it got me to buy the next one. And the one after that. And your two older mysteries.
    If I like an author I’ll keep buying their books. If I don’t, I won’t. And it will take quite a bit to get me to stop an author I’ve enjoyed for quite a while.
    Honestly, I don’t care as much about ghost writers as I do if the story is good or not. Which I think was your point originally, right?

  2. There was once a long thread on the Straight Dope about Robert Jordan’s neverending saga that provided insight into the minds of his readers.
    1. They’re very much aware of what they’re reading. They’re very much into the story and have firm ideas when Jordan’s making sense and when he is not.
    2. As his trilogy stretched ever onward into the event horizon, readers dropped out, but not after going through several novels in which they kept reading in hopes that he would get better, that he would wrap up some of the subplots, that he would stop writing such tedious descriptions.
    3. A good portion kept on reading, in part because they have a lot invested in the characters. They didn’t dispute the opinions of those who dropped out, however. They could see his faults just as clearly. They’re just willing to put up with it. For now.
    As for Patterson, the only one I read was “Cat and Mouse,” which contained all the elements of light fiction: part comfort read, part unrealistic thriller plot. But the plot moves, and that’s what counts. If it moves, you can write just about anything, as Patterson’s career proves.
    I’m not really sure where all this is leading, except that readers are not as dumb as some people believe. They’re just willing to put up with a lot, so long as the story’s good.


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