Earlier this year Rachel Potter approached me about revamping our If You Like... page. I automatically accept whenever anyone volunteers to do anything, but I did have some apprehension this time because this page has always been a difficult one. In fact, to create a level of "deniability" about it, I purposely had built it as a reader-submit only page. And then when some readers complained about the page entirely a couple of years ago and suggested a different tact, we began the entire Favorite Books by Favorite Authors poll process, which will soon be completed after two years of hard work.
As for the If You Like... feature, as I've gotten more involved in using libraries, I've come to look forward to the Reader's Advisories our own librarians have shared with my daughter. Since Rachel envisioned the If You Like... feature as AAR's version of the Reader's Advisory, my apprehension turned into excitement. That is, until Rachel presented us with her first draft and everyone - including myself - picked at it like vultures swooping down to attack a dead carcass.
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After re-thinking, revising, and revamping, the decision was made to create two distinct parts for the If You Like... feature - one based on style and the other based on setting/sub-genre. And as we began to talk about various authors, Teresa Galloway thought it would be interesting to poll our staff to see what conclusions (if any) could be drawn about our tastes and the authors we liked and didn't like. Mary Sophia Novak took Teresa's raw results and analyzed them. All of us thought the results were so intriguing that we decided to expand the poll in terms of scope and reach; the result was a site-wide poll we conducted in June that Jennifer Schendel volunteered to tabulate. At this point I'm not sure she's glad she volunteered for such a Herculean task - if you multiply 36 authors by more than 200 ballots received, you'll realize the amount of raw data is astounding.
Analyzing the data was difficult not only because of its sheer volume, but because so many of us are "creative poll takers." <g> There are some slight discrepencies between Mary and Jen's numbers because of this, but given the aggregate data, they are not statistically significant.
Today we are unveiling not only the results of the poll, but the two new pages that comprise the revamped If You Like... feature. The style poll was conducted separately from the If You Like... revamp, partly because of the timing, but partly because of the nature and subjectivity of this type of feature. (Please keep that in mind; the results of the style poll are not the same as the If You Like... revamp. The style poll only looked at 36 authors; the If You Like... pages are wider in scope). I myself have often stayed away from recommending authors based on style because I seem to be so bad at it. I was thrilled last week to not only have contributed a couple of names for one of Rachel's sub-lists that were agreed upon by my more talented colleagues, but was also very happy that when I sent my husband to a seminar at Harvard last week, I was able to translate his love of Kinky Friedman's mysteries into enjoyment with one of the Stephanie Plum books for the plane ride.
This is a very data-heavy column that you may find overwhelming, so take some time with it; it's filled with charts and lists and tables. If you need to read it in sections, that's fine. There are three pages to it, as well as a "math" page we'll provide a link for later in the column.
Here's a look at the authors we asked about, and then the ballot key. (The links in this table are "jump" links - they will open a new window in your browser - to the individual "if you like" results of the poll for each author.)
Jumped the Shark (used in conjunction with a number)
Work from the Trenches: Jen Schendel on the AAR Style Poll
When I started this project I didn't know what I was going to find. The truth is, with so many authors and so many people voting, there was not any 100% obvious result that said "if you like author A you will definitely like author B." That said, a lot of very interesting conclusions can be drawn from the raw data. Mary's going to give you the run down on whom you might like to try based on a computer simulation, so I'm going to share with you some basic information that can be drawn from the data as a whole, rather than through comparisons. Here's the low-down on the authors readers like, don't like, and who readers believe to have jumped the shark.
Most Popular Authors
When AAR's yearly reader poll came out earlier this year many readers were shocked that Suzanne Brockmann practically swept every category for which her books qualified, but based on reader feedback it's not surprising at all. More than 75% of readers in our poll have read Brockmann, and of those readers, 61% always or almost always like her books. Only 6% rarely enjoyed or didn't like the one Brockmann they tried.
Overall, Brockmann's fans are quite passionate. Reader Jeanine wrote (in the comment field of our on-line ballot) that: "I would really have liked to give Suz Brockmann a 5. She could write about the new tax laws and I would be riveted." Yet, is Brockmann really the most popular author? MJP, who has been read by close to 90% of readers, received the same number of "always/almost always likes" votes as Brockmann and received a few more "rarely enjoyed" votes. But because more readers have read Putney, her percentage of "always/almost always" votes is lower. Brockmann's is 61% while Putney's is 53%. As far as negative ratings, they are within one percentage point. Clearly, the number to focus on is the percentage of those who gave the highest rating to each author, and Brockmann comes out ahead.
