What Novelists Can Learn from a Coffeemaker
About a month ago, our wonderful, faithful Gevalia coffeepot died. What a shame! Since my wife and I have become rather . . . um, dependent on our daily intake of the coffee bean (hey, it is in the vegetable or fruit family), I zipped out to Walmart for another coffeepot. I figured Mr. Coffee was a decent brand, and the model I grabbed was the right price.
What a mistake!
Two weeks later, I turned it on one morning between pages of a hectic edits—and nada. There wasn’t a sign of life other than a taunting green light that smirked at me as if some wise guy were playing a joke. Thankfully, Walmart took the coffeepot back, and I decided not to waste a nickel on another Mr. Coffee that might just croak again in two weeks. So this time we’re trying a Black & Decker for the same price.
Black & Decker? Yeah, I know. The brand evokes (at least for me) images of saws, drills, and other handy tools my dad used to make noise with in the garage. Not a coffeepot in my kitchen, but hey, we’ll give ’er a try and let B&D prove herself. So far, so good.
Just Looking for Dependable
“So what does this whole coffeepot-ordeal thing have to do with novel writing?” you ask. Bear with me. While perusing the coffeepot choices at Walmart, I was struck by the many options:
- Black or white
- Stainless steel or plastic
- Digital clock or no digital clock
- Programmable or not programmable
- Single cup or twelve cup (or more)
- Some of the more expensive ones might have even given me a massage.
And boy, all I wanted was a dependable coffeepot that would serve me a nice cup of coffee!
What later occurred to me is that the process of choosing a coffeepot is similar to the decision making readers must engage whenever they choose the next new novel to read, especially from an author they haven’t tried before. Maybe the reader simply wants a suspenseful page-turner but instead finds a barrage of confusing choices:
- Romantic or unromantic
- Whodonut or whydidhedoit
- Standalone or series
- Heroine or hero
- Edgy horror or safe cozy mystery
- A medical thriller or a Da Vinci Code copycat
- Traditional Amish or Amish zombies
What’s my point? Sometimes I think we authors can get too tied up in being “novel” or throwing in too many bells and whistles when the poor customer just wants a faithful coffeepot that will serve the expected cup of coffee. Nothing fancy. Just something pure, real, and honest. And dependable.
An Opportunity for Off-Brand Authors
That leads me to the whole issue of branding. The novel better deliver—or else it’s like me heading back Walmart with the Mr. Coffee pot that failed. And customers like me remember. I probably won’t risk my money on another Mr. Coffee anytime soon. And readers may not give a second chance to a novelist whose books are half-baked, contrived, or a ripoff of somebody else’s stroke of genius—and just don’t deliver.
On the other hand, Mr. Coffee seemed tried and true, but what a disappointment it was! Okay, Black & Decker, here’s your chance. What am I saying?
Customers may give the off-brand author a chance, too, if the tried-and-true no longer delivers. By the time some of these established novelists coast through their fiftieth novel, let’s face it—some of their latest offerings are about as original as the Walmart version of an Oreo.
What an opportunity for some of us newer, lesser-known Christian suspense novelists to rise to the occasion! And with growing opportunities to self-publish on Kindle and other platforms—and success stories appearing all the time—who cares about rejection letters? If worst comes to worst, we can always blaze a new path on our own.
But we must remember what readers are looking for: something pure, real, honest, and dependable. Like a coffeepot that keeps on perking.
What about you? Maybe you’re not a novelist at all but a reader of Christian suspense. What type of suspense novel do you typically reach for first? Something that’s familiar, comfortable, and safe—a recognized brand? Or something new and different that screams “out of the box”?
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Wow, Adam–glad your Gevalia held out that long–we went through several of those coffeemakers, back in the day! We paid more for a Keurig but so far, so good on that, and it’s been about 2 years now. Definitely hear what you’re saying–I would stop writing if I didn’t feel I could give a new twist to an old genre. I can’t stand reading same ol’, same ol’, unless it’s Agatha Christie–and even then, I forget whodunit and enjoy re-reading it. Formulaic plots and shallow characters are the kiss of death to me in fiction. I prefer characters who stick with me, long after the book is finished. Plot isn’t so crucial to me, but CHARACTERS who are realistic are. I know it’s different for everyone. Some read for escapism, some for realism. To each his own coffeepot!
Thanks, Heather. Me too. I see so much in the CBA that’s like, “Man, how many of those plots have I seen?” I like stuff that’s original. Plots mostly. Characters are important, but they don’t typically stick with me as much. I guess that’s why I liked Peretti’s earlier books so much. They were different and kept me glued.