Rereading the Same Book

Nancy J. Cohen

Recently, I’ve returned to reading The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I like his other stories as well: A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Secret Garden. These historical novels have tropes that appeal to me, and I could read them many times over. But who wants to reread something you’ve already perused when you have a wealth of new books on your shelves and on your ebook reader?


I feel guilty rereading a volume when I “should” be reading a friend’s work to give a review, a book I’ve obtained at a conference, a freebie on my Kindle, or the books sitting on my shelves for years begging for attention. How about the newest books by my favorite authors? Shouldn’t they get priority? Why am I wasting time reading something I’ve already enjoyed when authors who are alive and well clamor for my reading hours?

I don’t even reread my own books, although I’d like to return to my original Light-Years trilogy and immerse myself in that world again. At least I had the chance to do so when I revised these titles for their digital editions.

How about you? Do you ever go back and pick a book off your dusty shelves or buy the digital version of a book you’ve already read? Does it make you feel guilty that you’re not sitting with a current novel whose author can use your customer review?

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Do you have a system to prioritize the books you read? For newer books, I’ll read the next installment by a favorite author or a book by a friend before titles by an unknown writer. The beauty of the digital age is that when you discover a writer you like, you can order the next book in a series right away on your Kindle or Nook. So the historical novel I bought at SleuthFest and am reading now, by an author previously unknown to me, is number one in a series. I’m not even halfway through it, and I know I’ll want the next two books.

This points out two issues about our current age that are both troublesome and exciting. The next books in a series are literally at your fingertips. Push a few buttons, and they are yours. That’s the good thing.

However, I discovered this book as it lay out for display at the on-site conference bookstore. Discoverability is the hot issue today. Most of us with small press or who are indie published do not see our books in bookstores, thus browsing readers will never discover us that way. If I hadn’t spotted this intriguing cover, I’d never have known about this writer. And that’s sad. We have to turn to free books online or book group recommendations to discover new authors whose series we might decide to follow.

Is there room for the older volumes sitting on your shelves, for those books you’d love to read again if only you had the time?

Readers at Sea

I just came from the Florida Romance Writers cruise conference aboard the Liberty of the Seas. For a full report and photos, check my personal blog later in the week:


What I want to talk about here are the readers onboard. In this era of electronic games, apps, and programs, it’s heartening to see people lying on lounge chairs and reading books. Some perused print editions and others had iPads or Kindles or other devices. No matter the method of delivery—what counts was the proliferation of readers out there.


When people do have leisure time, many folks still choose to pick up a book. That makes me, a writer, feel good about the world. Despite the doomsday predictions and the bookstore closings, people are still interested in storytelling. The method of delivery may be evolving, but the love of fiction remains.


This observation was reinforced during a booksigning event we had on board. It was held with ten authors in a dining room and was advertised in the daily newsletter. As a result of the notice, readers flocked into our venue and left with stacks of books. I’d only brought 12 copies of Killer Knots, my cruise ship mystery, and I sold out. Imagine! I did better here than at most other conferences. And had I brought along a few of my romances, I bet I’d have sold those too.




The picture above shows our charming keynote speaker, Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that are the basis for the True Blood TV series.

I’m hoping that this enthusiastic passenger response will prompt RCCL to welcome such an event again. Their gift shop personnel sold the books and the cruise line took a percentage, so it’s to their benefit to repeat the experience. The readers are out there, it’s just a matter of connecting with them.


When you’re on vacation, do you check out the pool area to see what people are reading? Have you ever seen someone reading YOUR book?

Reading Fiction in Schools

Nancy J. Cohen

Recently I heard that the new core curriculum in schools is going to require 70% of reading assignments be based on non-fiction. I don’t know if this is true or not, as a quick search didn’t provide me with any further information. Nor do I know the grade level for which this would apply. However, it’s a scary thought.

Schools have already stopped requiring students from learning cursive writing. Now they are discarding literature as well?

I’ve always felt education should include popular fiction, in addition to the classics. Let kids choose fun and entertaining books to read, and you might create long-term fans. After all, the commercial fiction of today could become the classics of tomorrow. And look what Harry Potter did for kids’ reading habits. Thanks to that series, a whole generation might have been hooked on reading novels. We need more successes like this one if we are to inspire children to read.

