Battling a Shortened Attention Span

Going to try hard not to jump on a high horse because I’m aware that I fall into this category too.  In fact, I think most people have lost part of their attention span and that makes selling books a lot harder.  With the Internet and streaming services, you get instant gratification when it comes to entertainment.  Add video games and all the apps on smartphones to the list as well.  You want a laugh?  A funny clip is at your fingertips.  Need to relax?  Apple has an app for that.  So, why do books have a problem with an impatient and easily distracted population?

Well, it takes a lot more effort to enjoy a book.  You only have to sit back and watch shows and movies.  Many people toss them on for background while doing something else, so they don’t even pay full attention.  There’s also a pause button that you can hit and it’s a smoother transition to get back into a show than a book.  Video games require effort, but you’re heavily involved and influence the actions of those on the screen.  Music requires listening and art can be admired with no strain.  Books need you to read the words, turn the pages, and imagine what is going on instead of them being clearly shown or heard by your senses.  A lot of mental processes are working here to make that book act as a source of entertainment.

And there you have the problem.  In a world where people are easily distracted by external and internal stimuli, books have an uphill battle.  Audiobooks have an edge, but that’s not possible for every author because those aren’t done cheap.  Even those tend to be designated for exercise or driving, so they lose out to the higher octane forms of entertainment.  In general, books are seen as a chore to read by many people, which I think comes from how we’re taught.  When I was in school, I had so many reading assignments that I felt like I could never read for fun.  I rebelled in 11th grade and read what I wanted while ignoring the school stuff.  This isn’t what most people do though.  I have run into so many people who don’t like books because it was a chore and they don’t have time for it.  So, the impatience with reading is inadvertently begun as we grow up thanks to a system that forces the issue.  With a bigger focus on non-fiction or realistic fiction, those of us in more fantastical genres have a greater challenge if we want to get attention.

My cynical side is starting to get stronger because of this attention span issue.  I’m starting to believe that a new fantasy or science fiction author can only make it if they get a movie or TV show first.  People need to get the instant gratification of the series from an electronic medium before they even think of putting more effort in.  It’s like a new version of the caveat ‘you need to have an audience to get published, but you need to be published to get an audience’.  It’s all very frustrating.

How do you combat against a growing disinterest in books?  Is this even a real thing or am I looking at the wrong numbers?  I remember posting about how it felt like people weren’t reading as much as they used to, but many disagreed.  I noticed that they spoke of their own circles though.  We do attract those with similar interests, so readers would be surrounded by readers.  So, it’s hard to tell what is reality and what is only something within my circle.  On the other hand, there is a long list of movies and shows that exploded in popularity then brought the books along.  Honestly, ‘Game of Thrones’ was relatively unknown outside of fantasy enthusiasts until it got a series.  ‘The Witcher’ is getting new editions released thanks to its Netflix show.  I mean, it isn’t that far-fetched to think that books are falling to low attention spans unless they find a way to get into the other mediums.  Where do indie authors go with that path?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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45 Responses to Battling a Shortened Attention Span

  1. I completely agree with you, and with your observations! I feel like everything I write has to follow the ‘grab someone’s attention in the first three seconds’ rule; in fact, probably in the first half-second.

    I’ve seen some media that crosses lines, like an app that makes an interactive book. It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure meets Pokemon Go!

    Besides that, I fear we need to try what you’ve suggested (TV or movie first) or plan on an audiobook reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Let Charles know YOUR thoughts, in the comments under his original blog post 😎

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Deborah says:

    From “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic” to “Reading is Fundamental” to “Reading Rainbow” to social media. My boomer lifespan has finally succumbed to a shortened attention span. My concentration seems to require a great lack of uninterrupted time, which I am blessed to have. To help combat this, I MAKE time to read a REAL book every single day, and have made my family aware of my reading times. They oblige me, and I am so glad. My children and grandchildren are all avid readers. I sincerely hope that our family can keep up with these habits. Thanks so much for your article!

    Like

  4. I agree on the attention span problem. Why would someone pick up a book when they can entertain themselves on social media or with streaming movies? I think those who are dedicated to reading have a counterpart or ten who are dedicated to the instant stuff.

