Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Your Reading Helps My Writing

Hi Dead Letter Office readers! Thanks so much for checking out the book. Haven't read it yet? You can download a copy for your Kindle, Nook, or Android device right off the interwebs.

Y'all know a fair bit about me. There's that little bio over there in the sidebar, and my longer bio at the end of DLO, and my Twitter feed, and whatnot. Turns out, I know a few things about you too. And they're helping me write the second book of the Parish Mail series.

As described in a number of recent articles, my publisher Coliloquy gathers information (anonymously and in the aggregate. Your privacy is safe.) on how readers select paths through their books, including mine.  Below are a few things I've learned about you, dear DLO readers, and -- sneak peek alert! -- how I'm using that knowledge in PM2.

You Are Surprisingly Polite to Mean Girls

The first decision point of Dead Letter Office gives you the choice of sending the heroine Celia to a swanky Halloween party that queen bee Peyton has invited her to, or having her spend Halloween in the French Quarter with quirky witch Tilly. While both options are fun, and both introduce you to mysterious, moody Luc, I assumed that most readers would want to hang with Tilly in the Quarter and blow off the party. But fully half of you, 50%, elect to go to the party! You are so courteous; Celia's grandmother Jane would most definitely approve.

My takeaway from this: equally attractive options = good. I try to make every decision non-obvious and enjoyable, and I believe that if I see nearly equal percentages in the data, as with this choice point, then I've achieved that goal. Lopsided percentages, as I'm about to explain, could be an indication that something's not working quite as well as it could.

You Dig the Paranormal

Okay, this really should have been obvious to me. Parish Mail is a supernatural mystery series, after all. But I included a decision early in DLO that gives you the choice of having Celia investigate forensically with Donovan, a cop's son, or magically with Tilly. Almost 70% of you choose the paranormal sleuthing.

Me to myself, after seeing this: "Oh. Duh."

What I was trying to to with this choice point was to let the reader decide what kind of book they want to read, conventional mystery or paranormal. But, of course, the reader's already made that choice in buying this book.

Tilly is Celia's BFF, and I love that she has as many fans among you as she does. So she'll be working her magic alongside Celia from here on out. I still like the idea of giving the reader the power to shape their reading experience, though, so in Parish Mail Book 2, you'll get to decide whether it's Luc or Donovan who joins Celia in her investigation. Sparks will fly, trust me, no matter which you choose. Good news: you can always go back and read the other version!

You Are Not Fooled by Clunky Misdirection

The main mystery of Dead Letter Office, the "mission" or "case" of the book, is one area where I feel like I didn't do as good a job as I wanted. In particular there's one investigative choice point that is not well designed: the "right" path is far too obvious despite my trying to tart up the "wrong" option to make it more appealing. You guys aren't falling for it. An overwhelming majority of you choose the the "right" path.

In PM2, I put a lot of effort into not only making the mystery more relevant to Celia personally, but also giving you the reader more compelling investigative choices. It should be harder in PM2 (and thus more fun) to tell what the "right" and "wrong" clues are.  You'll be rewarded with hints to the overall series mystery if you think through the facts and evidence like Celia does.

You Laugh in the Face of Danger

Similar to the above example, there's another choice point where you can charge in after the bad guy or wait for the police. Even though I tried to make this a character choice, having you side with either Luc or Donovan, 66% of you said "Who needs the police? I'm taking this perp down myself!"

Mind you, the waiting-for-the-police route ends up being no less dangerous -- Magic! Machetes! Alligators! -- but of course you can't possibly know that when you make the decision. So in PM2 I'm paying more attention to what the choice point implies.

You Are Intrigued by Bad Boys

There's an opportunity near the end of Dead Letter Office for the reader to choose, literally, the boy of Celia's dreams. While both Luc and Donovan each get a healthy share of the vote, 38% and 48% respectively, Sloan pulls in a respectable 14%.

Entitled and snarky with a good side that he rarely shows, Sloan appears in only a few scenes of DLO. The vote results show me that a fair number of you are interested in the guy, and so he's playing a larger role in PM2 than I was originally planning.

So there you have it -- a snapshot of what I've learned from the DLO data and how you're helping me write Parish Mail Book 2. Hey, mind if you bang out these next few chapters for me while I go to Hawaii? Fantastic!