Reading Survey 2012 – the results!
The truth about commercial fiction?
First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to fill in the online surveys – the answers were fascinating and revealing – here I’ll be sharing some of the findings, but do feel free to email with your comments or questions to me: kateharrisonfeedback AT gmail.com
I’m also planning to carry on the research with a new Reader Panel – there’ll be more surveys and news, plus competitions and advance previews. If you’re interested in taking part, please email me – I’ll also be emailing some of you direct to invite you on board – so watch out for an invitation in your inbox.
Now… the results! You can either read these online – or for a rather better laid out version to print and read at your leisure, download the Fiction Reading Survey 2012 Kate Harrison
Three little words
We asked which three words best summed up what you wanted novels to be like: here are the results:
Some people did add their own words, and also categories that we hadn’t included. So, in no particular order, here are the additional suggestions: interesting, faith inspiring, original, espresso hits of emotion, interesting, classics, ‘literary page turner’, sci-fi, atmospheric, twisting, excitement!
If you’re not a fan of bar charts, the top 4 words (number 3 and 4 were very close) were:
4: Funny (39% of the vote)
2= Thrilling and moving (both scored 40%)
And number 1, with 55%, (drum roll, please):
Who reads what?
For me, the most interesting aspect of the survey is the diversity of reading habits – not just that all readers are individuals, which is obvious – but that so many individuals have such wide-ranging tastes. Often critics of ‘commercial’ fiction assume that readers of genre books only read in that genre – yet most respondents do not limit themselves in that way.
Few women restrict themselves to romantic comedy or historical romances, any more than they only ever watch George Clooney movies or only eat cupcakes. Personally, it’s an issue that’s close to my heart: I’ve never liked the chick lit label, even though the ‘chick’ part becomes slightly funnier the older I get.
From now on, though, I’m calling myself a ‘broad lit’ writer and reader – joining other intelligent readers who pick and choose their next book to suit their mood, from a toppling to-be-read pile that’s likely to include commercial fiction, factual books and – gasp – even literary fiction.
So – for fun as well as insight – I’ve invented three categories of reader as revealed by the responses to the questions about favourite books or authors. Which do you think is the closest to the way you read?
Broadivore – reads to suit their mood; likes to experiment; genre-neutral; curious
This kind of reader has broad tastes and is less likely to judge books by their cover, so long as the story or idea intrigues them. They might move from historical to thriller to Young Adult. As an example, here are some of the favourites mentioned by two Broadivores:
Civil servant, 50-59: I would never allow anything else to get in the way of reading!
Jodi Picoult, Diane Chamberlain, H Veronica Henry, Catherine Alliott, Jill Mansell, Sarah Duncan, Milly Johnson, Lucy Diamond, Rosie Thomas, Elizabeth Haynes, Chris Cleave, Claire McGowan, Lois Leveen, Sarah Rayner, Eowyn Ivey, Eva Stachniak, SJ Watson, Louise Douglas, Marina Lewycka, Sadie Jones, John Boyne, Victoria Hislop, Rachel Hore, Susanna Kearsley, Katherine Webb, Judith Lennox, Peter James, Jojo Moyes, Lucinda Riley, Lucretia Grindle, Marina Fiorato. And will always love Stephen King
Marketing officer 21-29: It’s a huge passion of mine, so as soon as one book draws me in, you can count on me ordering the rest of that author’s “bookography”
Favourites: 50 Shades of Grey, Harry Potter books, The Hunger Games, Twilight, books by Tasmina Perry, Lulu Taylor, Jackie Collins, Tilly Bagshawe, Kate Harrison, Louise Bagshawe, Jessica Ruston, Rebecca Chance, Tyra Hyland
Pinkies – loyal fans of the many sub-genres of ‘romance’ including: historical, chick lit, women’s fiction; seeking escapism, a satisfying ending.
Nurse, 30-39: Love books that are easy to read and you can lose yourself in.
Favourites: Karen Swan (Christmas at Tiffany’s), Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic series), Cecelia Ahern (The Time of my Life), Carole Matthews (Wrapped Up in You), Kate Harrison (Secret shopper series), Marian Keyes, Claudia Carroll
My final category…
Rejectionist(a)s – have decided romantic fiction is not for them; seek out novelty, other genres or literary fiction
In many cases, these are readers whose tastes have changed
Teaching Support Assistant 30-39, Three years ago I might have read romance/chick lit, but not now, I am disinterested in sugar-coated fantasy.. I want to feel out of breath and exhilarated when I have completed the novel.
Favourites: Terry Pratchett, Patricia Cornwell, Stephen King
As well as surveying readers, I asked writers and people from the publishing industry how they felt about the book world. The e-book is bringing huge changes to how our work is consumed and things are moving so rapidly that many authors felt nervous about the future. Here are some of their comments:
- It has never been more important for authors to produce their best writing.
