June 6th, 2018

Give Your Readers What They Want

Yesterday I opened an e-mail from a source that I usually delete without reading.  I'd purchased something from a "sister" company a month ago, and it seems that every week a new spin-off email touting the same information I'd wanted when I bought that resource book lands in my inbox. And though some of the teaser subject lines draw me in, I rarely get to the payoff, because page after page just hypes up the promise of how much I need the information, how useful it will be, for pages and pages. And it's never been true. 

But then, I'm an optimist. And I clicked yesterday. The second screen gave me a fraction of information, though the text was dense. The next screen another fraction, but with more hype. Determined to make it to the end, I continued clicking, skimming the words, becoming more and more irritated. When I noticed the scroll bar at the edge of my browser, I scrolled to the end. It was quite distant from that first page. I'd blown almost half an hour running after my "carrot."

And at the end, a screen wanting my e-mail address to take me to another site, from which they would send me what had been promised as only a click away, thirty minutes before.

I went to each of those five "sister" addresses and unsubscribed I was so angry. They'd promised me something, given me the terms for that first click, then never delivered. I'm not going to spend time deleting one more of their unread e-mails. They get no more of my time. Or money, beyond that initial purchase.

Last night I thought about how, as writers, we make the same "deal" with those who purchase our books. As a genre fiction author, I better deliver the expectations of those who read my genre. For instance, if I write a murder mystery, a dead body better show up fairly early in the page count. When I read a romance novel, I expect to be caught up in the highs and lows of falling in love by the 25% mark. If I'm known for my space battles, there better be at least one big one in the manuscript. When someone purchases one of my books, they are purchasing a message in a bottle. It's my job to make that message one that delivers on the promise.

Though I've never thrown a book across the room, I've heard people talk about getting upset with the progression of a story or the non-progression of a character. Instead of setting the book down for another try later, they heave the book against a wall, accompanied by colorful language, followed by stuffing it into the trash with a promise to never buy a book from that author again.

I'm a very loyal person. And reader. But my favorite authors have changed over the years. Maybe because I've changed. Maybe because I haven't and they did. I can name each author and the last book I read—and why that book was the last one of theirs that I purchased. It's always because I expected one thing and got another.

As we begin the summer pitch/submission season, I'd like to remind you that as you write, whether you are a debut author or a much-published best-seller, remember to deliver the goods to your readers. Stay true to your brand. Stay true to your reader.

Write the best story you are capable of writing. Make the approach for your current WIP fresh, different from what you've published before. Stay out of the ruts that are easy to fall into. If this is the third book in a row where the main characters meet at a waterfall, you may want to rethink that meet, unless that is the hook that sells your series. In which case, get them to the waterfall in different ways, have unexpected things happen at the waterfall or on the way home. 

Think of the last book you read that you really enjoyed. What made that book special? Chances are it made you feel something. Check your WIP again. What makes it special? What makes it sparkle long after the last page has been read?

That's our challenge. Deliver the same goods, but in a different way. Satisfy the promise of your genre, but in a way your reader hasn't thought about before. 

Not an easy task. That's why it's a challenge. But if you take the time to do it, and do it right, you'll build a loyal following. And isn't that the whole point of putting your stories "out there"?

As a genre fiction writer, have there been times when you've felt your story strayed from the given structure of your genre? What have you done? Do some of your stories fall between two genres? When that happens, how do you deal with meeting the expectations of both types of genre readers?

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About Fae

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard, putting the finishing touches on P.R.I.S.M. Book Two.

P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen

24 responses to “Give Your Readers What They Want”

  1. LauraDrake says:

    Great reminder, Fae. I like to think my voice is my brand, too. I know, I know, but I’ve got this urban mystery.....

  2. barbdelong says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Fae, as I toy with what my brand even is/will be. I've been disappointed a couple of times by once-favorite authors who somehow reneged on their promise. But now I question was it the author who changed or me over the years? Excellent post!

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Thanks, Barb! Just one more thing to consider, but the bottom line is to write the best story you can and let the readers spread the word.

  3. I stopped reading an author because the books started to all feel the same. Thanks for the reminder, Fae!

    • Fae Rowen says:

      You're so right, Debbie! Especially now that series are "the thing." We run the very real risk of all the related books mashing into the same thing in reader's memories. Not good for sales.

  4. Eldred Bird says:

    One of the biggest challenges we face is giving our readers what they expect, while still delivering the unexpected (in a good way).

    • Fae Rowen says:

      Hi Eldred. I wrote you a longish response this morning before I went on my Wednesday-morning-five-mile-hike, but I must have deleted it rather than posted it. Now my heat-addled brain can't remember a thing. But thanks for your addition of "In a good way." That is important!

    • LauraDrake says:

      It's like the old marketing saying, 'Give them the same, but different.'

      But not too different.

      Yeah, that helps!

  5. Julie Glover says:

    I've been having those conversations lately with my critique partner—about making sure we deliver on reader expectations, while still keeping our story fresh. Great reminder, Fae! Thanks.

    • Fae Rowen says:

      I think that sometimes the universe just sends out signals to all of us about what's important at the time. Thanks, Julie!

  6. dholcomb1 says:

    very important reminder--thank you

    denise

  7. Jim Finley says:

    Thanks for this!

    I was just thinking about this, because the Kindle edition of Spycraft Essentials by Bayard & Holmes just came out. The foreword addresses the kind of thing that leads readers to put books in the recycling with a vow never to read those authors again, the things that shatter suspension of disbelief and yank us right out of stories. I'll never understand why people who aren't teenagers any more blandly assume they know things they don't.

    As a retired Marine and psychotherapist (serial careers), mine tend to be lazy blunders related to military hardware, culture, and ways of doing things, and to misuse or unbelievable details related to psychology and treatment.

    Can't tell you how many times I've dropped books in mid-sentence after the authors had characters insert magazines into revolvers, use guns that don't exist, have generals running around doing sergeants' jobs, and show military people doing things that would get them court-martialed and booted out or are impossible (Top Gun, anyone?)

    Likewise, I'm weary of seeing people misuse terms like schizophrenia (it does NOT mean split personality) or sociopathy, or depict characters that are either evil geniuses at levels that have never existed and never could, like Hannibal Lecter, or make their villains do horrible things without giving them plausible motives or any positive traits.
    If I don't know a subject, I research the hell out of it. If I'm not willing to put in that work, I should probably just not write about it.

    Thanks again, and please excuse the rant.

  8. Fae Rowen says:

    First, Jim, I have to say your picture is awesome! And thanks for reminding me about the Kindle resells of Bayard and Holmes "Spycraft Essentials." I, too, write military-based science fiction, but my stories are only loosely based on the current state of the military and its armament. Probably because I'm more concerned about the political and societal worlds that get to the point of needing military support. I make up my weapons--probably because I don't like researching things that can get me in trouble. And I get it--as a mathematician, I cringe when people use phrases like "the calculus of it..." to describe a simple data point. Rant? Did I see a rant? No, I did not. Have a great day!

  9. jagrout says:

    I have done the "throw the book against the nearest wall" thing - but later I relented and found the page where I'd left off to see if a sudden epiphany had hit the author and he'd corrected his blunder. No - that wasn't the case. So next time that tossed cookie will go straight to the trash bin.

  10. Fae Rowen says:

    You have more sympathy than I have, jagrout. Though it takes me a long time, and a few books, to make the decision to not buy more of the author's books. But there are just too many good books and not enough time to waste time on stories that don't give us what we want.

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