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Why Great Content is More
Important than Ever

 

BY DANA MARTON

Speaker: Jennifer Brehl (William Morrow/HarperCollins)

Ms. Brehl began by stating that she believes what some people call the e-book ‘revolution,’ is more of an evolution. The way we receive our stories is continuously evolving. There is always something new. Storytelling started as an oral tradition, then books came, and now we have audio books and e-books. But print, audio, and e-books are just different means of delivering a story. The universal factor is content: readers’ expectations haven’t changed. No matter what format and delivery, they want a good story from the book.

Content is always going to be important. This was emphasized many times by the speaker. “Good enough” is not okay with her when she’s looking at writing. You want people to come back to your work.

You want word-of-mouth suggestions. You want people to recommend your books to others.

She mentioned that it seems these days social media efforts nearly overshadow the original raison d’etre of books. A book’s purpose is to tell a story. Her advice was to cut through the noise and bring books to readers without going crazy over all the other stuff.

A lively Q&A session followed her brief introductory words. Someone asked how Fifty Shades of Grey could sell millions of copies unedited. The answer was: great content. The story is put together remarkably well. The author knew how to tell a story and that aspect is extremely important. “If a book engages me, that’s great content,” Ms. Brehl stated.

Another industry professional present remarked that a book has to have high integrity and be true to itself, and not necessarily be sublimely crafted. Of course, now publishers want other books just like Fifty Shades of Grey, jumping on the bandwagon, which could be a mistake. Its success likely wasn’t due to the theme. It came from the power of the book.

Ms. Brehl’s advice was to do whatever you’re doing and do it well. Don’t imitate trends, or your story will come through as a fake. She doesn’t want to follow trends. She wants to find the book that will make the next trend.

Both Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games involve you on an emotional level, the presenter said, as the discussion turned to another example. “You were just so afraid while reading the story,” added a commenter, talking about The Hunger Games. And the book flowed quickly, with short chapters. While discussing The Hunger Games, the speaker mentioned that we have a new category now that goes beyond Young Adult.

New Adult fiction is for the college-age audience, readers on the brink of adulthood and independence, a stage with its own dramas and challenges.

However, it was also mentioned that categories are going away—the idea that books must fit in a slot, on a certain shelf at the bookstore. What editors are finding is that readers have varied tastes. They read a lot more widely than previously thought. But the content still has to be great.

When the presenter was asked whether she was looking for story or writing skill (i.e. beauty of writing), she said storytelling, and mentioned the Civil War novel Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles as an example. Since the author is a poet, the book is beautifully written, but it was the story that grabbed the editor. It’s always the story.

When you take your readers on a journey, give them an emotional payoff at the end. The ending of Enemy Women was changed during the editing process to leave the possibility of a happy ending open. Authors must give their readers the emotional payoff they’ve been waiting for, in whatever form that’s appropriate for your story. If you have a tense story that revolves around a heroine getting a gun, she must shoot the gun at the end! She doesn’t have to kill the other person, but she must shoot the gun.     Continued on page 15   

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