Satisfied Reader Experience
1: Spotlight on the Reader
It’s the start of a new year, and with it I’d like to
introduce a new topic to consider, a theme which I plan to continue in
future columns. And that is: the satisfied reader experience.
However, I must begin with two caveats. First, the
satisfied reader experience is not, as far as I know, a technical term that
you’re going to find in textbooks on writing. It may be there; it may not.
The phrase may be used by other writing folk but with a different meaning.
My apologies if I cause confusion.
Second, I can’t claim that I’ve mastered the art of
creating the satisfied reader experience. Nevertheless, I think it’s
extremely important so I’d like to forge ahead, even though I may be groping
in the dark.
What Is a Satisfied Reader Experience, Anyway?
A satisfied reader experience is one where the reader
closes the book with reluctance. A satisfied reader experience is one where
the reader looks for more books by that author, buys copies of the book as
presents for friends, talks about it enthusiastically and recommends it to
Think back to your own most satisfied reading experiences,
and how you behaved. I remember how, when I was a teenager many years ago, I
picked up Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Fortunately, it was
the summer vacation and I was too young to have a job, so I could read
straight through. And read straight through I did, finishing the book in
three days of virtually non-stop page-flipping, reaching the end while
straining the limits of my physical endurance. For I skipped meals, took no
exercise, and I spent all my time with my nose in the book instead of
bothering with the basics such as showering and dressing and sleeping. I
truly read myself sick.
I think one way to identify a satisfied reader experience
is by the behavior of the reader. Hopefully you have all had
satisfied reader experiences. If you yourself have never experienced one,
then I don’t understand why you’re looking at this column. For, if you don’t
love reading – at least reading sometimes, there’s no need to feel
passionate about all literature – perhaps you should not be writing.
Still, it’s one thing to be able to identify a satisfied
reader experience, and a completely different ball of wax to be able to
create one. This little article won’t even scratch the surface of the
how-to aspect. In fact, in this article we’re not even going to get through
each of the terms: “satisfied,” “reader,” and “experience.” Instead, even
though this means going out of sequence, the rest of this column will focus
on the “reader.”
For Whom Are You Writing and Why?
Now, be honest when you answer these questions. Are you
writing for yourself, or are you writing for your audience? What is it
you’re trying to accomplish? When you think about writing, do you fantasize
about how your name will appear on the book jacket, and how readers will
come up and tell you much they enjoyed the book? Or are you so caught up in
your characters and their lives that your heart and mind dwell inside the
book? Or do the words which you weave together speak to you; are they
enabling you to mine your innermost thoughts and secret memories, to
understand the crevices of your soul?
I’m not passing judgment on your answer. Writing for
yourself can be of enormous benefit; journaling has tremendous therapeutic
value. Furthermore, journaling can benefit the rest of humanity, too: think
of how much the world has loved and learned from reading The Diary of
There are other reasons you could be writing. Perhaps you
are writing to persuade someone – for example, you may be writing something
political. Perhaps you are writing for the sake of the story. There is a
story that you simply have to tell – true or fiction – and you are writing
so that it will stop tormenting you. If you are writing to make money, well,
making a lot of money through writing is not impossible – but a much surer
route would be to get an MBA.
So: for whom are you writing and why? Answer as honestly
as possible, for then you can direct your efforts in the most efficient
manner. If, after serious searching, the goal of writing for others still
remains, then you need to consider your audience.
Who Are Your Readers?
Assuming that you are not writing for yourself, consider
your audience. What will make them happy? What will satisfy them?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Readers differ from
each other. Heck, readers even differ from themselves. You’ve
probably all had the experience of picking up some book and not being able
to get “into it” – and then, some time later, stumbling across the same
volume again, and having it speak “volumes” to you.
Still, what do you know about your readers? Have you
listened to them? How are they different from you? For example, if you’re
writing for children, do you have more to go on besides your memory of your
own childhood? The last may be enough, but it might be a good idea to see
what they’re like today. And even if you have children of your own, spending
time with kids who are less under your personal influence could give you
Assuming your readers are not you, here are a few things
you might want to consider:
- Their general demographics. Consider their sex,
their age, their income level, their education level, and how much time
they tend to spend reading – as well as how they spend the rest of their
time. These different items can all influence how you write your story.
For example, my agent told me that the vast majority of historical
fiction readers are women – so I should strengthen the roles of my
- Their interests. Just because you find
something interesting doesn’t mean that they will. I remember one year
when I had my niece Kathryn out for Thanksgiving – and halfway through
the meal I leaned over to her and said, “Do you realize that next to
you, I’m the youngest person here?” Her bleak response – “Are you bored
too?” – took me by surprise. For all my perception of her maturity, I
had forgotten that what interested me would not necessarily interest
her. (I immediately arranged a game of Mousetrap to make sure she felt
- Is it interesting to anyone? Note, please, that
“something being interesting” is not just a matter of appealing to the
right demographics. Think about the long-winded folk you know – we all
know some – who tell the same story over and over. Your eyes, like
Pavlov’s dog at the sound of the bell, glaze over even before
they begin to speak. There are those who insist on relating minutiae
about their excitement about finding a parking place before the store,
or the amazing amount of lint they cleaned out of the dryer last week.
Again, the audience – even if the audience consists of people just
like the person relating the story – may not care much about such
details. If you’re not sure, consider your dullest acquaintance forcing
you to listen to this information. Consider the story, which currently
fascinates you because you happen to be the narrator – and ask how much
you would care, if it was related to you by your boring neighbor or
I once read a lovely little piece (unfortunately I’ve
forgotten where, so, alas, I can’t give credit) about how a young woman at a
dinner-party told everyone the most lurid details of her love life – at
which point another at the table asked her if she might be over-sharing.
Evidently the woman flushed red. Well, I think it is possible to over-share
on the dullness scale, too.
Great storytelling may overcome all these hurdles. Some
masters craft sentences so marvelous that millions would pay to read what
they have to tell us about laundry lint. Still, I think it behooves to ask
yourself if what you want to say is truly worth the precious time of those
you perceive as your readers.
I’m butting up against my word limit now, and so I will
end this month’s column. There will be more to come on this subject,
especially on the other words in the phrase; that is, experience and
satisfied. And, for the beginning of 2007, even if you have a
resolution to write two thousand words per day, I’d also like you to take a
moment to recall what it’s like to have a satisfied reader experience. If
you haven’t had any recently, perhaps it’s time to pick up a few books and
read them and see how you feel.
Comments, questions, requests to use this column? Write me
at Grossackva at Yahoo dot com.
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About the Writer:
Victoria Grossack is, with Alice Underwood, the
author of Iokaste: The Novel of the Mother-Wife of Oedipus, which, by
the way, is an excellent example of a book with plot-driven chapters and
cliffhangers. There's exciting news about Iokaste: even the
Greeks are reading it! Learn more about Iokaste and other books
in the series at
Victoria was a moderator of a critique group
for Coffeehouse for Writers and teaches the
From Leaves to Forests
Historical Fiction workshops for Coffeehouse for Writers.