But what about focusing on the lack of negative votes versus positive votes? When looking at the data in this way, Julia Quinn comes out on top. Though the percentage of readers who gave her the top rating is less than Brockmann's (it's more on a par with MJP), her negative percentage rating is less than 4% while Brockmann's is 6%. And yet, Quinn had more votes for Jumping the Shark than Brockmann. In the long run the results and varying factors are too close to say with certainty who the more popular author is, but our readers seem particularly fond of Brockmann, Putney, and Quinn.
Other authors with a high number of votes for "always/almost always likes" are:
Jennifer Crusie - Crusie received the highest rating possible from nearly 60% of those who have read her and had a very low negativity rate of 6%. Linda Howard - While Howard received more votes at the highest rating than Crusie and Robb, her readership is also considerably higher than these two authors. Because of this, the actual percentage rate of readers giving her the highest rating is slightly over 50%. Her negative rating is lower than Crusies by a full percentage point (and remember, these negative percentages at the low end are only in the single digits), but the percentage of JTS votes is also higher than for Crusie or Robb. (JTS for Howard is 8%, for Crusie it is 2% and for Robb it is 6%.) J.D. Robb - Robb actually got 60% of the highest rating from her readers (her rating is second only to Brockmann), but her negative rating is double Crusie and Brockmann's and her JTS tally is nearly triple that of Crusie. SEP - Like Howard, SEP got the highest rating possible from 50% of her readers, but the percentage of negative ratings she received is higher than Crusie, Robb, or Howard, at 8%
Authors with few negative votes are:
Julia Quinn and Carla Kelly - received the fewest negative votes. Because Kelly was read by far fewer voters, her negativity factor was higher than Quinn's (Kelly's was roughly 5.5% while Quinn's was close to 4%). On the other hand, 58% gave Kelly the highest rating while just about 52% gave Quinn that same rating. Lisa Kleypas - was read by well over 80% of readers. Her negativity rating was just 4.4% while just short of 40% of readers gave her the highest rating Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind - was read by nearly 60% of readers. Her negativity rating was roughly 7% while 42% gave her the highest rating
Least Popular Authors
The opposite end of the spectrum is of course least popular author and unfortunately that was very clear. Catherine Coulter has been read by nearly 90% of readers. Just under 30% of those readers gave her a negative ranking. The next closest writer is Robin Schone, read by 2/3 of readers and given a negative ranking by slightly more than 30%. Although Schone actually received more negative votes percentage-wise, Coulter's standing at the bottom is secure because of the Jump the Shark vote. More than 30% of readers voted that Coulter had Jumped the Shark while only 7% voted similarly about Schone.
Another long-writing author who fared badly was Jude Deveraux. Deveraux and Coulter share the same percentage of readers - just under 85%. That said, Deveraux received fewer negative votes than Coulter (Deveraux comes in at 25% versus nearly 30% for Coulter). Deveraux and Coulter are fairly close in terms of Jumping the Shark votes as well; 30% for Coulter and 28% for Deveraux.
Factoring in positive votes for these authors at the low end of the scale hurt Coulter even further; fewer than 10% of her readers gave her the highest rating. According to readers, then, she is the least favorite author in the poll.
Jumping the Shark
Let's talk some more about that mysterious JTS factor that some feel is becoming an over-used phrase. We like it because it very concisely (and vividly) denotes any author who has lost her touch and is no longer considered to be putting out quality work in a reader's opinion. Strangely enough, readers seem to find it easier to come out and say why they don't like a particular author; when it comes to saying an author has JTS, many become almost apologetic and put the onus on themselves rather than the author.
Reader Marie wrote, "I put J by some authors that may not have changed their writing style; I think instead, that my tastes have changed over the years." Several other readers made similar comments - it's not that the authors had changed, but they themselves had. But a few found it easy to say why they thought an author had jumped, such as reader Jane, who wrote in regards to Amanda Quick (who lead the JTS vote with nearly 15% more J votes than Catherine Coulter), "it's because she's become a copy machine - every story the same type character, getting boring."