    Like

  5. floridaborne says:

    It is difficult to get reviews of your books on Amazon — I was told by someone who wanted to leave a review that you had to be a regular purchaser from Amazon. Indie books enjoyed a few lucrative years until traditional publishers invaded the only areas in which we could afford to publish, social media. We’re competing against publishers for the few remaining people on Earth who still want to read books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t even think it was the traditional publishers. They tried to minimize the indies, but Amazon itself brought up issues. Heavy restrictions on reviews, marketing was made very expensive, pre-orders dominating Top 100 lists for months, and then letting things fall away. It was made worse when some established authors jumped into the indie ring since they dominated simply because of their fan base.

      Liked by 1 person

    • V.M.Sang says:

      I agree about Amazon and reviews. I can never post my reviews with then. (I post on Goodreads and my blog. ) i think it’s odd. You would think that Amazon would welcome reviews as they drive sales. They don’t seem to have the same rules for other things. They ask me to review other things I bought.

      Liked by 1 person

      • floridaborne says:

        This is consistent with what others who try to post reviews on Amazon have said.

        Like

      • It’s because of the complaints they received years ago. Articles came out about how the review system was being gamed, so they made it more difficult to post and easier to report suspicious ones. It was made automated too, so enough reports will both eliminate a review and block the reviewer. I’ve had several people message me to say that they loved my books, but are banned from reviewing them. It appears somebody went through my blog and reported people who commented as ‘friends/family’ or something like that. So, you have an insane system created by Amazon to fix their image and people abusing it to take out authors they see as competition or have a grudge.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. L. Marie says:

    You brought up some very valid points, Charles. The instant gratification aspect is prevalent. My brother and I were talking about what people look for in a website. He mentioned the ratio of pictures to text, which relates to people reading less.

    Back in the day, there was no internet. People watched TV and read books. Even further back than that, people listened to radio programs and read books, because not every household had a TV.

    I agree with what Chelsea said about the frustration of having to grab someone’s attention in the first three seconds. An author’s window into someone’s world seems narrow in that respect. It would be nice if Amazon promoted indie books more.

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    • I feel like Amazon has given up on publishing. At least with indies. You never hear them talk about it. All news I see coming is from indies who are trying to hang on. Yet, Amazon still controls do much of the market that there’s still nowhere else to go that will see great success.

      I wonder if 3 seconds is being generous. Most people won’t even try an unknown author now. They pounce on the famous names, which are everywhere. Made a joke earlier today to my mom that the only way to get published is to already be famous or leave politics. Not sounding like much of a joke now.

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      • V.M.Sang says:

        You have to be already successful or be a celebrity, Charles. So as these people die off, where are the new authors coming from? (And how many of the celebrities actually wrote the book proudly supporting their name and how many used ghost writers? Which is dishonest, in my opinion, leading the public to believe someone wrote a book when they didn’t. I could accept it if both names were on the cover, but they’re not!)

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      • Oh, this one is easy. Their children will grow up to write more books. Publishing will be kept within the family.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. V.M.Sang says:

    Grab the reader in the first sentence. (I just read something that said that.)
    Don’t write long sentences. (Jane Austen did. I’ve judt read Pesuasion where she has at least 1 sentence over 120 words.)
    Short paragraphs and plenty white space.
    Don’t give long descriptions.(Unlike Dockens)
    Keep the action moving Every sentence must move the story forward.( Not like Fielding who had cwhole chapters that didn’t move the story. I admit I skipped them when readimgTomJones)
    All these things panDer to a reduced attention span.
    And on TV, few shots lamst more than a couple of seconds.

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    • First, I think this all results in the same kind of story, which is boring. Not to mention it cripples the progression of writing styles and literature.

      Second, I’ve seen people complain about some of those things. Short sentences? Very immature and childish to some, so they give up. Short paragraphs and plenty of white space? Hurts the eyes and, when combined with short sentences, feels like a children’s book. No long descriptions? People complain about not having a sense of the characters and world. You also have those arguing over appearances, which the author gets dragged into and that means you’re going to lose some readers once you pick a side. Every sentence keeps things moving? That’s open to interpretation, especially when it comes to foreshadowing. One reader might think a sentence is is essential while another finds it pointless.

