E-Books & Writing to Reader Feedback

A recent Wall Street Journal article, Your E-Book Is Reading You, sparked a conversation about privacy concerns this week. As e-booksellers collect and analyze data on our reading habits, they say they're focusing on groups of readers rather than individuals. Still, the idea that my Kindle is phoning home about how I read is unsettling.

These are important considerations, and I think we deserve more knowledge about (and control over) the ways that information about us is gathered and used. But the part of the article about reader input in e-books jumped out at me:
In Tawna Fenske's romantic caper "Getting Dumped"—which centers on a young woman who finds work at a landfill after getting laid off from her high-profile job at the county's public relations office—readers can choose which of three suitors they want the heroine to pursue. The most recent batch of statistics showed that 53.3% chose Collin, a Hugh Grant type; 16.8% chose Pete, the handsome but unavailable co-worker; and 29.7% of readers liked Daniel, the heroine's emotionally distant boyfriend.

Ms. Fenske originally planned to get rid of Daniel by sending him to prison and writing him out of the series. Then she saw the statistics. She decided 29.7 % was too big a chunk of her audience to ignore.

Giving readers a choice between alternate plots sounds fun if that's the type of wide-open world a writer wants to create, but there's still some part of me that cringes at creative decisions based on audience polling.

I've been disappointed with series protagonists when I wanted them to take some other path, especially when it comes to love triangles. And yes, there have been times when these disappointments made me enjoy a book less than I might have.

There are also times when an unwelcome twist turns out to be awesome. Some of my favorite authors are the ones that can spring those types of surprises, that can talk me into loving a new direction I'd scoffed at. Those stories are special, and if a character's choices come down to popularity contests, then some of that magic could get lost in the statistics.

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