Among the many new things I’ve learned since I started writing three years ago, nothing has been more of a surprise than the idea of reader expectations. As an avid reader of 3 to 4 books a week for most of my adult life, my own expectations were simple. I wanted good writing, fantastic characters I was totally invested in, and solid, believable plots, even in fantasy. That was about it.
In today’s world, the relationship between readers and writers seems to be expanding. Writers no longer lock themselves in tiny rooms, sweating blood while they aim to produce literary masterpieces that will live beyond them for centuries. Well, maybe a few still do. But mostly, it seems like writers today are forever asking themselves what it is that readers want. This week. And then trying to write a book that fills that need, even if it’s not the story they really want to be telling. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but it is one way many are going about the process.
I have to say, I don’t think a lot about what’s trendy in fiction. I know I probably should, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I have a hundred stories in my head, waiting to get out, and those are the ones I want to tell. Some of them have current subjects woven into them, and some don’t. Most do have age-old themes threaded through them, and those are the things I want to focus on, no matter what the tale is outwardly about, or what’s popular in the industry today. I do my best to make my stories entertaining, but I don’t spend a lot of time wondering if the topic of the book I’m writing is going to be a hot one in the months ahead.
However, having said all of that, I also want to SELL my books. In fact, for me, this is not a paying hobby, as I’ve heard it described. It is an honest attempt to tell good stories and be compensated with a small but steady income every month. I don’t expect to get rich. I do hope to augment my husband’s retirement income, in a few more years. So, I write the stories I want to tell in the best way I can, and I look for ways to get them in front of the right audience. Once there, I expect them to stand on their own merit, or fall by the wayside. But getting them there–in front of people who might enjoy my writing style and subject matter–is the hardest part of this whole endeavor, if you ask me.
Deciding which genre my books fall into is challenging in the extreme, since most of my stories are not neatly pigeonholed. And, finding the proper categories on Amazon is even more challenging. Amazon doesn’t make it easy, for some odd reason. If you want to “drill down” past the main branches and find a sub, or even a sub-sub, category where your book would stand out, you have to contact them and ask for help. That seems contrary to the idea of getting your book in front of the folks who really want to buy it, doesn’t it? Or am I missing something? I think it ought to be easier.
I’ve also learned that a “hybrid” category like Romantic Suspense, which is what my first two books clearly were, is still not going to make everyone happy. For instance, Suspense and Mystery readers are used to the book being wrapped up almost immediately after the crime is solved. At that point, they expect it to all be over but the shoutin’, as they say.
However, Romance lovers will turn on you in a heartbeat if you don’t take them through to that happy ending they’ve been dying for, ever since handsome hero met gorgeous heroine. Yeah, yeah–they’re really glad the mystery is solved, and they enjoyed all of that creepy stuff–but the most important thing to them is the love affair finally working out.
Point in case, and what made me start thinking seriously about all this, two reviews of one of my books, both good (with caveats), one immediately following another:
Partial Review One: This book started off with a bang, and just kept building and building straight through the discovery of the guilty party. Then, it fell flat, with over 30 pages of blah, blah, blah. (They did recommend the book, in spite of the blahbage, so I’m not complaining.)
Partial Review Two: After a slow start, this book picked up speed and was fantastic straight through to the last page.
See? Review #1 was likely a person who generally prefers suspense and mystery novels, and to whom the romance was merely background noise. While Review #2 was probably a person who wanted a good love story with a happy ending, and the journey to that point was less important than seeing the couple in question actually ending up together forever and ever.
So how do you find a balance when you are writing for a hybrid category like Romantic Suspense? Or if your book simply doesn’t fit into ANY niche as well as you’d like? What tricks do you use to be sure you’ve ended up in the best categories, and put your book in front of as many readers as possible? Also, how many of you change categories now and then, as recommended by some industry experts, in order to expand your potential reading audience? Let us hear your thoughts on how you deal with these things. Inquiring minds wanna know!