- Still optimistic. Personally, I’ve been buying a wider range of books thanks to the free sample downloads of eBooks so I hope other readers will do the same.
- The novelty of having cheap books could wear off quickly if books are published that are full of typos/lack of continuity/clunky plot devices
- The publishing industry is like one of those grand old ladies that hates change – time to go shopping for a new wardrobe grandma! New ways of providing books, of commenting on books, new everything.
- I think good storytelling will always be valued, but the business model must be reinvented – and fast – to justify the value of publishing.
Those who wrote and read women’s fiction did recognise some of the difficulties in marketing.
- It’s like a pink sparkly ghetto, where we’re all condemned to prettiness rather than actually having something interesting and entertaining to say. It’s wrapped in covers that make me, the reader, look like an airhead
- Create some sub-genre’s/sub brands to differentiate. It’s one amorphous mass at the moment that makes purchase difficult when you are looking for something new.
- Male chicklit authors seem to have better covers e.g.: David Nicholls and Danny Wallace – they are cooler and edgier. Female chicklit authors all get put in the same jacket – no differentiation.
- My modern novels feature older heroines and are selling out and reprinting. Publishers seem to think all book buyers are young.
Publishing Industry Views:
I also surveyed booksellers, agents and publishers.
Nicki Thornton, of Mostly Books in Abingdon, said: ‘Readers are always on the lookout for something that really speaks to them. It takes a lot of time to read a book and if it feels like time not well spent at the end of it I think people do feel disappointed. People do seem to be looking for something ‘a little more’ out of their reading rather than something very throwaway and lightweight.’
Agent Maddy Milburn said that debut authors are having orders cut, and she’s seen an increase in the demand for accessible literary books – as did Avon editor Sammia Rafique, who called these books ‘smart fiction’. But Maddy also pointed out that how the book is marketed makes a huge difference: ‘ONE DAY is essentially a love story but was given an iconic cover that appealed to both men and women.’ Sammia also called for more imaginative engagement with readers via social networking, to tap into their enthusiasm and interests.
Agent Carole Blake loathes the ‘chick lit’ label and its connotations of air-headedness – for me, she sums up the debate in the following: ‘Books that deliver a satisfying reading experience, but also leave the reader feeling they have learned something (historical facts, emotional intelligence, anything else) will leave the reader with the feeling that they have not only been entertained but also educated – they are validating their own leisure time and carrying away something more than ‘mere entertainment.’
Of course, this snapshot of reading wouldn’t be complete without a mention of 50 Shades of Grey – the 25 million + sales worldwide are a phenomenon and one which is already seeing a lot more titles with similar covers and themes.
It’s hard to tell yet whether fans of Christian Grey will move onto other erotica titles – some readers highlighted curiosity as their reason for reading, while others felt it was simply an incredibly intense love story which happened to feature cable ties…
Whatever the future holds, it’s certainly encouraging to see a book can still become the talking point for women – and men – worldwide.
Over to you
What do you think? Please do feel free to email me with your views, I’d love to follow the research up in future with more opinions.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what we’re all reading in 2012.
What next? Well, as you’ve read this far, I hope you won’t mind a little plug. If you fancy reading a murder mystery set on in a paradise world , the first and second parts of my thriller Soul Beach are now available… while if you like comedies about real life hang-ups, crushes and crises, then The Boot Camp – the story of three women on your worst military fitness nightmare – might be just the thing as you lounge on the beach.
Happy reading, everyone,
About the Participants:
- More than 300 readers responded to this survey: 89% female, 10% male (the publishing industry often works on the idea that 80% of fiction readers are female, while men frequently express a preference for non-fiction).
- Approximately 25% of respondents had some connection to the publishing industry, either as authors, would-be writers, agents or editors. Of course, this will have affected results: but most authors and publishers begin as passionate readers.
- The ages of respondents ranged from under 16 to over 60, but the majority were aged between 30-59, with the largest single group in the 40-49 category.
- 33% of respondents often downloaded e-books, with 28% doing so sometimes and 27% never reading books that way. 57% bought books online often, compared to 46% who often shopped in a high street bookshop.
- It was difficult to find any consistent trend about the time respondents had to read: though some mentioned social media/email as cutting into their time, it was family commitments – either an increase or decrease – that had most effect.
- In the author survey, there were over 50 respondents. Their output ranged from 1 book to 57 in total, published either by conventional publishers, as e-books, or both. They were split evenly between the age groups of 30-45, 46-59 and 60+ – two-thirds were writing full time, one third combined writing with another job.
- The surveys are here: kate-harrison.com/reader-survey-2012 & kate-harrison.com/author-survey
© Kate Harrison 2012