At some point in our ongoing discussion about style and fiction, I knew I needed a post about reader response to style, because it’s such a tricky subject and so difficult to plan for.
The most important points from today’s post aren’t novel ideas. In fact, I’d be shocked if this is the first place you’ve heard them. Still, every now and then it’s important to remind ourselves of the obvious, lest we find ourselves slipping into the trap of perfectionism or trying to be a “pleaser.”
The major things to remember concerning your readers and your style, whatever that style may be, are these:
- No matter how you write, or how well you construct your novel, you will never, ever please everyone.
- I repeat, no matter how good your book is, some people who pick it up won’t belong to your target audience or won’t like on principle the way you go about things. Basically, they won’t like your book.
- All of this is okay, so just take a deep breath, take a bubble bath if you want to or eat some ice cream, maybe, and DON’T RESPOND TO REVIEWS.
- As long as you don’t respond to reviews, you are doing things right.
To demonstrate these points, I want to give two examples: my relationship to vampire literature, and some things people have said about my work when it just wasn’t for them.
THE VAMPIRE PLAGUE
I have mentioned before–in fact, I dedicated to post the fact– that marketing fantasy literature is odd when you’re not writing about vampires.
Well, I don’t write about vampires. Sword and sorcery is my thing. I like spells, magic, saving-the-world epic fantasy.
Simply put, and without any intention of coming off as superior, I’m not interested in vampires. If you are, all’s good there. I don’t mean to insult what other people write or read…. I am sure there are many well-crafted and well-plotted books about vampires that are not mere vampire porn.
The thing is, “Twilight” destroyed vampires for me before I could ever give them a shot. If the vampire novel isn’t titled “Dracula,” doesn’t obey established vampire canon, and has a plot that is romance-driven, I’m sorry, I won’t read that book.
That author’s not writing for me. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Chances are, I’m not writing for that author either. Fans of romance, and especially paranormal romance, are routinely disappointed by the way I throw romantic relationships to the background and stay out of the bedroom in my trilogy.
We all know that readers favor a book for lots of different reason, and a lot of that has to deal with themes, genres, and motifs. If I don’t write about the themes, genres, and motifs you like, my book could be fantastic, but you’re still not going to enjoy it.
That’s human nature. It’s the reader’s right not to like a book, for whatever reason he or she might not like it. Maybe it’s poorly written. Maybe it wasn’t edited well. Maybe it just doesn’t speak to you or you know technical information, thanks to your education, that the book gets wrong. Maybe a story is too far out of your comfort zone.
I could go on for ages.
WHY MY NON-TARGET AUDIENCE DOESN’T LIKE MY BOOKS
I have gotten mostly positive reviews on “The Crimson League,” but a few bad ones too. Every author does.
Some people did not connect with the book, or it wasn’t what they wanted it to be or expected.
Without giving away spoilers, I can tell you that the ending is much closer to bittersweet than to “happily ever after.” That did not sit will with some readers.
One reviewer, in fact, said she thought the book was well written and the premise was good, but she gave it three stars because she didn’t like the ending. And that’s her prerogative.
One reader who enjoys books with lots of romance, to be euphamistic, gave the book a poor review because it didn’t deliver enough romance (or so I gathered based on the books this reader reviewed positively.) Not surprising: my trilogy isn’t a romance series, and for sure you aren’t going to like it if you pick it up wanting, more than anything else, a love story.
Now, I’m not bashing those reviewers. I don’t have any problem with them; if anything, I’m grateful to them for giving my book a chance. I’m purposely not saying where those reviews are found because I don’t mean to draw attention to the people who wrote them. I want to draw attention to this point, using myself as an example:
If you publish a book, there will be people who don’t like the kind of book you wrote.
- They might prefer a different kind of point of view to the one you use. First over third. Third over first.
- They might be used to literary fiction and you’ve written genre fiction they just can’t get into because it feels childish to them.
- They might be used to a humorous, light tone and your tone is heavier, more literary.
- They might not like the kind of story you’re writing. Their preferred reading might be more cerebral, or lean heavier on action, or have more heaving busoms.
In some ways, publishing is a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” kind of scenario. You’re east of the rock and west of the hard place (or any other cliche you want to throw in there.)
The fact is this:
- For every reader who doesn’t like, say, how you “rush” a certain subplot’s development, you’ll have readers who’ll say they feel bored if you slow it down.
- If some readers tell you they need to you explain something better, other readers might feel like you’re babying them if you do.
Now we get to the bulk of the post, given this obvious state of affairs:
What’s a writer to do in response???
Listen to your beta readers, and use multiple beta readers who have different strengths. If they all, or the bulk of them, are telling you one thing, then it’s time to pay attention.
Write for YOU, and write the story you want to write. Don’t waste energy, time, or creativity writing something for other people who aren’t going to like it.
There is just no way you can write a book that 100% of the human population will be interested in or will enjoy. So write for those who WILL enjoy it. That number includes you, right?
I say write for you, all the time, because when you write for you, you write a true and heartfelt story that people who share your interests and your tastes will enjoy because it will ring true to them.
So, what do you think about this topic? If you’ve published, have you received a bad review from a reader you didn’t write for? If you haven’t published you, are you worried about that? Do you have a coping mechanism in place?
Please feel free to comment! If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow my blog by email at the top right of the page. You can also check out these related posts:
- On the writer doubt epidemic
- How I try to respond (internally!) to a bad review
- Why authors love your good reviews
- What authors look for in a good review