Lose the lion

Lose the lion

A recent thread in the Amazon Kindle community was asking about a new book being free for a while, then being withdrawn, and then returning (with a price on it).

I suggested that perhaps the publisher saw comments in the reviews (or in other feedback) that indicated there were formatting errors, and they withdrew it from the store to fix those problems before the full release.

That got me thinking, though.

You know how they do test screenings for movies?  They get together groups, sometimes of particular types, show them a movie before it’s released, and then have them fill out comment cards?  What they liked, didn’t like, that kind of thing…

Sometimes they’ll show alternate cuts to see what people like better.

That happens with TV shows, too.

Now, that’s never really been part of publishing in the past.  Oh, when I was a bookstore manager, we’d be sent some “galleys” (cheaply produced, unproof-read copies of forthcoming novels).  We weren’t asked what we thought, though…that was mostly supposed to be so we knew the book on the day it was released…the better to sell it, my dear.

It would have been unwieldy to send out galleys to focus groups on paper, get the edits, print more paper, round and round.  That would have been a very expensive (and wasteful) process, to be sure.

The situation is quite different with e-books, though.  A publisher could easily send out “galleys” for a book…even to specific demographics.  Based on that feedback, they could even have the author make changes.

Sounds awful, right? 😉

I’m sure it is already happening in e-books.  Oh, maybe not in fiction so much, but I’m guessing that publishers have removed or added sections to non-fiction books, based on feedback.

Fiction seems inevitable, though.

Hmmm…what would that look like?

Well, I can’t take you inside a book that hasn’t been written yet, so I thought I’d go back…way back…to 1900…

 Note: the following contains spoilers for The Wizard of Oz.


Mr. Bowdler: “Welcome, Mr. Baum, have a seat.”

Baum: “Thank you.  I understand you have the results of the test readings?  I’m very excited to hear them.”

Bowdler: “Well, we’re very excited to present them to you, Mr. Baum.”

Baum: “You can call me Lyman.”

Bowdler: “Would you mind if I called you Frank?  That’s your middle name, right?”

Baum: “Um…sure, I guess that’s okay.  I know Lyman’s kind of unusual.”

Bowdler: “It’s not only that…unusual can be fine.  It’s just that Lyman sounds like ‘Lie-man’, and our research groups indicated it made them uncomfortable.”

Baum: “That’s funny, I never had anybody say that to me before.”

Bowdler: “That’s where we come in, Frank.  People don’t tell people what they need to hear.  That’s just too messy, too many bad things can happen.  But they’ll tell Advanced Mark/Editing Research…and we’ll tell you.”

Baum: “Yes.  You got a very good reference from Charles Dawkins’ agent.  He said you were very helpful with A Holiday Carol.”

Bowdler: “Ah, Dawkins.  You should have heard his original name.”

Baum: “Worse then Lyman?”

Bowdler: “Far worse.  We were able to make some important contributions.  Did you know that, originally, Tim was differently abled?  Audiences found that too depressing.  We also suggested moving the happy holiday to the beginning, and telling the story in flashback.”

Baum: “Really!  I thought that was brilliant.  Otherwise, how would you know that a happy ending was coming?”

Bowdler: “Exactly.  But enough about past success.  Let’s talk about your book.  We really believe that this has the potential to be a very big seller.”

Baum: “I’m happy to hear that!”

Bowdler: “Believe me, so are we.  You’d be surprised at the number of books we see where there is just no chance of success.  Fortunately, that’s not the case for Wizard.  It’s already testing at a 63 overall positive.  Very respectable.”

Baum: “Is that out of 100?  That doesn’t sound that good.”

Bowdler: “Oh, but it is.  Not as good as it could be, of course.  We asked readers some specific questions, and from that, have been able to come up with some minor tweaks that should drive results into the eighties.  In fact, we think we can make the first book so popular, you should be able to get another ten or twelve titles out of the series.”

Baum: “Huh…I thought it sort of ended cleanly.”

Bowdler: “Yes, but that doesn’t cut off other possibilities.  Shall we move on to the results?”

Baum: “Sure.”

Bowdler: “Our first concern was with the dog.”

Baum: “Toto?”

Bowdler: “Yes, that’s it.  He just doesn’t resonate with readers.  It’s a problem for terriers…they are small, but not all that cute.  He also doesn’t seem like a farm dog.  How would you feel about making him a border collie?  Those are very popular right now.”

Baum: “How would Dorothy carry him?”

Bowdler: “She wouldn’t have to…and he could bring so much more athleticism.  We checked, and we could get a placement fee from the Border Collie Breeders Promotional group.”

Baum: “I don’t know…I like Dorothy seeming like she is more defenceless…having a big dog like that would change the story considerably.”

Bowdler: “How about a cat?  Cats test very well in fiction.”

Baum: “Um…I’ll think about it.”

Bowdler: “As you wish.  Now, as to the first scene in Oz, when Dorothy’s house wounds the Wicked Witch.”

Baum: “It falls on her and kills her.”

Bowdler: “Yes, that’s very bad.”

Baum: “It is?”

