What Readers Retain


Arlene Knickerbocker

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Once we decide to write for publication, our focus must shift. We are told, “Write what you are passionate about.” However, if readers are not passionate about that topic, who will read what we write? Every publisher asks their writers to identify their target audience and give specific demographics. Every publisher asks their writers what readers will take away from their article, story, poetry, or book.

Authors tend to write in the genre they read most. At different stages of my life, I’ve read different genres. I’ve sought different benefits from what I read.

As a child, I remember reading many fairy tales. Children’s fairy tales often placed the characters in jeopardy and then ended with the child (or children) overcoming the danger. These stories provided hope to a little girl who sought escape from a fear-filled environment.

As a teenager, I loved the idea of being in love, so I read romantic novels that ended with happily-ever-after marriages. These books provided hope to a young woman who sought such a love and life.

As an adult, I look for ways to improve my relationships with God, family, and others. I tend to read nonfiction from a Christian perspective. Therefore, most of what I write reflects my interest.

Let’s consider what readers may take away from various genres.

Nonfiction may offer new information, insight, encouragement, and help in dealing with specific issues. I believe everyone seeks hope. Here are a few examples:

  • Readers can find help with practical needs, such as building a deck when they don’t know a hammer from a screwdriver or cooking a healthy meal when they are used to eating at fast-food restaurants.
  • Readers can learn ways others have overcome obstacles they may be facing, such as handling finances, caring for aging parents, or “Making Children Mind without Losing Yours.”
  • Readers can discover how cultures and practices have changed or are changing in various parts of the world.
  • Readers can analyze complex societal issues and ponder solutions.

Fiction offers ways to ignite imagination—perhaps to escape reality temporarily.

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

Through fiction, readers can taste strange foods, hear intriguing sounds, visit bizarre places, feel adrenaline rushing through their veins, and solve mysterious problems. Readers may identify with heroes that adapt innovative ideas under pressure.

Some fiction incorporates stories based on facts, such as historical fiction and some of the cultural fiction (Amish, etc.). Readers gain information as well as entertainment.

Speculative fiction includes supernatural, fantasy, or futuristic elements. It challenges established assumptions. It often looks to the future, while reliving the past. It stimulates extraordinary thoughts.

No matter what genre we read and write, we can take away something new. Readers experience these benefits and more.

  • Contemplate new ideas and identify with distinctive characters.
  • Walk new paths in someone else’s shoes.
  • Face new problems and discover fresh solutions.

Whether we read and write nonfiction or fiction, stories stick in our minds. Someone recently told me that the stories C. S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce (an allegory along the lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy) remain with him though he read them years ago.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” ― Mortimer J. Adler

As the author of more than 1000 published works, I identify my readers and ask myself, What will those readers take away that will give them what they’re seeking? If I can find a reader who meets my criteria for a target audience, I ask the person to read it and offer feedback.

The quality of the writing determines what a reader retains, so feedback, editing, and polishing is vital. I belong to a writers’ critique group, and they often give me the comments I need to polish what I’ve written.

An author’s words can build a relationship with readers. “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” – J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

An author’s words can produce hope. Hope for overcoming obstacles. Hope for the future. “Hope is not pretending that troubles don’t exist. It is the hope that they won’t last forever. That hurts will be healed and difficulties overcome. That we will be led out of the darkness and into the sunshine.” – Anonymous

For more information on Arlene Knickerbocker and her work, follow the links below

© 2013, Arlene Knickerbocker



Author of 12 Ways to Make Your Words Count                                             

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