Our Ask BHP question this week dips into the personal reading habits of Bethany House staff: “As a publishing employee, can you turn off the analytical side of your brain when reading for fun, or are you always critiquing the story in your head?”
As someone who works in our marketing department, the main time I’m reading in Analysis Mode is when I’m reviewing a manuscript that we’ll be considering at our Publication Board, where representatives from marketing, editorial, sales, and rights discuss potential contracts with authors. For new fiction authors, we usually get the full manuscript weeks ahead of time, giving me a chance to read it so I can come prepared to discuss its strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the questions I ask myself as I do so:
- Does this seem to be a good match for our target audience? (Interests, spiritual/theological background, etc.)
- Is this different enough to stand out without being so unique that it won’t appeal to readers?
- How would this fit with other books we’re publishing?
- Are the characters well-developed?
- Is the middle of the story interesting enough to carry readers through?
- After I read the first three chapters, what, if anything, makes me want to read more?
When I’m reading a book for fun outside of work, I obviously don’t feel the same kind of responsibility to go through a checklist like that. It helps that I also read in several genres outside of the Christian fiction I immerse myself in at work (nonfiction of all sorts, ABA mysteries and fantasy, middle grade fiction, literary classics…let’s be honest, basically anything with pages).
This might also be a chicken-egg conundrum: I’ve spoken with several editors who said they went into editing because they already had a natural bent toward analyzing and critiquing a story’s structure, characters, and plot. Working in publishing probably strengthened those skills, but it didn’t create them in the first place.
I think most of us would say that while we can’t exactly “turn off” the part of our brain trained by working in publishing—deciding if the cover makes the genre clear, admiring the author’s voice, predicting what might happen next—the better a book is, the easier it gets to set the technical questions aside and just enjoy reading. After all, if I’m not making a marketing plan for the author or evaluating the manuscript for our publication board, I don’t really need to be thinking about all of those things. All I really have to decide is whether I like it or not.
I probably am somewhat more critical, or at least aware, of the choices the author is making because I’ve spent the past five years in publishing, but “off the clock,” I’m a reader just like any other.
Then again, all readers are on some level, asking questions like “Does this opening chapter grab me?” “Is the plot too predictable?” and “Do I care about these characters, or do I kind of hope they fail because they’re so annoying?” Maybe you wouldn’t actually describe your reading process that way, but we’re all analyzing the story at some level. Hopefully not to the point where we can enjoy ourselves or get lost in a great story, but in a way that helps us appreciate what we love about our favorite authors.
Your turn, readers! What is it about a good book that makes it easy for you to turn off your analytical side and just enjoy the story?