Tag Archives: writing

Our Shortening Attention Span

As a wannabe novelist, I’m told I need to fill my pages with non-stop action. I need to keep the scenes moving to drive the story. I need to keep having horrible things happen to my protagonist so that my audience must continue turning the pages to find out what happens next to her.

But as a reader, I find myself getting panicky and exhausted with books written like the above. I keep buying them, but never in my life have I not finished as many books as are currently sitting in my “partially” read pile(s). I start reading them and after the first two chapters of non-stop angst-inducing episodes, I’m in need of a strong drink and a long nap.

I’ve been told the reason for this need of non-stop action and emotional appeal is because the attention span of the current American market demands it. Everyone believes our attention span is shrinking.

I tried to find studies proving it. So far I haven’t. I found a couple suggesting that the more adolescents watch TV and play video games, the more problems they have paying attention, but I’m coming up short on studies concerning the reading public’s ability to stop, look and listen for an extended period of time. Perhaps I got bored with my searching before I found them. And there was this comedian on TV . . .

The funny thing is there’s much banter about the attention span of goldfish. One of Snapple’s Real Facts claims the attention span of a goldfish is only three seconds. I got a little distracted from my search on the shrinking American attention span and tried to look up the proof behind Snapple’s claim.

I couldn’t find it, either. I did find plenty of blogs challenging the claim though. Many of the writers did so based on a study by the University of Plymouth that discovered the memory of a goldfish is three months. Perhaps those bloggers had something shiny catch their eye and forgot they were writing about attention and not memory?

Regardless, I can’t help but wonder what Kurt Vonnegut would have done with this lack of knowledge regarding American ADD versus goldfish ADD. Would he have changed the characters in his 1985 novel, Galapagos? Would they have evolved into goldfish-people who eventually kill themselves off because they kept getting distracted from mating?

And if our attention spans are so short, why don’t we ever get distracted from mating? Oh, look! There’s a butterfly out my window!

But then again, Vonnegut’s work isn’t filled him in urgent desperation to fill a perceived constant demand for entertainment. Galapagos, like most of his work, is an entertaining read, filled with a pleasant use of words, oh, and meaning.

Do we have to lose such beauty? What are we evolving into?

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Uncategorized, Writing

Social Networking

Not that I want to hound a theme to its grave, but I’m just not done with yesterday’s rant.

As a good little writer this morning, I finished skimming through a bunch of blogs from popular people in the publishing industry. One of my favorites is literary agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. This past Tuesday he asked the question: Does Social Media Help Sell Books? and took a poll. 51% of the respondents claim they do not rely on social media to encourage their book buying habits, 37% said yes, it does, and the rest were a joke answer.

There was plenty of anecdotal evidence for both sides of the poll in the comments, some of which was a little shaky — e.g., a woman who answered “yes” because she gets 30 to 45 hits a day on her site, so she feels it must be working. Does she think those are all different people each day? That none of them, not even good ‘ole mom and dad, visit her site more than once a year? And that each and every one of them are buying her book?

What I found heartening is that I’m not alone. Many others are where I am: overwhelmed by the immense amount of time and energy that goes into successful social networking (keyword: successful). Kelly Ann Jones made a comment here yesterday about how hard it is to find time to write because she’s too busy with her social networking. And I know of a YA author who has an extremely successful Facebook page, complete with competitions, etc., where she gets thousands of visitors — but she hasn’t even finished her first book yet. Perhaps if she’d been able to put that energy into the book, it’d be done (and then she’d be where I am, trying to figure out the damned query letter).

But let’s go back to Bransford’s post — think about it. Who responded to his comments? Mostly authors (published or still trying), i.e., people who are more likely to spend time on social media to begin with (after all, they must if they are to sell themselves, right?). So you’ve a bunch of book-minded internet-junkies answering a question about whether or not social media sells books. Hmmm . . . One would think all the answers would be “Yes! Yes! and Hell yes!” but it’s only half. I find that amazing! I mean if only half of them are buying books that way, what about the rest of the reading public — you know those people who just like to read and have absolutely no interest in writing, editing, publishing, or otherwise wall-papering their bathrooms with rejection slips.

I would love to see real, verifiable, survey results about how effective social media is at selling books. Does Joe Public rely on blogs, Facebook and Twitter to tell him what makes a great read? I don’t know a single person in my non-internet, non-social media life who has bought a book because it was hawked on Twitter. Nor have I bought one because of that. However, I do know several “normal people” who buy books because Amazon suggested it (because they bought a similar one on-line or via their Kindle) — or they continue to find new books in Barnes and Noble when it rains and they’re looking for shelter.

