While seeking a new position in Bookland, (I rather fancy being its Ambassador, with epaulets, but am waiting for the role to be conceived of) I have been been employed in a temporary capacity as both a bookseller and a telephone market researcher. The latter role, which involves B2B survey response solicitation (English translation available on request) has prompted me to wonder whether publishers might benefit from the same approach.
Imagine the scene. Our telephone surveyor is presented with a list of families whose quantifiable and observable consumer behaviours may indicate the presence of a fiction reader within their ranks. A state-of-the-art computer system presents the researcher with the next telephone number, and the call is answered. After a suitably enticing introduction, which might run thus:
Good morning or afternoon, sir or madam, my name is David. Is it possible to speak to the novel reader in the household, please? I'm looking for just a few minutes of their time to gather some feedback on the quality and content of modern fiction. This is not a sales call, their answers will be treated with complete confidentiality and will be used by the publishing industry to to improve the quality of its characters, descriptions and narrative dynamics. Thank you.
There would then follow a comprehensive and rigorously-structured matrix of questions, expertly assembled by crack Knowledge Engineers to solicit the maximum practical data yield.
Sample sections would include:
Now, thinking about the last novel you read and its principal narrator, would you say that person was:
(b) Reasonably trustworthy
(c) Utterly unreliable
(d) Not to be touched with a barge-pole
I'd like you now to consider any passages in your novel which explicitly described sexual incidents. Did you find such scenes:
(a) Moving and arousing
(b) Gratuitous, redolent of authorial wish-fulfillment, but otherwise inoffensive
(c) Unintentionally hilarious, due to the use of bizarre imagery and metaphor
(d) Seeming to relate to some species other than human, and likely to produce not insignificant physical damage if attempted in reality
and also -
I wonder if you could you tell me, with respect to the 'blurb' or 'endorsement' on the front cover of your novel, did it:
(a) Understate the sheer literary brilliance and emotional heft of the book
(b) More or less, albeit a trifle hysterically, reflect your reading experience
(c) Compare the book to two or more other writers or works in a manner which, at the time of creating the blurb, must have sounded terrifically erudite to the blurb-writer but actually resulted in evoking some kind of bizarre Frankensteinian construct, e.g. 'As if Poe were re-writing Austen with Kafka's fountain pen'
(d) sound eerily similar to the blurb written by the author of your book for the most recent novel written by the blurb-writer.
And so on.
I could have, but chose not to, prevented myself from departing with a few more literary works which are appropriate to the current weather scenario:
Frozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Icing the Body Electric
The Adventures of Sexton Flake.
I will practice that restraint.