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Reader Expectations: Blessings or Curses?

24 July 2015

From author Elle Casey:

If you know me, you know I write in several genres. At last count, those included urban fantasy, romance, thriller/suspense, paranormal, action-adventure, dystopian, and hard science fiction-space opera. The hard sci-fi was new for me as of last month. It’s a genre I enjoy as a fan of TV, film, and novels (Dune was my first!), but had never experienced as a writer.

So far I’ve published one sci-fi novel (Drifters’ Alliance, Book 1) and a short story prequel to that series (Winner Takes All), which is scheduled for release on August 24th as part of an anthology titled Dark Beyond the Stars.  I’ve really enjoyed stretching my wings and trying this new thang. I love space battles! Pew-pew!

I’ve also realized something important about myself and my job as a writer, and because this new discovery is kind of slowing me down and holding me back from writing my next book (by clogging up my brain), I figured I’d blog about it. Generally speaking, when I write something down in the blogosphere, it gets it out of my head and allows me a clear path ahead. And right now, my brain is completely clouded and jammed up with the specter of … duh-duh-duh-duuuhhhh … Reader Expectations.

. . . .

Once you write a book, if it’s good enough and all the planets and stars have aligned (meaning you get some kind of online exposure somewhere, be it via a retailer and/or an influential blogger), you gain a following of readers looking forward to your next release. And those readers will naturally have some expectations concerning that next release. For example, they’ll want your next book to be similar in tone and style, similar in length (or longer if possible), and capable of evoking the same kind of emotional responses the previous one did. Fair enough, right? That’s cool.  I’m down. I’m a reader too. I toootally get it.

When there are just a few expectant readers out there, it’s somewhat easy to make them happy. After I wrote one book, I had maybe three people who bothered to email me and tell me what they were hoping to see in the next book (and one of them was my mother). I was happy to accommodate any of those requests that made sense for the next story, and I did my best to write the second book with as much passion and focus as I had the first. Reader expectations in small doses like that were invigorating!

. . . .

The problem with reader expectations for me at this point, really, is twofold: First, because there are so many, they constantly conflict with one another; and second, because of that first point, they eventually make it very difficult for me to write anything at all.

I’ll give you an example of the first situation, a phenomenon you can verify by reading the reviews on any of my books. For the same book, I’ve heard from readers that :

  • the story is too long, and the story is too short,
  • the girl should have gone with boy #1, and the girl should have gone with boy #2,
  • a girl of this age would never do what my character did, and my character acted exactly as a girl of this age would,
  • I didn’t resolve the main conflict, and the main conflict was completely resolved
  • people don’t say in real life what my characters say, and my characters are so real they practically jump off the page,
  • I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I’m a frigging genius,
  • series suck, and series are awesome,
  • cliffhangers suck, and cliffhangers are awesome,
  • characters shouldn’t swear (because it’s not nice to read in a book), and characters should swear (because real people swear and characters in books should act real).

Link to the rest at Elle Casey and thanks to Noelle for the tip.

Here’s a link to Elle Casey’s books

Social Media, Writing Advice

20 Comments to “Reader Expectations: Blessings or Curses?”

  1. You can never please ‘everyone’ with anything.

    Write what you will, some will like it — and those that don’t might give you ideas for the next book! 😀

    ETA

    As far as swearing, you can have them swear, or you can just say they swore … colorfully of course …

  2. It sounds like her readers or a huge bunch of them follow her from genre to genre. Yet most often the readers want only ONE genre. I’m glad she’s not afraid to branch out that way for fear of expectations not being met.

    • Is this really true though? I hear a lot that readers are only interested in one genre, but it’s not true for me, at least. There are many authors I’ll read anything they write. Plus I read in many genres generally.

      • You know I love an author and will read ALL they’ve written, too. So maybe this “truism” isn’t true at all. I hope it isn’t!

  3. No wonder writers get so grumpy. Am I right, George RR?

    (In my imagination, I hear him saying, “Sorry, I can’t hear you. Another money truck is backing up to the door.”

    BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP)

  4. You really have to shut that noise out. I wouldn’t want to write with reader hovering over my shoulders whispering to write this way or that way. Too annoying and who’s story does it become? Not my way.

    • For some reason, I felt like I had a hundred readers all looking over my shoulder today while I wrote. Not saying anything, just looking and reading. I did not like it at all!

      :: still shuddering from the experience ::

  5. Here’s how to solve this problem. DON’T READ REVIEWS. There. The less you know about how they felt about your book, the freer you are to do whatever the heck you want.

  6. Dune is not hard sf, it’s space opera.

  7. Conflicting opinions and wishes from readers should be perceived as the sound of liberation for an author. No matter the what course is written, some portion of those readers will be thrilled by the results and those who complain are still committed readers.

    Now if all (or at least a majority) of readers were all wishing the same thing, that is a signal to the savvy writer that it is time for a change-up in the narrative. While some readers like the comfort of knowing what to expect, there is a larger number who love to be surprised at every turn of the story.

  8. Ricky Nelson, Garden Party

    But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
    You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.

  9. Well, I can promise that Elle’s new prequel story, “Winner Takes All” is awesome, because I’ve read it as part of the space opera anthology I helped put together… DARK BEYOND THE STARS. This is another genre she’ll thrive in, because she’s just that good a writer. Yet another reason to go indie… write what you want when you want to!

  10. I read her post with another take-away: she’s allowing herself to write across genres. For too long, writers have heard that we must limit ourselves to one type of writing, or worse, one subtype, for otherwise The Industry will not know where to put our stuff, and readers will be confused, and oh, waily, waily!

    Yeah, right. As if any reader would glance at my cover for LOVE ONLY KNOWS and expect hard SF with ray guns blazing, or a hard1boiled detective tale. I’ve always known the book-buying public is smarter than that. Kudos to Elle for refusing their marching orders.

  11. If they are telling you all that stuff, the hook is set deep. Keep the slack out of the line.

  12. Somewhere, I heard the idea that the book you wrote only exists in your mind. Each reader brings a different mind to it, and so, what they read is not the book you wrote.

    Not exactly, anyway.

    I was bothered to find that some people really got the point of one of (my favorite) books (Camelia) while others completely missed it. (It’s the same as not understanding me at all, I thought, and felt misunderstood.)

    So, I think it’s true. The book I wrote isn’t necessarily the book you read. The best thing to do is write the best book you can, the story you love, and let the reader make of it what she will.

  13. My readers identify with my characters to such an extent that they live their lives vicariously, and sometimes they take them into different directions from mine. Add to this that they get upset when something bad happens to a beloved character, and yet novels would be very boring if everybody were happy all the time.

  14. For me this happened with beta readers prior to publication of my first novel. I figured change nothing as it was impossible to please these people. The book went on to be a best seller.
    I figure that if your audience is polarized like this you have written the perfect book. Awesome. Relax and get on with it.

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