What reading level should you write for?

When I was earning my BA in journalism back in the 1970s, we were told to write at a 5th grade vocabulary/literacy level.

You might ask why? Well, if you write for PhD’s, how much of an audience will you reach? The answer is about 2.5 million Americans have a PhD, and that’s less than one percent of all Americans.

In addition, The Institute of Education Sciences reported in 2008 that roughly 15% of the population reads at a university undergraduate level, but the average American reads at a 7th or 8th grade level according to the Clear Language Group.com.

Because most fiction (I’m not talking about literature) is written for the most people, the average reader is not exposed to higher literacy level writing, and they do not improve beyond the level they are reading.

It has been estimated that there are more than 62.4 million avid readers in the U.S., according to Book Business Magazine, and 63 percent are women. I think it’s safe to say that PhD’s are a minority among avid readers, and discovering what women read is more important than using multi-syllable words to impress an insignificant number of over-educated people.

In fact, “We shouldn’t discount simple writing, but instead embrace it. People freak out that teenagers are reading 5th-grade-level books, but it turns out that’s not a bad sign. Of course, we want to teach teens to comprehend higher reading levels than Harry Potter, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should be forced to waste time slogging through Ph.D.-level papers when the Ph.D.’s could write more fluently. …

“The other lesson from this study is that we should aim to reduce complexity in our writing as much as possible. We won’t lose credibility by doing so. Our readers will comprehend and retain our ideas more reliably. And we’ll have a higher likelihood of reaching more people.” – Contently.com

On that note, did you know that Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea has a 4th grade reading level – think about it?  And Donald Trump talks like a Third-Grader explaining how he won the Republican primary. Trump’s competition scored above the average literacy level.

LR for Cover for Book One on August 12 - 2016_edited-4

If you are a writer (author, journalist, writer, blogger, etc.) and you want to know what literacy level you write at, do what I just did and use Measure Text Readability through Readability Score.com.  For instance, I ran the first chapter – with 1,409 words – of my next novel, “Becoming Human” in the Last Sorcerer Series, and came up with an average reading grade level of 7.0. Not Hemingway, for sure, but also not above the reading level of the average American. Don’t forget, most readers don’t read books they can’t understand.


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, with a BA in journalism and an MFA in writing, who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

A1 on August 26 - 2016 Cover Image with BLurbs to promote novel_edited-1

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Global Readers of English

In the United States, Digital Book World.com reported, “In 2012, for the first time ever, online channels accounted for more book purchases than bricks-and-mortar retail in the U.S., according to new data from Bowker Market Research.

“In 2012 (through Nov.), 43.8% of books bought by consumers were sold online versus 31.6% sold in large retail chains, independent bookstores, other mass merchandisers and supermarkets. This is nearly a direct reversal of the situation in 2011, when 35.1% of books were sold online and 41.7% were sold in stores.”

In addition, Jeff Bezos said in the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report, “After five years, e-books [are] a multibillion-dollar category for us and growing fast—up approximately 70 percent last year. In contrast, our physical book sales experienced the lowest December growth rate in our 17 years as a book seller, up just five percent.” Source: Business Week.com (January 31, 2013)

Let’s look at this from a global perspective.

According to the British Council.org, there are about 1.5 billion English speakers in the world living mostly in seventy-one countries where there are at least a million or more English speakers (not counting Hong Kong, mainland China has 10 million), but how many are avid readers of English—someone who might buy books published in English?

With more books—including e-books—being sold online, you may want to know how many global readers are out there who might want to read a book published in English.

To get an idea, in this post, we’ll focus on five countries with a potentially large market for books published only in English.

1. United States
2. India
3. United Kingdom

For the United States, Book Business Magazine says 62.4 million Americans (20% of total population) are avid readers and 63% are women—34.9 million—leaving 23 million men.

Among avid readers in America surveyed by the AP, the typical woman reads nine books a year, compared with only five for men. Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography. Source: npr.org

In India, the Deccan Herald quoted Ken Follet saying India has more English speaking readers than England … and increasing numbers of books are being sold here … There are apparently 89 million people in India for whom English is the first language. It is more than the number in England.

In addition, The Hindu.com reported, “Boom time for English-language books in India” … the number of books published in English is growing by 30 percent a year.

And “India is the only country in which books are published in some 18 languages, with English representing the most significant share at approx. 40-45 %. India ranks third behind the USA and England in the publication of English-language books. Source: buchmesse.de

In the United Kingdom—population 62.6 million—even with discounting, last year UK consumer publishing drew in sales of £1.7bn, up 36% on 2001. Adult fiction saw an increase of 44%, to £476m; and young adult and children’s fiction … saw sales more than double to £325m. Source: guardian.co.uk

Canada—population 34.5 millionCBC News reported January 2011, that Canadians buy about 2.7 million books a week. … Canada’s population is about 34.5 million, but 42% of Canadians are semi-illiterate and probably do not read many books leaving about 8.56 million Canadian adults—24.8%—that may be avid readers. Source: cbc.ca

Australia—population about 23 million—isn’t much better than Canada with 47% considered functionally illiterate. “That means they can’t read the instructions on a medicine bottle, they can’t read a map, they can’t read a recipe.” Source: abc.net.au

However, a major survey of how Australia engages with the arts revealed that 85% of Austrians—who had to be literate enough to read and answer the survey—are avid readers of poetry and literature. Source: the australian.com

Crunch the numbers and Australia may have 8.3 million avid readers—36%.

Note: To arrive at these numbers, children age 14 and younger were subtracted from the total along with the functionally illiterate.

You may be wondering how authors in, say, America, may sell his or her books in India, for example. Well, that’s where Kobo, Amazon and Apple help out.

Amazon has sold my English language e-books—for example—in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, France and Germany.

Kobo has sold my work in the US, Canada and Great Britain while Apple’s iBookstore has sold copies in the US, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.

In fact, Apple’s iBookstore is available in 51 countries and offers hundreds of categories including cookbooks, history books, biographies, picture books and children’s books with free books available in 155 countries. Source: Apple.com

Countries where there is an Apple iBookstore:

Costa Rica
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
New Zealand
United Kingdom
United States

Source: Smashwords.com

In addition, Amazon sells books in 11 countries:

United Kingdom
United States

 Source: Amazon.com

Note: On March 18, 2013, it was reported that Amazon opened an iBookstore in Taiwan.

And what about KOBO?

According to Kobo, they have attracted millions of readers from more than 170 countries, and Kobo-owner Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitani has additionally stated that Kobo is “number one in France; they’re ahead of Amazon in Japan, partially because of us, and Australia and New Zealand as well.”

Then there is the Sony eBook Library store.

Discover more at Authors Finding Readers


Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

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