Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What a Character's Job Stop You From Reading a Book? by Morgan Mandel

When I first started writing about 15 years ago I heard the market did not take kindly to novels in which the characters were either singers or sports personalities. That's because for some reason apparently people didn't like reading about them.

I broke that rule in 2006 with my debut mystery, Two Wrongs, about a pro basketball player, though he wasn't one at the beginning of the book. I know I'd read a book about a singer if the plot sounded interesting. I enjoy books about people in almost any kind of occupation, but especially ones of power where I can experience that feeling vicariously.

 What about you? What are your favorite or unfavorite jobs for book characters? Would the main character's job stop you from reading a book?

Morgan Mandel


BPL Ref said...

There aren't any job turn-offs for me as far as I know, but there are some professions in which an author has to work a little harder to convince me to read. Silly prejudice, I know, but actors and singers can be a touch of a barrier-- I think I need reassurance that this isn't going to to be a a shallow, name-dropping book. If you tell me more about the process, have the character tell me about the acting process or how you have to hit your marks or whatever, I'm more likely to be interested than if it's along the lines of "I'd worked with Depp before and it was just dreamy, and the caterers brought all that fattening food that I couldn't eat because every ounce shows when you're a size 0, and the makeup person was SO catty" sort of thing. Just leaves me cold. Dick Francis was a master at introducing a profession and making me interested. I think he had one with an actor, come to think of it. I remember the toymaker in particular, and the wine store owner. I couldn't tell you anything about the mystery per se, but I sure remember the professions fondly!

A non-mystery that did that very well was Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer series. She really conveyed the technical aspects of being a professional singer without boring the audience.

Otherwise, I think the prejudice is just against whatever is hot at the moment. There's always the worry that someone is just "jumping on the bandwagon," and making the lead a bounty hunter or Amish or whatever.

Any of these can be overcome with good writing.


Unknown said...

I don't much care for books where the main protag is an author. I'm not quite sure why, I just don't. I also don't like books where the key characters are politicians. I do like books about musicians though, especially rock bands.

Other than that, I can't think of anything that would turn me off a particular book. Having said that, I don't read cozies, so I never read books about crafters of any kind. But that's not so much what they do as I don't like soft crime fiction, I like the grittier, more realistic kind where the protags are cops or forensic people.

BrennaLyons said...

To be honest, I HATE those kind of rules. Why? Artists and singers can be very passionate and interesting people. Are some quirky? Yeah, so am I. That's a problem? Not for me.

What I find amusing is that they pick and choose what they find distasteful at these conglomerate lines. Artists and performers are not to be signed to certain publishing houses in NY...but they go out of their way to do racecar drivers. Ever hung out with a racecar driver? Grease under the fingernails...weeks on the road in lousy conditions...staying up until midnight to fix something that broke on the car for the next race... It's not glammorous, but they want those!

Why the double standard? Maybe because NASCAR has a larger fan base than the latest artist down the line? Uh...but maybe NOT more than the latest pop star? However, the tabloids have more fun blasting the pop star than they do the NASCAR racer, most days. Pitiful that these things make the choices for readers, isn't it? Personally, I like to choose what I want to read, not have it chosen for me with these sorts of bias.

If you look closely enough, any job has down sides to it. Ever been close to a Navy submariner? The smell of the air scrubbers, oil, and other chemicals...not to mention diesel fumes and exhaust for when they run the diesel instead of the reactor...make for a lousy smell. It can take as many as a half dozen showers and two dozen washings to get that smell out of their hair and clothing.

Is there any job I wouldn't want to read about? If a "hero" or "heroine" did something I personally found offensive, I wouldn't want to read about them in a heroic sense. It would bug me. I don't want to offend anyone else's sensibilities by stating specific jobs, since I'm sure there are some people that do them that are perfectly lovely people, but I don't want to hear about it. It's a nit to me, and there's no accounting for those in writing, anyway.

It's like some readers absolutely hated my book ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU. They hated it without reading more than the blurb for it, because it deals with a woman who lost her fiance turning to his brother (her best friend) two years later and them falling for each other. It's a nit. I can't help that some people don't like that idea, but at least my publisher let me write it.

I love the characters from Bones, and they deal with dead bodies all day. I love one of my killers. I've fallen in love with snipers, with people who carry out executions... I'm hard to offend, but it can be done.


Cheryl said...

This is a great post, Morgan. I have to say, I've never not read a book because of a character's occupation. I tend to like mysteries so it seems like I lean toward people working in law enforcement. I've read books with characters who are pastors, one that was a mortician, doctors, politicians, I really can't say it's ever been an issue for me.

I actually read a good book recently, Downsized to Death by Patricia Gulley, where the amateur slueth was a travel agent. I thought that was neat.