Besides Quick, Coulter, and Deveraux, other authors who received a great many JTS votes were Sandra Brown, Julie Garwood, and Judith McNaught. Repetitiveness seemed the number one grumble amongst readers when saying an author had jumped. While reader Kelly doesn't think J.D. Robb has jumped, the repetitiveness of some types of scenes in the in Death series bothers her enough to say this about it, "I don't think this series is taking a flying shark leap so much as petering out and drowning in the fish bowl." I don't think Robb needs to worry yet as fewer than 6% think she's jumped. Another major reason given for jumping was an author's switch from historicals to contemporary or romance to women's fiction or suspense. Apparently readers are not so willingly to follow an author where creativity tells them they need to go.
The biggest surprise I had in analyzing the data is that Nora Roberts didn't make the top six authors in popularity. Her votes are pretty evenly spread out amongst the four rating levels and she didn't have a tremendously high number of negative votes, but given her sales, longevity, and fan base I assumed she'd get more higher ratings than she did. As LLB has noticed in analyzing the results of the last two or three annual reader polls, Roberts seems to do better in her J.D. Robb incarnation than she does as Nora Roberts.
Readers were also surprised as they filled out the poll. Tanya, for instance, claims to have a preference for historicals and was shocked to discover that most of her highest ratings went to contemporary authors. Another reader surprised by her scores, Pia said, "I feel almost apologetic that certain authors did not score higher for me and have to resist going back and bumping them up a bit." And Sharon pointed out that those who are snobby about series romance should realize that almost half the authors polled for began their careers writing series romance.
You Can Please Some of the People...
Sadly, we could not please all of our readers. Many sent lists of additional authors they wished we had added to the poll. Other complained that there was no rating level for those authors by whom they'd only read one book and liked, but had never gotten around to reading another book by that author. Alas, this was our first attempt at gathering data this way and we had to put some constraints on the poll to make it manageable. Now that I've given you some broad results, I'm going to pass the baton on to Mary, whose more detailed analysis will draw some specific correlations between authors.
Data, Anyone? Mary Sophia Novak on the AAR Style Poll
Jen worked tirelessly to input the data and analyze the results at an aggregate level; when she handed it over to me, my main objective was to discover: If a reader likes an author, what other authors should she try? Do the fans of, say, Lorraine Heath have any other favorite authors in common? (Yes: Pamela Morsi and Diana Gabaldon.)
While our poll was relatively simple, answering that question was a very complex process. I submitted the data to my own personal Statistics Goddess (aka my sister Sally) who only required a small bri...uh, offering, in order to take a break from grad school stuff and run the results through a computerized analysis. (If you're into math, click here for an explanation of her methods.)
A secondary objective was to continue some of the macro-level anlysis Jen had begun. I'd like to share with you some more aggregate level information before we move into the individual "if you like" tables for each of our 36 authors.
How Widely Read Are These Authors?
We received 218 responses to our poll, but naturally, not everyone who responded had read every one of the 36 authors on our list. Still, a surprisingly large number of us have read a surprisingly large number of these authors: the top 18 authors on our poll have been read by more than 75% of our respondents, an amazingly high number. Even more astonishing, only four of the authors - Pamela Morsi, LKH, Lorraine Heath, and Kathleen Gilles Seidel - had been read by fewer than half of our respondents.
Does familiarity breed contempt? It's interesting to compare the top of the most-read list with the bottom of the average-score list (which follows the most-read list), and see how many authors there are in common. Jude Deveraux and Christina Dodd may be at the bottom of the approval rankings, but they're both among the top 10 most-read authors on our list. And Catherine Coulter, who hit last place in the approval rankings, is nonetheless the single most-read author on the list.
(Note: While the links in the Authors in Style Poll Table are for the individual authors' "if you like" list, the links in the table below are for these authors' "main pages" at AAR.)
Another measure of the authors we polled about was their average score. As you can see from the Ballot Key, we used a four point scale. The midpoint score on our scale is 2.5. We then calculated each author's average score by adding up their scores and dividing by the total number of votes they had received (not counting zeroes, which meant they had never tried the author.) Only five authors fell below this midpoint score: Christina Dodd, Jude Deveraux, Sandra Brown, Robin Schone, and Catherine Coulter, our lowest-scoring author. Everyone else scored over 2.5, and 16 of our authors had average scores higher than 3.0, with Suzanne Brockmann, Jennifer Crusie, and Carla Kelly scoring the highest average scores.