I’m happy to be back with another Writer Wednesday post. This week, I wanna tackle a topic that’s been on my mind the last few weeks, managing readers’ expectations, and I’ll explain why.
Because I knew I’d be traveling and have lots of time to read, I loaded up my Kindle before I left. Now, like most of you, I get a lot of book recs from Facebook, and so for the few weeks before my trip, I basically checked out everything that looked interesting and bought a whole bunch. I have my one-click authors, of course, but I also got a lot of books from new-to-me authors.
My reading experiences with various books made me realize how crucial it is to manage readers’ expectations. The cover, blurb, title, and even the author’s name and reputation all create a certain expectation for a book. And when I read it, the reality should match that expectation or even surpass it.
Where things get dicy is when the reality doesn’t match my expectations. I had a few books where I was expecting something based on the blurb and cover and everything, and I got something else entirely. That friction can cause readers to stop reading or be dissatisfied with the book, which in turn can also lead to negative reviews, even if the book itself isn’t bad.
How to Manage Readers’ Expectations
So let’s unpack this a little. What do I mean by managing readers’ expectations? It means that how you present the book should match what the book is about in every way. Sure, we can present it in the best way possible (that’s all fair game in sales and marketing), but it still needs to be true. Let’s make this practical with some examples.
Manage Heat Level Expectations
The heat level you suggest with your cover (Naked man? Suggestive pose?), title (“Wrecked by the Shifter’s Massive Member”), blurb (“a steamy romance”, “sexy scenes that will make your panties melt”), and even your author reputation (being known for writing sweet romances, for example) should match the actual heat level in the book. If it doesn’t, you could be in trouble.
I had a few books that were presented as alien smut, so to speak, and they turned out to be super slow burns where nothing really happened. One book specifically mentioned aliens with huge dicks in the blurb and turned out to have one only sex scene…at 90% of the book. I’m not saying the book was bad or that it should’ve been sexier, but the blurb promised something the book wasn’t delivering. I wanted to read smut and I got more serious philosophical discussions about the ethics of intergalactic wars.
Manage Story Expectations
Readers need to have an idea of the basic storyline of the book from the cover, title, and blurb. You don’t need to spell out every detail—on the contrary—but you do need to be clear about what readers can expect in terms of angst level, major conflicts, setting, and tropes.
I can’t stress the importance of tropes enough, by the way. It’s my primary way of choosing a book, based on tropes I love, like enemies to lovers, best friend’s brother, or hurt/comfort. It also makes me avoid books when they have tropes I’m not a fan of. That may seem like something you don’t want, but you do. There’s no sense in “tricking” a reader into reading your book when they’re not gonna like it. They’ll only end up frustrated and may leave a bad review. attract the readers that will love your book.
Manage Cliffhanger Expectations
This is a biggie for me: you have to manage expectations of cliffhangers. If the story doesn’t end at the end of the book, you need to put that in your blurb. If the romance has a happy end but the overall story doesn’t (which is true for some of my continuing series for example), make that clear. It’s super annoying to think you’re gonna get a happy end only to be left hanging.
Manage Series/Stand Alone Expectations
Another big frustration: only state your book is a stand alone if it really is. I’ve had too many cases where the author states in the blurb the book can be read as a stand alone, only to discover I’m missing crucial info on previous events. Or I’m faced with a gazillion characters from previous books that I can’t keep apart because I don’t have enough info on them, not having read the previous books.
When in doubt, ask a reader who hasn’t read the previous books to read it and tell you if it’s truly a stand alone or not.
Manage Genre Expectations
If your book doesn’t have a happy end, it doesn’t belong in romance. This is a hard rule that you can’t deviate from. The only exception is when it’s part of a series and the happy end will follow in the last book. Other than that, no exceptions. You can put your book in gay fiction or whatever, but don’t label it a romance. A romance means a happy end for the two (or more) main characters.
Along the same lines, the romance needs to be the focus of the story. If your focus is more on the suspense part and romance is only a secondary plot, you may alienate readers by labeling it as a romance. Keep that in mind when you choose categories for your book or how you describe the genre in your blurb and promo.
And within a genre, you have to communicate if you deviate from genre expectations as well. For instance, if you write mpreg but the book doesn’t contain an actual pregnancy, it’s smart to note that in the blurb.
Manage Trigger Expectations
I know this is a controversial one, but I really do believe it’s smart to manage trigger expectations. To me, it’s a form of respecting that certain readers don’t want to read certain things that trigger them. A simple heads up of potential triggers your book contains is a courtesy that will prevent readers from getting upset.
You don’t have to do it in the blurb, just mention there that you’ve put them in the front matter of the book. That way, people can check them with the “Look Inside” feature.
Manage the Unexpected
This last one is one that I’ve come across a few times, and it’s one that more established authors have to be mindful of. If you’ve written a certain number of books, readers will have expectations of your style, your heat level, your tropes. That doesn’t mean you’re limited to these, but it does mean you’d better do some careful managing of readers’ expectations when you deviate from these.
Let’s use Lucy Lennox as an example. She’s known to write romances with a good dose of humor. Her co-authored books with Sloane Kennedy are a little more on the angsty side, but generally speaking, her “brand” is romantic comedy. She doesn’t do MMM, she doesn’t do kink, she doesn’t do taboo. No judgment by the way, as I love her books, just to be clear. But that’s what you expect from a Lucy Lennox novel: romance, heat, and a comedy element.
If she were to write a taboo book with, say, three stepbrothers who are into some serious BDSM (can someone write that book please, by the way?), she’d have to do a LOT of managing expectations to avoid readers getting completely shocked with the change of course. This a rather extreme example, if course, but the point is that you have to be aware of expectations readers may have based on your brand and reputation. It’s a reason why some authors chose to use a different pen name when they branch out into new subgenres or styles.
Okay, glad to get that off my chest, haha. Hope this was useful. Let me know in the comments or hit me up with any questions!
Penny Chelmers says
I have found this post very informative, I especially like the examples you give.
It’s very easy to follow and it shows how difficult it must be as an author if you want to change creative direction.
Thank you. Glad to hear it resonated with you.
This was an interesting post, being able to manage how a book is perceived by a reader is important. I was reading something the other day thinking it was going to be a quick happy story. Turns out it was a mpreg story, the blurb didn’t mention that. I don’t particularly care for mpreg stories except for a couple of authors that are on my one click list. I read the story but was disappointed and a bit put off by the way the story went.
That’s a biggie with a subgenre like mpreg, which not everyone likes. But in general, I want to know what type of book I’m getting into, because if I’m in the mood for fluffy, I don’t wanna accidentally end up with a high angst romance…
Lyss Em says
Thanks for tackling the topic in such a simple way. I agree it’s crucial, and I know this from screwing this up, ha.
Haha, I know, right? It’s really easy to get this wrong.
Love your comment about cliffhangers. If I read a book with a cliffhanger that I didn’t know about ahead of time I very likely will never read that author again.
Yeah, I’ve been burned with cliffhangers before myself. It really pisses me off. I don’t mind them but I do want to know in advance.
Tom Hudson says
I’m a new writer, and I have to tell you how helpful this post and the rest of your blog are for me. Please keep offering these pearls of wisdom!
I’m so happy these posts are useful to you! Please let me know if you have any topics you’d like to suggest.