Bowdler: “Definitely.   Audiences are not comfortable with your hero killing a bad guy they’ve never even met.  Ninety percent of potential book buyers found that too violent.  We suggest that the house lands on the witch’s command center, and that she is injured and has to be hospitalized.  That will enable the munchkins to be freed, as you suggest, without bringing death into the story first off.”

Baum: “I suppose that could work.”

Bowdler: “Great!  Now about the lion..”

Baum: “What about him?”

Bowdler: “Lose him.”

Baum: “What?”

Bowdler: “Lose the lion.  He just doesn’t make sense.  The scarecrow and the tin guy are both missing organs…courage isn’t an organ.  Besides, who wants to buy a book about a love quadrangle?”

Baum: “A love…I’m not following you.”

Bowdler: “Dorothy…guy without a heart…guy without a brain.  That’s classic, a classic love triangle.  The lion’s just extra.”

Baum: “Oh, they’re not in love!  Dorothy’s only a little girl.”

Bowlder: “Yes, you have to change that, too.  Audiences are not at all comfortable with a little girl running all over a strange land by herself.  It’s just too creepy, you know what I mean?  Our research shows that you either have to give her an adult guardian…a human adult guardian, by the way, or make her an adult herself.  Besides, that will make her more relatable…adults don’t want to read about children.”

Baum: “But the book is for children!”

Bowdler: “Sorry, Frank, we can’t test children.  They can’t be held to non-disclosure contracts.  Besides, kids don’t buy books…adults buy them for them.”

Baum: “Well, I’d really seen this as a modern fairy tale…for children.”

Bowdler: “How about this?  Uncle Henry gets killed in the tornado, and Aunt Em goes to Oz with Dorothy?  That way, Dorothy can be a little girl like you want.  Oh, and we can make Aunt Em in her twenties, so you can still play the romance angle.  Hey, could you make the lion a sensitive werewolf?  That’s gold!”

Baum: “Wait, I though you said death was bad?”

Bowdler: “No, I said that people didn’t like your hero killing somebody who is a stranger to them.  Heroes only kill people who deserve it, and we don’t know they deserve it until we know who they are.  Are you suggesting a tornado is a hero?”

Baum: “Um…no.”

Bowdler: “That’s settled, then.  I can smell those royalties now!  One last thing.”

Baum: “What…”

Bowdler: “The wizard has to be a real wizard.”

Baum: “But that’s the whole point of the story!”

Bowdler: “To you, maybe.  But I have the numbers right here…87% of the tested readers felt ripped off by the big reveal.  Eighty effing seven percent!  They said they were disappointed.”

Baum: “Disappointed in the character or the story?”

Bowdler: “Uh…we didn’t ask that separately, just ‘disappointed’.  Anyway, disappointment is bad, right?  We can do another round of testing, if you want…probably run you ten thousand dollars.  We’d be happy to do it, though.”

Baum: “No, no.  It’s just…it’s just a lot to think about.”

Bowdler: “Oh, I completely understand.  Take your time.  Our data is valid for three months.  Here, why I don’t I set up a meeting with another client of ours…you two can talk it over and you can see how much following our advice helped him.”

Baum: “That’s nice of you.  What’s his name?”

Bowdler: “He writes under Lou Cain.  Do you read detective novels?”

Baum: “Some.”

Bowdler: “He writes the Alex books.  Real he-man stuff…Alex Takes a Dive, and Alex: Seven Years of Bad Luck.  Frank, I remember what that first Alex book looked like…it was all a mish-mash with white rabbits and porcupines and it was just all over the place.  It would have been a hot day in Siberia before he sold any of that garbage.”

Baum: “I see.  Yes, it might be helpful to discuss with him…see how he felt about the process.”

Bowdler: “Sure, hey, up to you.  After all…you’re the author.”


7 Responses to “Lose the lion”

  1. Mark Pierce Says:

    Hello Bufo. My name is Mark Pierce. I’m a pastor in Mansfield, Ohio and a new reader of ILMK. I’ve listened to your interviews with Len on TKC and decided to subscribe to your blog. I’m really impressed with your coverage of Kindle. But with this post… I just had to respond… how wonderful! How creative! You brought some real smiles to me this morning as I read. Thanks for your gift of writing. God bless! Mark

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Mark!

      I’m really glad you liked that one! I had fun writing it. 🙂

      I try to keep the blog diverse, with diffent types of posts every few days…so everyone feels like it’s worth it. I know not everybody likes my fiction/humor posts…but not everybody like the “math-y” analysis ones either.

      Thanks again!

  2. Revise and Present: updating your e-book Says:

    […] https://ilmk.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/lose-the-lion/ […]

  3. Nancy M. Popovich Says:

    This was so very imaginative – my mind shifted to a 50’s type office of the ilk bad movies portray as agent/representatives, smoking a cigar, and wearing suspenders. Loved they way you have done this!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Nancy!

      That’s so nice of you to say! I have a lot of fun writing the fiction pieces, but I know not everybody likes them. 🙂

  4. Round up #97: Amazon Yesterday, “romanticized” classics « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] the way, the idea of taking a classic and adding a romance angle reminded me a bit of my piece, Lose the Lion. The difference is, I was […]

  5. Do we have an editor to thank for To Kill a Mockingbird? | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Lose the lion […]

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