This is the last of my posts on adapting manufacturing quality improvement techniques for fiction writing (unless I randomly remember another one at some point and see a connection).
The Action Workout was a group collaboration technique. The way it works is, you get a bunch of people into a room to review a process with an end goal of slimming the process down to its essentials, removing both unnecessary cost and opportunities for mistakes.
How, you ask, can this possibly be adapted for fiction writing? Hang with me and I’ll explain.
In the Action Workout as taught by a couple of women who ran the IT Help Desk at the manufacturer where I worked, the goal was to break the process into each of its discrete steps, identifying the steps that provided something of value to the customer. If a step didn’t add customer value, you looked for ways to remove it.
Let’s use a coffee shop as an example. What are the steps to serving a customer?
- Take order for coffee and a scone.
- Get cup.
- Get saucer.
- Place cup on saucer.
- Dispense coffee into cup.
- Place cup and saucer on tray.
- Get pastry saucer.
- Place paper doily on saucer.
- Remove scone from display and place on doily.
- Place pastry saucer on tray.
The step that’s questionable is the paper doily. Your establishment may feel that paper doily adds a touch of class, but if the customer doesn’t feel that it adds value, what you’re actually doing is adding cost for no return on investment.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about this in terms of my books, asking myself if everything I’m giving my customers is something they value. And, conversely, asking myself if there’s something they would value that I’m failing to provide.
In a coffee shop, you can simply ask your customers about their preferences. You can say, “If we skipped the doily, would you miss it?” Even better, you can ask them, “What could we do to make this a more enjoyable experience for you?” and see what they say.
If you have a really large and responsive newsletter subscriber group or a street team, you could use the same approach to making your fiction more audience-focused. Failing that, though, there are two ways to find out how you’re doing.
The first is your reviews. If you hear the same complaints frequently, it may be something you should address. I recently put my second book up on Netgalley, hoping to get some reviews that would help sales. There were two complaints that I heard more than once: “Bad is too nice. I expect demons to be bad guys,” and “I had problems understanding what was going on with the statues.”
My first takeaway was that readers are looking for true bad boys (as was very true in the first book), so I plan to focus on delivering that in future. Also, the plot of the second book was too complicated, with not enough time spent on making clear Satan’s plans for the statues. So I’m also going to focus on clean plots with more clear-cut stakes.
The other way a fiction writer can gather info about customer expectations is by reading the bestsellers in her genre and identifying the commonalities. One of the features of paranormal romance tends to be bad boy heroes, which I’d already identified. Another is that the protagonist generally fights a very physical battle with her opponent(s) and she does that side-by-side with the hero.
The first three books in my demon series are enemies-to-lovers stories, which don’t lend themselves to side-by-side fighting, but I’m thinking that for the fourth book I’m going to try to set it up to allow my hero and heroine to go head-to-head against the bad guys.
What are the tropes/characters/situations that you find especially enjoyable about your preferred genre? If you’re a writer, do you make it a point to include that in your books?