‘Trust me’, said the author
I asked my kid to pass me a newspaper, you know, that trusted repository of information about the current affairs of the world…
I got a long-suffering sigh. And handed an i-pad.
You know, that’s the problem with progress. It’s all very well, sleek, convenient, etc.
But it can’t be trusted soak up puppy-puddles like a newspaper did.
But they’re pretty good for swatting flies, and lining parrot cages.
I hear in rural parts these days you can find a pile of old i-pads in the dunny. Avoid the ones with cracked screens.
Seriously, the days of newspapers being a trusted source are long behind us. Which – if you’re one of the staff being laid off at HuffPo or Buzzfeed to name two sets of recent casualties – is hard if you relied on that trust for your livelihood.
It’s all very well saying these writers brought this on themselves. This may be correct. They may, in fact probably did do this willingly and eagerly. But of course, not doing so would have got them fired earlier, as their employer wanted only certain version of ‘truth’ (in which truth features only according to Snopes, but complies with their own narrative). They were between a rock and a hard place, and the fact that their boss told them to go there, and they wanted to go there – doesn’t change the fact that they’re now unemployed, possibly looking at using their skills and training to write fiction. The major difference being that it actually may be called ‘fiction’. The point remains: they lost trust (reporters are now down near the level of car-salesmen and politicians) and this has spilled into the way they earned their livelihood.
The trouble with trust is that it is slowly won, very valuable, little valued, much abused and… once lost, very very hard to regain. That’s as true in a marriage, a business, a newspaper, an award… or an author’s career.
“An author’s career? Dave you’ve lost your mind, not that you had much to lose. We write _fiction_. That means it’s NOT true, dude.”
Correct. Fiction has a serious disadvantage over fact. It has to be plausible. Facts merely have to be true. And you’re entering into a ‘compact’ if you like, with the reader: they suspend their disbelief while they’re in your book-world. That’s actually a very big ask, which is why logic, internal consistency, and not stretching the plausibility too far.
“Too far? Ah come on. We’re talking FTL and Aliens here, Dude. Bigfoot is more plausible.”
Correct again. I could trust you to right at this rate. This is a WILLING suspension of disbelief. Not they believe you. But to maintain that stance requires a very fine line from the author. A McGuffin that allows a ship to fly faster than light… allowable. Sort of possible especially if the reader is neither a physics nor maths aficionado, and anyway they WANT to suspend disbelief about that.
The same goes for aliens. It’s the things they don’t want to suspend disbelief about that are death traps. Guns. Horses. Boats. To name three ‘never get it wrongs’ and duh, the people and the relationship between them. That’s one of the biggest ‘trust losers’ of following the PC character checklist. The checklist could exist in a setting, could behave according to narrative, with the strong independent woman and her gay sidekick and his black friend, and the rest of the checklist of various intersections, kicking the ass of the inevitably bad middle-aged conservative Christian white male villain… but you’re going to have to devote a lot of time and effort into building that into half-way remotely plausible to a lot of the audience, even the ones who want to believe.
The reader may well not even realize why they suddenly thought they’d go and check on facebook. You’ve been there yourself, I suspect. You’re enjoying the story… but something is irritating you. Stopping you reading until 4 AM and being late for work the next day. It’s not the big McGuffins – it is the little details. Even if they don’t make you TBAR the book, they keep that author from the ‘must buy’ list we all want to be on.
But it is more than that. The reader is trusting their mind to you for at the very least a few hours. Maybe even weeks, depending on how fast they read. And if immersed in a book – that’s actually a very high trust relationship. They want –and expect—certain things from you: just as the guy who once avidly consumed his morning newspaper – disappoint them, and they’re not coming back. First not to you, second not the genre, and maybe even to the entertainment that is reading itself.
Most readers have a fairly straightforward set of expectations from a book. I’m sure there ARE a handful who want to be made uncomfortable, or ‘be educated about the latest fashionable 0.0001% of the population’s intersectional victim points’ or even have a sermon about the evils of the cause du jour – I think it is ‘toxic masculinity’, at the moment. And if that’s what they want, and expect from you, woe betide your future sales to them, if the book is entertaining escapism. On the other hand… those are not most readers.
I keep saying this. And people keep ignoring it: Use your book cover and blurb and indeed first few pages to effect. Let the reader KNOW what sort of book, what genre, and what ‘feel’ and ‘voice’ to expect, and then be true to it. Yes, that muscular bare torso headless man (where do romance authors find all these beheaded models?) may get a whole bunch of eager romance readers to buy your gritty techno-thriller… once.