Dear Extra Squeeze Team,
How do you balance meeting your reader’s expectations with also surprising them?
Last night all I could think about was the deadline for this blog post. I had put it off all month. At the last minute I was hoping to write something inspirational for both readers and writers. While hope springs eternal, I found myself pondering – and pondering – what that perfect message should be.
If I’m going to be honest, I knew I wouldn’t come up with anything substantial because I have been distracted. When I’m distracted I usually sit down with a friend at a coffee shop and hash out whatever is on my mind until I’m back on track. Since I can’t do that you’re ‘it’, my friends in a virtual coffee shop. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing while I’ve been locked down and pondering this post. We’ll start with the garden and move on from there.
Tomato plants. I haven’t actually thought about the tomatoes as much as I have been checking on them. Going outside every fifteen minutes is a nice break from staring at my blank computer screen or at my husband napping on the couch. No matter how often I check, though, the tomatoes still have not turned red and my husband still has not gone back to work.
My fabric stash. Over the last eight weeks I have knocked it down some. Here’s the count: five blouses, a quilt top, a fully-lined summer suit (1 dress that would have fit 15 years ago when I was 25 pounds lighter), and ten face masks. Here’s my question: is sewing my stash like a tree falling in the forest or is it like ‘build it and they will come’? I think it’s the latter. When the day comes to have dinner in a restaurant I will have lots to wear.
Work. Honestly, my brain has been mush when it comes to writing a new book. I have an idea but I couldn’t get it to gel, so I looked through my files and reread some of my early work. I had so much fun that I edited and published five novels from the 90s. I also published The Death of Me, a novella I wrote that morphed into a novel (Before Her Eyes). These two works are as different as they are similar. Some times pondering one thing will lead to another. The trick is not to ignore the ‘other’. Productivity: mission accomplished.
Finally, I’ve been pondering important things: the individual versus the greater good, the constitution and ‘guidelines’ as our lockdown stretches into yet another week, another month, another century. My heart is sad for those who are sick and who have died; my heart is breaking for my relatives and friends who are losing their livelihood, home and, well, everything they have worked hard for. I won’t tell you which side I’m on when it comes to hunkering down or opening up. I will only say that I realize that what I have been pondering all along is something readers and writers have always been inspired by: story. No matter what road we choose there will be stories at the end of it. We are writing them now.
These will be tales of tragedy and triumph; there will be something to laugh at and something to cry over. We will all see these events – and each other – differently. Eventually there will come a time when we put pondering aside so that we can sit with friends at a coffee shop, tell our stories, and hug each other when all is said and done.
A simple Internet search can become a journey down the rabbit hole. A phrase or a word catches my eye, I click and find myself wondering down a path light years from the original intent. I was looking for info on clay pot cooking and got entranced by all the entries about things people are in praise of. Not sure how I got there, it’s a Google thing, but I couldn’t look away; all those heart felt testimonials extolling an incredible array of individual passions.
I was delighted by a man’s elegant praise of Velcro (who could argue with that?), an oratory on the simplicity of the ten penny nail (it really is an elegant and useful item), a poetic discourse on the play of sunlight on soap bubbles in the kitchen sink (I’ll take her word for it). The essays in praise of the rubber band, the sound of a child’s heartbeat in a quiet moment, the meditative smell of a crackling fire on a cold night all touched a universal human note—and I asked what I am in praise of.
Answer: writers. I write in praise of writers. I work with authors. I know something of the blood, sweat and tears invested in the books that are my passion to read. Writers are people with such a strong drive to tell stories they dive into unchartered waters and do it—despite the requirements of life. Writing is a full time occupation for a rare few. For most, the act of putting pen to paper is precious time carved out between client conferences, parenting, shift schedules, basic survival—the business of life. Amazing, praiseworthy.
Every book began as a spark in the mind of a writer. Might be an event, or a word overheard or grandmother’s lace collar that ignited the spark. With trial and error that spark becomes a premise to be populated with characters and action and goals. With more trial and error a burgeoning universe grows into a draft. More trial and error—okay, call it what it is—revisions and rewrites. Then more of same. Finally, a deep breath and first cautious preview. Writers group, spouse, beta reader, editor; it doesn’t matter who, the writer bears their soul. Feedback is absorbed (emotionally, technically, inspirationally), and it’s back to revise and rewrite, until the whole tough process results in the best effort of the writer.
That journey from idea to finished book is praiseworthy enough. That it’s just the beginning of a new sweaty effort is a fact. A book isn’t alive without readers. Reaching those readers is the next act. Even with a traditional publisher every writer has to promote their work — a fact even more vital for Indie authors. How else can the reader find your book among the 1100 new postings per day? Nothing makes me sadder than to have a client hang up their keyboard after publishing because sales are few to none. These are wonderful books, I know they are, but the author made no effort to promote. No one found the work. That wonderful book never stood a chance.
The investment of writing a book is a labor of love. Promoting and selling the book is just hard work. The effort begins with well-chosen genre categories and killer key words. An educated approach to pricing techniques, a website, blog and social media are promotional gold. Reviews are essential; consistency is key. Every author must invest the sweat equity needed to allow people to find their book. Fortunately, hundreds of Indie pros share promotional know-how, experiences and techniques on line, a lot of it free.
When I have found that ‘just right’ book I can snug up the Velcro on my slippers, hang my troubles on the ten penny nail, drain the supper dish soap and with the kid sit before the fire and travel wherever those pages take me. I am in praise of writers.
I recently finished listening to the audiobook version of Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. I stumbled across it when I was searching for books by Brené Brown because Brené wrote the Foreword.