Rather than a wordy tome or dry biography, give them a ghost story or vampire tale or a mystery. Engage their senses with wonder like we were engaged reading Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Otherwise, where’s the fun? And if an activity isn’t fun for kids, then it’s competing with online sites, games, movies and TV shows that provide easier entertainment.

Having children read a work of fiction and then analyze its components can encourage creative and analytic thinking. Without this benefit, will human imagination still range to other stars, to lands far away, and to adventures beyond the mundane? Or will these same imaginations be stifled because works of fiction were denied them, and they were forced to read boring texts that killed their interest in reading?

So is this true, and if so, how do you feel about it?

Making Readers One at a Time

The other day I strapped my AlphaSmart on my back and rode my bike to Starbucks to do a little writing. I set up at a table, got my brew, started tapping away. The place was crowded, all the other tables were taken.
Presently, a gray-haired woman appeared and said, “Mind if I share your table?”
 “Only if you behave yourself,” I said.
She smiled (a good sign for a wiseacre such as myself). I motioned for her to sit. She had a coffee and an e-reader.
“So is that a Nook or a Kindle?” I asked.
“Kindle,” she said.
“You like it?”
“Love it. I’ve been reading some indie books lately.”
This surprised me. The word “indie” is rather specialized nomenclature. She knew what was going on in the self-publishing world.
Ever the opportunist, I said, “I like that. I’m also publishing my own books.”
“Well,” she said, “I’m getting very annoyed at the bad editing I’m seeing.”
Boom! Not, “Oh really? You’re a writer? I’d love to read one of your books!”
No, I was getting the boom on behalf of sloppily edited books everywhere. I had a little work to do.
I asked her what sorts of things annoyed her, and she talked about not just typos, but the misuse of words. The basic mangling of the English language. At one point she said, “Dude, open the dictionary or thesaurus.”
I started liking her then. A gray-haired lady who uses the word Dude can’t be all bad. I decided to interview her as a resource on what readers are thinking. She was a fountain of information. Here are some of the things she told me:
She doesn’t like too much info on “tertiary characters” because “I don’t want to get invested in characters that don’t do more in the novel. I get disappointed if you don’t follow through with them. Frustrating. Or they show up again in the last few pages and I think, ‘Dude, where the hell have you been for the last 300 pages?’”
Regarding reviews: “One star reviews are usually trolls.” But also: “Very few authors come up to a five-star review. I never read five-star reviews, especially with exclamation points. You see five exclamation points and I think, Please!”She looks at reviewer history and what other books they liked and reviewed, before making a purchase.
I asked her how she found books. She said:
1. Amazon mailings
2. Looks at the “customers also bought” books Amazon suggests on a book page
3. Sampling. “I love the free sampling.”            
4 “If I find an author I like, I read everything he’s ever written.”
That last, BTW, is in line with other surveys. The two biggest ways readers find fiction are 1) word-of-mouth from trusted sources; and 2) looking for more from a favorite author.
On opening pages:
“The first couple of chapters need to set out the story arc. Not too much slam bang boom.Where is it set? Still need the gotcha, gee whiz, but I need a sense of the larger story arc, too.”
“I like wit. I mean say something intelligent, say things that grab my attention. In that first chapter if all they’re doing is grunting and shooting each other, nothing is telling me if any of those characters has anything upstairs worth reading about.”
On style:
“Style does matter. I just read a book with a good plot, good characters, great dialogue, but the narrative portions were just subject-verb, subject-verb. Boring. Hasn’t he heard of any other parts of the language? After awhile I was dragged out of the story, almost like he wrote two books.”
She asked me about my books, and I gave her a card. As we chatted she was thumbing her Kindle, and about a minute later was ready to order one. She asked which one she should start with, and I suggested Watch Your Back.
“Done,” she said.
“You bought it?”
“How could I not?”
It was a pleasant twenty minutes, and I’d made a sale. Now I can only hope that I’ve made a reader, the kind who puts me on that favored list of authors she has discovered and wants to read everything by.
And then keep working on the one thing I can control, the actual writing, making it the best I can do each time out.
Because that’s the only way you build a writing career, Dude.