Monday, March 19, 2012

What If . . . Readers Could Discover Your Book by Pie Chart?

I know, that sounds crazy!! But I just read an article in Publishers Weekly on a speech given by Nancy Pearl—legendary Seattle librarian and regular National Public Radio contributor—that suggests just that. (We are not talking blueberry, coconut cream, or anything Marie Callender here.)

Ms. Pearl's idea is based on her lifelong focus of not only finding the next great book that she'd like to read, but helping others do the same thing. She has a lot of experience helping readers find books, and an organized mind that understands the value of classification (like the Dewey Decimal System). She believes what is 'great' for one reader may be quite different for another, and that the only opinion that matters on the subject is our own when it comes to our reading preferences.

Her main point: it is not genre that drives what readers love and want in their next book, it is a focus on one or more of four factors:

  • story
  • character
  • setting
  • language

What if readers were asked to identify what percentage each of these factors played in books they've read? Then if fifty readers were asked about Gone With the Wind, for example, their responses could be averaged into a pie chart format: maybe 25% story (page turner), 40% character, 25% setting, and 10% language (usage, style). That's how I would rate these factors for this book, but actually, I think I chose a really tough example here because ALL of the four factors are so strong in Margaret Mitchell's classic. Okay, so how about The Hunger Games? I'm guessing 50% story, 20% character, 20% setting, and 10% language. But I haven't read The Hunger Games, and I'm not likely to based on what I know of the book. But if there were a pie chart rating system like Nancy Pearl suggests, that indicated it is strong in the factors that are most important to me in choosing what to read (character first, then story—setting and language are important to me, but more like frosting on the cake—or whipped cream on the pie), then I might change my mind. I'd definitely read the cover blurb to find out more. I would not skip over this book because it's not in my usual reading genres of more literary mystery/suspense or straight literary.

What if booksellers all adopted a system like this to help us choose, instead of suggesting what other books we might like based on our last purchases by genre? I'd love it! Genre of interest does provide some value, but is imprecise as a guide because so many books could fit into more than one genre, and so many genre writers have different strengths among the factors identified by Pearl. The Rule of Four system would provide me much more opportunity to read widely the types of books that I will not only enjoy as a reader, but that I can use to help me develop the strengths I value most as a writer.

What if we could promote our own books by saying, "if you love great character development in a page turner, the Rule of Four readers rating system shows you'll want to check this one out." How cool would that be?

What do you think? Here's the PW article on Nancy Pearl's idea. She explains it with clarity. Highly recommended!

~ Linda
p.s. I'd love a little add-on to the Rule of Four that would tag whether humor is used in the writing. That is always a big draw for me, no matter how subtle the humor is, if it's done well. Do you have a sub-factor that you'd add on for your perfect system of choosing what to read?


  1. HI, Linda,

    What a great concept! Thanks for sharing the article with us.

    For me I would enjoy this system because I read many genres and focus on great character development and chemistry between characters. Plus, like you, I do love a bit of humor. It is needed in stories of ALL kinds especially the dark and intense ones. The reader must have time to breathe.

    It's so nice to drop by again so soon. I'm sorry I haven't been visiting regularly, but life has thrown me a few curves. But now things are settling and I am looking forward to some fun new projects, I am sure you've heard about an exciting one from Heather.

    Have a wonderful week.


    1. Michael, so nice to see you! Thanks for dropping by and for your comment. Ah, life's curves. So sorry you've had to deal with that lately, and so glad you're back in the groove, and looking forward to projects! Yes, chemistry between characters--it's the gold we look for as readers, and the gold we mine for as writers. I'm with you on that!

  2. Oooh, interesting!!!! You've given me something to think about.

    1. So funny, Laura, your post this morning did exactly the same for me . . . in fact, it gave me an idea for a post!

  3. That's very interesting and I definitely see how it could work. Setting alone will sometimes get me to pick up a book so this makes a lot of sense.

    1. I know what you mean, Heather. I'm reading a book set in the Amazon jungle now--a place I'll probably never go, but it's so interesting to read about! I like the idea of this system, too.