Unknown said...

I don't think I've ever avoided a book because of a character's occupation, but I might be drawn TO a book because of it if the character did something interesting or unusual.

Dorothy said...

Okay I'm going to sound very shallow now so please excuse me. I tend to love books with characters I can closely relate to and if their occupation is something that really interests me, I'm so there. If I liked the storyline before I bought the book and I found out the main character had an occupation I wasn't particularly fond of...if that occupation made a difference in the story, I'd just try to get by it. Someone up there mentioned hating reading books whose main character was an author him or herself. I LOVE those types of books so it's all in just what you like. Throw Mama From the Train. Misery. LOVED THEM. But that's not everyone and I truly believe that even though we all feel we have a story to tell, we must write our books keeping our audience in mind and make that audience as broad as you can get it.

April said...

What a fun question! In all honesty, I don't think there is any profession that would make me stay away from reading a book, if the synopsis appealed to me. I do particularly love books where the character's job is book related such as bookstore owner, novelist, etc. I also love stories where the characters cater or have food/drink related jobs - this feeds into my cozy mystery fixation, lol!
I'm not overly thrilled with gangster/drug lord type of stories, but I'm not sure if that is job related or just genre based.

Unknown said...

Unless the opening scene depicts someone in a sewer, I doubt I'd pay much attention to the occupation of a character. I'm more interested in the depth of the story, how the author connects me to the characters and the general wow factor of the book. I'm sitting here thinking about all the books I've reviewed recently, and I can't remember the occupation of one character. To me that means the author didn't focus on it or make it a compelling fact within the story. And who decides whats interesting and what's not if you haven't read the book? I would never NOT read something based on the occupation of a character. Who makes these decisions or proclamations anyhow?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Never really thought about that. And darn, I had a couple star athletes in my series! Didn't know that was a no-no.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm not sure if the big houses still have those dislikes of occupations as before, but I do know I don't see many books out there about singers or sports people. That leads me to believe they still don't like them that much.

Morgan Mandel

BrennaLyons said...


As of a year ago, one Harlequin line told a friend of artists. Good thing they have Carina now, which has it's head on straight.


Anonymous said...

My biggest peeve is when there's a profession -- no matter what it is, and the character(s) never actually are depicted doing their work, even cursorily. Every romance where they seem to jet off for a weekend without calling in sick, or skip a morning meeting because they had a tete a tete... Grrr.

BrennaLyons said...


That is a good point. I typically show my characters doing their work, at some point.

In fact, I had one time where I had to take an editor's suggestion to the EIC for a decision. I had one scene in the book in depth at work, with the terms he would use for items, all of which were easily understood in context. The editor wanted me to explain each term, which I said would be an info dump. The EIC agreed with me, and the scene stayed as it was. The character, BTW, was working in a clean room fab, a job my husband has held for nine years.

I've also used Navy guys, construction workers, writers, psychologists, IT techs, and several others.


Jane Toombs said...

It makes no difference to me what job the two main characters have, it's the plot that interests me. I even enjoy learning about jobs I know nothing about. So the profession of the h/h isn't what lures me into reading a book. That said, I admit H/S editors have fixed notions about certain jobs not being appealing to readers. I think we all tend to write about wok we're familiar with. I'm a retired nurse so I often use the medical profession since I'm familiar with it. Also have two lawyers in the family, plus a special needs teacher and grade school teachers. So do take advantage of that. My Significant Other grew up on a farm and was a Navy pilot. I've used them all. But I've slid off topic. So, no, whatever job a character has doesn't turn me off if the plot sounds interesting. Jane

Margaret Carter said...

I can't think of any job for a character that would make me not want to read a novel except something like kiddie porn filmmaker -- and I don't suppose any author would write such a character as a hero. :)

The "rules" against performers, artists, athletes, writers, etc. as romance protagonists have never made sense to me. I love reading books about writers, personally, although I can see why some publishers might be wary of those: There could be a tendency to self-indulgent veiled autobiography. But not if written by a skilled writer! And I don't see any point to forbidding those other kinds of jobs. It's like the "rule" against a political plot or politicians as heroes -- could be very exciting, so why avoid it completely?

carl brookins said...

It matters not a whit. In fact I'm sometimes drawn to books in which characters have jobs or careers about which I know little. It helps,of course, if the book contains some revelations about the job.

Margot Justes said...

I agree, a great question. I never really thought about it, but now that I have, I can say I wouldn't pick uo anything to do with sports

No interest, never bothered to understand who was doing what to whom.

And frankly based on media news there doesn't seem to be a sports hero in sight. At least from my limited base and perspective.

Even in fiction I couldn't relate to a sports hero, or a politician for that matter. At the moment, I cannot even conceive of a hero in politics.

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris