Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Book They Read

Lawrence Kane, my co-author for "Scaling Force" cautions me (frequently) that "I'm too pithy." He says that I trust my readers too much, assume that they'll make connections that some will miss. I don't explain the things that I think are obvious.

I'm largely okay with that. When I'm in a grumpy mood I don't want stupid people reading my stuff anyway. In a normal mood, I hate talking down to people and my baseline assumption is that people are smart.  They can and will keep up and if they have to stretch a bit to do that, that's good exercise. I was a knuckle dragging jail guard. I'm pretty confidant the average person can hold their own with anything I write.

But... (you knew that was coming, right?)
Here's a caution for newbie writers, especially neo-pros: No one actually reads the book that you wrote. They read a different book, the one that exists in their heads. It's not (much) a matter of clarity or education or reading level. It's just how people are.

Decades ago, when I wrote fiction, I got a rejection letter from MZB saying that she didn't publish stories with unicorns or elves. I have never once in my life written a story with a unicorn and gave up on writing about elves about the time I finished puberty. If I recall the story, it was a pretty dark thing about urban shamanism. Or maybe a pretty dark thing about what a familiar spirit would actually be...

Anyway, she read and rejected a story that had absolutely no relationship to the one I wrote.

That's pretty extreme and I transitioned to non-fiction a long time ago... but it crops up even more. Occasionally I read reviews or articles and two reviewers will get completely opposite information from the same chapter. Not ever about the material, but about the author. Evidently I hate training methods that I've used since before the reviewer was born; hate traditional arts and love them; never do X but always do X. Some even go deeper and I've been labeled a fundamentalist christian, an anti-christian, an atheist and a buddhist. Based on a self-defense book? Really?

Not that any of that matters it's just...puzzling.
A couple of things, though. If you hit a nerve with your writing, especially non-fiction, the human animal is driven to find a reason not to change, not to learn and the fastest way to do that is to put a label on the author.
Hit nerves anyway. That's what good writing is supposed to do.