Jeanne: Six Sigma for Fiction: The Action Workout

Depositphotos_27159627_l-2015This 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?

  1. Take order for coffee and a scone.
  2. Get cup.
  3. Get saucer.
  4. Place cup on saucer.
  5. Dispense coffee into cup.
  6. Place cup and saucer on tray.
  7. Get pastry saucer.
  8. Place paper doily on saucer.
  9. Remove scone from display and place on doily.
  10. 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?

4 thoughts on “Jeanne: Six Sigma for Fiction: The Action Workout

  1. I do put a lot of stuff that I personally like into my stories. I like the genius disguised as airhead trope — Detective Columbo fits that, I think. So does Lord Peter Wimsy (Sayers)and Penric (Bujold; although he’s not really an airhead anymore; people think he’s very pretty and underestimate him if they haven’t heard of him). The teem of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves kind of fulfills this — Bertie is a ditz, and Jeeves provides the brains. One of my heroes sort of follows these patterns.

    I can see how this technique would apply to writing, but more importantly to marketing your own fiction. Personally, I like a doily (metaphorically speaking). I’d give my readers all sorts of doilies because I like doing them, and they don’t feel high cost to me. But, a flashing LED light in the bottom of a fruity drink? I appreciate it when others do it, but I don’t like doing it myself, and probably wouldn’t include that (metaphorically) in my offerings.

    LOL, or maybe I’m just stretching the analogy.

    • “Genius disguised as an airhead”–I love that one, too.

      As I’ve focused more on marketing (because I have to pay for editing and covers) I’ve been thinking more about what sells. Now we’ll just have to see if I can actually produce to spec!

  2. Well, you just gave me a light-bulb moment here. As I’m struggling to find ad copy for my Amazon ads (and keywords, let’s not forget keywords), “good-guy hero” is probably the BEST thing to describe my books. I think that works better than “beta hero,” too. Of course, Amazon won’t even allow you to use the word “alpha” in your ad copy anymore. Good thing I don’t have alpha heroes, then.

    As for what I like, I like the hero and heroine to fight the enemy together. I like the hero and heroine to like each other. I’m not a fan of enemies to lovers (unless the enemy part is really a misunderstanding because of false information given–then I’m okay with it), because if they don’t like each other, I can’t see them falling in love (or at least see the love stick in a happy ever after way).

    • Yay! for the light bulb moment. Blogging can sometimes feel like you’re shouting into the wind, so it’s good to know someone found something useful.

      I agree about your good-guy heroes. What makes that kind of quirky is that your heroes are also vampires–not necessarily anyone’s first choice for good guys, but you make them really believable and very likable.

      I generally like enemies-to-lovers romances because they’re high conflict, which I find more engaging, but I also get where it’s really hard to make them believable. And since I loathe miscommunication as the thing keeping the lovers apart, that makes it even tougher.

      I’e been reading a lot of Jeaniene Frost lately. Cat and Bones and Ian and Verity each do an early enemies-to-lovers bit, then work together to defeat the common enemy. Hoping to do that with my fourth book because, like you, I really like that trope.

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