Listening to the singer/songwriter talk about how she interacts with her fans (the book is about so much more, but fans are my focus here) made me seriously rethink how I interact with mine. I’ve decided to make some changes in 2019 to try to connect better and be less stressed about it (i.e., stop trying to write only perfect posts).
This is the post I wrote on my blog last week to my readers and fans, and this is the podcast I created to encourage other writers to ask themselves more questions about what they are and aren’t willing to ask from their fans. I hope these give you something to think about as you make your own plans this year. 😀
Stories are about connections, the connection between the author and their characters, the connection between the reader and the story, and then there’s the connection between the reader and the author. While the reader and author may never meet, they share a special bond, a creative bond, and an imaginative bond. They’ve share an experience. They’ve lived another life together.
I’ve told you about our special writer group Charmed Writers, well we’ve decided that we want to connect with our readers in a direct way, and so we’ve created a new facebook group The Charmed Connection. More than 100 authors are available to our readers in this new facebook group that in it’s one week of existence already has nearly 600 members.
Our “Grand Opening Party begins today with three weeks of author introductions, prizes and fun.
Charmed Writers is a group with writers from NYT, USA Today and Amazon Best Selling authors, to award winning, debut and even authors completing their first manuscript. There are writers in all genre’s, thrillers, suspense, mystery, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, all genre’s of romance, inspirational, literary fiction, women’s fiction, gay fiction, and all levels of heat from super clean and sweet to erotica.
So if you would like to have a direct connection with the storytellers, this is you’re opportunity.
Come join the party and meet The Charmed Writers in The Charmed Connection. What do you like to read? We know an author that writes books for you.
How do you balance meeting your reader’s expectations with also surprising them?
Think of it this way:
Instead of writing a book, you’re making a movie. You put a lot of hard work into it and you think it’s pretty good so you’re kind of proud of the film. It turns out that all the people who see the movie think it’s SPECTACULAR and they want more. So you make more movies and you work hard to make each one a little better, more creative, more surprising. But people think that each movie is A LOT better. They LOVE your movies.
They can’t get enough of your movies.
You’re nominated for an academy award!
You’re going to walk the red carpet. But what to wear? You don’t want to disappoint anyone. Do you pick a neon pink, crystal-covered number because you are a star? Do you go for a classic cut gown because you want your audience knows you’re in it for the craft? Or, as the big night approaches, are you paralyzed by indecision and opt for the black, wide legged pants and a white blouse that you’ve worn to every wedding you attended in the last ten years? The latter choice, while sincerely attractive, will bore your audience to tears.
Just now I am trying to decide ‘what to wear; as I write book eight of The Witness Series. I had no intention of writing another Witness Series book until fans started asking why I left one beloved character out in the (literal) wilderness and I am paralyzed. One thing I know for sure is that my readers want me to answer the question of what happened to Billy but they want me to answer it in a way that pleases them. The problem is that I don’t know what I think. Should I give them a real crystal covered ending? A sober, long dress ending or do I play it safe in those palazzo pants and shirt and be done with it all.
I am driving myself crazy with what ifs and indecision. The last thing I want is to disappoint. But when this question was asked of the Extra Squeeze team, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t considered. It could be that my readers are telling me that what they really want is a natural end to the journey they have been on with me. Maybe they are gently pushing me to the neon pink dress shimmering with crystals because these characters deserve a conclusion that is spectacular and satisfying and true to the people they have become. Not characters, people who have a their own reality to live.
I guess there is nothing I can do but write. In the end, when this book is reviewed I will know if I was true to everyone: myself, my readers and these wonderful characters.
Writers always want to satisfy their fan base, gain new readers and at the same time, not lose sight of their own creative core. It’s a balancing act but I don’t think it’s always necessary. “Reader expectations” vary from writer to writer and from reader to reader but I think those expectations generally concern character; motivations, future plotting, desired outcomes. Successful series characters become dear friends — I’d have Miss Marple or Kinsey Millhone over to dinner anytime! The reader becomes invested.
I have clients who take reader input very seriously and I respect that. When reader’s express expectations that are at odds with what the author has in mind my response is to remind her that she is the one writing the story. Unless the fan suggestion is far better than what the writer had in mind — and that has happened, more than once! — I suggest that the writer bear the fan concerns in mind but not stray from her creative stream. Again, she is the creator of this work. It isn’t a collaborative effort.
If your work has garnered fans so engaged with your characters that they have developed their own expectations (or wishful ideas for story direction) then it is a blazing sign that your work is successful. A huge part of that success is the authenticity and originality of your voice. You write what your creative brain directs and the quality and truth of that is what appeals to readers. To consider fan input and to find you can accommodate some if not all of that input makes sense, but if it does not fit, gently reject it. There is nothing more jarring than a story that takes a discordant trajectory. You, as the author, know and feel when the story hits an off note — or you should!
Surprising readers is your job and you must be doing it right if your fan base is developing expectations. Inherent in that ‘surprise’ is often a trajectory that goes against reader expectations. That’s why it’s a surprise. Scarlett doesn’t wind up with Rhett. And that famous ending rings true to the original, authentic voice of the proceeding 960 pages. It’s still surprising readers 82 years later.
The best genre writing follows a formula of sorts and that formula contains some reader expectations; romance will have a successful love match, crime novels will vanquish the bad guy etc. Within that genre formula is a lot of room to play with character development and plot surprise. How each writer uniquely handles that is what keeps us genre readers coming back. Accommodate reader expectations if they work; write a gentle personal note when they don’t.
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