Granted, it could be a sign of my age and the age of the people I know. Maybe twenty-somethings do buy books because of Tweets. But, since the market does show that the majority of book buyers are women my age, (and my book is aimed at that target audience) I think that means Twitter is a waste of time for me (though I feel guilty saying that, as if I’m knowingly doing something wrong). Hail Mary . . .

Who has insight into this? Who thinks it’s worthwhile to spend hours, hours they cannot put back into their life, on social media networking in the hopes of selling a book? Hours not spent working writing books, short stories, essays, poems, etc. Is it effective? Do you have stats to prove it?

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Curious Queries

I started this blog because I call myself a writer and it seems that’s what writers should do: have a blog.

If you’re a writer who wants to be published, you’re supposed to blog, as well as be active on Twitter, be social on Facebook, comment regularly on other blogs, read the professional publishing blogs religiously, post regularly on sites such as shewrites, participate frequently over at authorsden, and set yourself up at bookbuzzer, jacketflap (if you’re doing the YA and children’s lit thing), and others like them. You should also keep up to date through RSS feeds from galleycat, publisher’s weekly, and shelf awareness.

After breakfast, you need to read and memorize everything put out by Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market, as well as read plenty of short story magazines so that you know what they’re looking for, and read lots of books in your genre. And then, you need to research agents to know who is looking for what and who is selling to whom.

At some point, you should write a book.

I did it a little backward, I wrote a book first, and now I’m muddling through all the other “should do’s” on the list. I seldom sleep between 2:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., and yet I still can’t figure out how to fit it all in.

Of course it doesn’t really matter, because I can’t get my bleeping query letter perfected. Oh yes, there’s that, too. Can’t believe I neglected to put that up there in the first paragraph.

If you want representation, you need to write a query letter to agents to “pitch” your book. I think it’d be easier to grab my lips and pull them backward until I turn my myself inside out. Vaginal births of mammoth babies sans an epidural seem less painful. Juggling spit-balls of fire from Satan over a sleeping baby would probably be less stressful.

I finished a book of 86,628 words. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has fleshed out characters. All the themes that were introduced and sub-plots that were brought in come to closure. The story arc follows the traditional paradigm I was taught in writing courses: (part 1 raises central question; part 2 begins with turning point and has the protagonist pursuing a goal; part 3 is another turning point, climax and resolution). I know it intimately well. I can practically tell it to you orally word by word without the text in front of me.

And yet I can’t write a 250-word sales pitch for it. What gives?

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Will Write for Drugs

Just read through an employment ad for a writer. A marketing company is looking for writers who specialize in “Niche Diseases.”

I’m not such a writer, but the thought of niche diseases almost makes me want to apply. Niche disease. I realize “niche” has been used to define particular markets for years, but every time I hear it I think of artistic snob appeal. So there’s a funky, semi-twisted ideal in my head as to what a niche disease could be.

Immediately I thought back to when I worked at a university several years ago and we hired an artist (forgive me, it was an artiste) to create a wall hanging. He stood waiting for the dean, refusing to sit on the furniture, and explained to me that his niche was in creating 3D symbolic representations for worlds that have none. Apparently a law school, in his private universe, was such a world.

He pulled up both corners of his upper lip and stretched out niche to the point where spit bubbles formed between his teeth. Thank god I was only in young mode and not young-and-stupid mode. I only smiled and blinked at him, somehow not blurting out a snarky comeback like “I specialize in shitting in symbolic representations of toilets.”

And now niche diseases! Yikes. I mean, how pretentious can a disease get? I’m picturing people in chic black hospital gowns leaning at awkward angles on white furniture in a white, minimalist room. They probably speak with (fake) European accents and smoke cigarettes. Maybe even a few are wearing berets or black, round glasses. They are woefully bored with the whole concept of being alive, which is the root cause of their affliction.

Diagnoses would be made by a doctor who looks suspiciously like Freud and speaks haltingly with a (real) German accent. Notes on his clipboard say “they should immediately stop taking themselves so seriously.” Then he will pass out prescriptions for the birth control that makes you giddy happy as you chop off your bangs and blow bubbles while fully clothed in the shower. (Have you seen that commercial?)

Pharmaceutical marketing is just getting weirder and weirder. I’d love to know what kind of drugs their writers are taking. Obviously something is keeping their imagination revved up and in full swing.

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