      To touch on the first one, it’s not even enough to grab a person in the first sentence. You have to get them to that first sentence, which is increasingly difficult. Cover art and blurbs aren’t having the same affect these days. Even if you get them to that sentence, you’re not going to hook everyone. If it starts with witty dialogue, you’re on the hook for comedy. Action needs to be continued as well. Judging a book entirely by its first sentence has always struck me as ridiculous.

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  8. I agree with everything you said. It’s changed my mindset to a degree. At one point, I wanted to make this into supplemental retirement income. (I had about 15 years to make that happen.) Now I have to look at it like a hobby. That is causing me to spend less on promotion which really isn’t helping my cause. It isn’t hurting either, because promo always costs more than it nets. I wish there were a good way to get people interested, but I haven’t found it yet.

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  9. Technology (the internet) made indie publishing possible, but at the same time it brought those distractions (video games, streaming, social media). It just might be that 2010 to about 2015 was indie publishing’s Golden Age. Now I get the impression that we writers are collectively our own fan base. The general public isn’t going to come looking for us. I’m disappointed that so many of us continue to cling to Amazon, even while we complain about how it treats us. I guess getting paid by pages read beats selling complete books.

    Like

    • The problem is that there’s really nowhere else to go aside from Amazon. They control most of the market. All the others are so small and your average person doesn’t know about them. So, it isn’t so much clinging to Amazon so much as there’s no other real platform.

      As far as authors being each other’s fan base, that isn’t as true as it once was. A few years back, I noticed many authors going into their own corners of the Internet. They pushed only their own books and rarely helped others. This resulted in making blogs a weaker promotion tool because that community was needed to spread the word. You also had people come out against review swapping and Amazon made that a big no-no. So, authors can’t be more than cheerleaders and emotional support for each other now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sadly, I suppose many (most?) authors prefer crusts from Amazon than crumbs from elsewhere. And Amazon doesn’t have to play nice.
        In my experience (mostly WordPress and Goodreads), many writers do promote the works of other indies on their blogs. But writers’ blogs are mostly read by other writers, which is a narrow slice of the blogosphere. Goodreads’ Review Rounds are a case in point; I’ve recently completed two rounds. I got some reviews for two of my books, which was nice, but I can’t say that resulted in much of a sales bump. That’s another “writers helping writers” effort (that doesn’t offend Amazon).
        So it looks like we indies are pretty much hooped, except for those of us who can attract the attention of a celebrity or somehow become notorious ourselves.

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      • I used to see a lot more authors promoting others. This was when there were more readers and authors could review the works of their peers as well. Amazon kind of put the kabosh on that even though it only hurts if you’re reported. Do reviews even help get sales if there are only a couple? Feels like you need hundreds in order to get a real boost.

        I have seen many indies practically cyber-stalk celebrities for attention.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:
    Interesting post by Charles Yallowitz. Yes, the legacy of an Internet and iPhone addiction is definitely a shortened attention span. I’m not sure that there is a disinterest in books… it may be due to info I read on Hugh’s Views and News blog regarding Amazon possibly not advertising self-published authors’ books anymore. Who knows? All I do know is that I sell less books than I did in the boom year of 2016.

    Like

  11. V.M.Sang says:

    I get ‘sales’ but only when the books are free. Then they jump up the rankings. I’ve even, once, been in the top 10 free ebooks! Nowhere near in paid books, though. So people want us to flog ourselves to death, taking months, and in some cases, years, for nothing?
    Like you, Charles, I don’t have the money to spend on advertising.
    And you are right about Amazon’s shows. They promote them.
    Does anyone remember in the dim dark ages when Amazon first appeared on the scene? They were a book seller!

    Like

    • I almost forgot that Amazon started with books. They’re definitely not that any more.

      My free book rarely move too. Promoting on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and WordPress don’t seem to do anything. I remember running into a lot of people who admitted to waiting for an author to get desperate and go free. Now even those people are gone.

      Like

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