1. Arktaurous34

    Arktaurous34 Active Member

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    Literacy rate in America as it pertains to writers?

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Arktaurous34, Jun 10, 2017.

    Literacy rate in America as it pertains to writers?

    Hi all. So this has been weighing on me for awhile and really want to hear your thoughts! No really, this isn't just a veiled attempt to create an enduring thread with vast participation ;)

    Okay, brief back story; I couldn't read until after sixth grade so I feel passionately about the literacy rate in America. There see, I was brief. Feel free to answer any or all of the questions or to share some interesting information pertaining to the literacy rate in America and how it affects writers.

    1. If the "average" American reads at a 7th or 8th grade level should this affect the way one writes if they plan on reaching a target audience in America?

    2. Do you think there is a realistic danger of a written work being rejected for publication or ignored by readers because it exceeds a 7th or 8th grade reading level?

    3. As a writer, are you more satisfied with the completion of your work or with your work being successfully perceived by an audience in the way you intended it to be perceived?

    4. As a writer, have you ever encountered opposition from anyone requesting you essentially "dumb down" your work?

    Thanks all :)
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I don't think "average" is a useful concept here. Of course, the scare quotes may mean we're not actually talking about averages - are we looking at mode?

    But, regardless, our books aren't being marketted to "average" Americans, or even to the mode of Americans. A subgroup of Americans buy books regularly. A subgroup of book-buying Americans like books in our specific genres, or written in our specific styles. Those people are our market. I want to know their reading levels.

    And then? Yeah, I want to write to that level. Writing is about communicating, and communication works best when it's in a form everyone involves can easily understand. I don't get satisfaction from completing work that nobody's going to want to read.

    But, no, I've never felt pressured to "dumb down" my writing, not based on reading comprehension. I've had suggestions to make characters less complex and ambiguous than I wanted them to be, but that's not about reading comprehension.
     
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  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In general I agree with everything @BayView said above. Specifically, my thoughts are:

    As already stated, the word average tends to be problematic because are we talking mean, mode, or median. They are all different. If it's the mean average (the typical meaning), then, again, as already stated, that calculation includes whole swaths of people who would never be our customer regardless.

    I think there is a realistic concern if/when one is not familiar with the target audience for a given kind of work. If you have knowledge of other successful work in that genre, for that audience, and you compare and note that your work is markedly higher (or lower) in register, then you may want to have a rethink.

    I actually hope there are multiple perceptions of my work. This would mean that my work was engageable by different people coming to the work with their individual histories, wants, needs, wishes, etc.

    On occasion, yes, but it's important to remember that unless the person attempting to coerce me is the person offering me a contract, it's just an opinion.
     
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  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    No. The semi-literate masses don't read books. People who read and consume books are familiar with language.

    Now, the hardcore, prosaic literary shit will fly right over plenty of people's heads, regardless of reading level. Even an enlightened literary dude such as myself needs to be in the right mood to read Faulkner or McCarthy's heavier shit (Blood Meridian comes to mind... great book, but I need to take dramamine to read it).
     
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  5. Arktaurous34

    Arktaurous34 Active Member

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    Thanks @BayView, @Wreybies , @Homer Potvin for you thoughts! You guys are always so knowledgeable and charming.

    This is a very helpful perspective!

    Good points. I got the whole "average" statement from researching literacy rates in America online and I believe in most cases it referred to the mean average. I also like what you said about the audience; wise words.

    Well said and your colorful way with words always makes me laugh! Thank you for that.
     
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  6. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Interesting. I always thought the good old US of A had reading level in the 5th grade.
    Perhaps the bar was raised slightly on our end, or the standard was lowered.
    Either way, hooray for 'Murica. :p

    Though you have to consider things as they are, and what is read the most.
    Provided you have to eliminate those who have books on the shelf to look
    like they read, when in reality they are little more than decoration.
    It would appear that if you could produce something in a magazine
    skin en-mass, that would be far superior to writing a book if you are
    looking in terms of mass consumption. People still buy magazines right?

    While I have never had anyone ask me to lower my written word to cater
    a 'dumber' audience, I don't think that I would if the inquiry arose.
    Not that I write at my reading level, it is still somewhat above the average
    for the country. Though I do not use vocabulary that even I don't understand
    when I write. Though I have seen one or two that have done things like
    that. Big or fancy words does not make your writing seem more adept,
    or high brow. It makes it look like your trying to hard to dress a shit show
    in a tuxedo/ball gown, which in turn feels quite sloppy.

    But I think @Homer Potvin put it best, in saying that it would just go
    over the heads of most people.
     
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  7. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Comparativist Contributor

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    What would satisfy me most is my work finding any audience, at all. How they perceive it is an academic exercise.
     
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  8. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    Interesting thought.

    I did notice that with social media, comics coming back into trends and so much reading of comments and posts on the Internet, people would be reading more and their skills would get better.

    I did have some beta readers say that my work could be clearer and more straight forward but after a certain point, that gets very dull to me. I take very good points from beta readers but there's a certain point where I have to choose what stays and goes. One piece that was recently called 'not even a story' was recently published in a NY based literary journal and didn't change much of it.

    And to me, honestly I'll be content just to see the finished product in the shape and form as all of my other favorite books I read growing up.
     
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