I’m only a few pages in but, so far, Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin is an entertaining read. Drawn to this new book in my quest to learn how bestselling writers write, I am impressed by Mr. Child’s uncanny ability to create. After a successful career in British television, Lee Child triumphed with an award-winning first novel entitled Killing Floor, followed with sixteen more popular offerings. Forbes describes Child’s protagonist, Jack Reacher, as a “billion-dollar brand” with 70 million books (and counting) in print. It’s no surprise then that whatever Lee writes, people are likely to read. I’m one such person.
I happened on his New York Times essay entitled “A Simple Way to Create Suspense” (December 8, 2012) and wondered whether the art of thriller writing lends itself to fund manager communication with investors. My conclusion? No. Here is why.
As Mr. Child astutely instructs, you make your family hungry by having “them wait four hours for dinner.” You tease your readers by asking a question or inferring a nugget of information at the outset and then wait to close the loop until later on. His premise is that “Readers are human, and humans seem programmed to wait for answers to questions they witness being asked.” Once the television remote control device appeared on the scene, it was even more necessary to keep viewers from jumping ship.
I believe that the opposite is true when applied to how a fund company, bank or financial adviser should share knowledge with its clients. You don’t want them to be digging around in search of needed information until the “end of the book.” For one thing, regulators continue to push for transparency and straightforward language. Then there is the reality that, absent costs that make it too expensive to terminate, investors who don’t get their questions answered may go elsewhere. Another detriment of building suspense in your investment communiques is that too much ambiguity could discourage your clients from further transactions. If they can’t understand what’s going on with their portfolio, it’s going to be tough for them to decide what to buy or sell. Whether you receive fees or commissions, asset size impacts your revenue. Add to the mix the fact that busy people are impatient for news about their money and want customer service that takes their schedules into account.
Red herrings and drawn out plot points have their place in nail-biting novels but not when it comes to enlightening institutional and individual investors.