Famous Last Words: Always Think of Your Reader
I watched Charles Osgood interview Welsh author Ken Follett on PBS the other day. A world-renowned writer once asked Follett if he thought about the reader when he was writing. Follett said he thought about the reader all the time. Constantly.
In response, the famous author said, “I never think of the reader. I always write for myself.”
“That’s why you are a very great author,” Follett said. “And why I’m a very rich author.”
I keep seeing prose by writers, authors, business folks and academics that write for themselves and not their readers.
So, once again, I have restarted work on the manuscript of a book that’s been languishing in my computer for several years: “WRITE IT RIGHT: What Authors Can Learn From the Great Copywriters.”
A Huge Disappointment
Back in the summer of 2008, I came across a review in The Wall Street Journal of “Tupperware Unsealed: Brownie Wise, Earl Tupper, and the Home Party Pioneers.”
I was intensely interested. Here was the genesis of a revolutionary marketing technique—the Tupperware party, where (mostly) women would get together in a home and a sales rep would demonstrate plastic food containers, take orders and give the hostess a commission or thank-you gift. Who dreamed it up? What were the thought processes, the trials and the errors that went into the final business model that became a sensation?
I eagerly dug into the review by Mark Lasswell, deputy books editor of the WSJ, and quickly discovered that he boiled the contents of the book down to 1,057 words, telling the reader the entire story from beginning to the very sad ending. I knew exactly what was in the book and no longer had any reason to buy it. Lasswell had screwed me out of a reading experience, screwed the author out a royalty payment and screwed the publisher—University Press of Florida—out of a sale. This was the classic lazy man’s way to fill a newspaper column—take somebody else’s stuff, retell it, add nothing to the mix and feel immensely pleased that he’s done a good day’s work.