Wednesday, July 19, 2006

MEETING READER EXPECTATIONS -- OR NOT


Recently someone posted a review of my April release, TALK GERTIE TO ME, on Amazon. She titled it TALK DISAPPOINTING TO ME. Why? I hadn’t met her expectations as a reader. “Contemporary Romance” is printed on the spine of my book. The back cover copy emphasizes the romance that takes place between one of the main characters and what is actually a secondary character in the book. The reader expected a romance. What she got was women’s fiction with a chick lit edge to it. She was disappointed. I understand; I don’t blame her.

TALK GERTIE TO ME isn’t a romance. The two main characters in the book are not the hero and heroine but a mother and daughter. There is romance in the book. Actually, there are two romances, one that involves the mother and the other that involves the daughter, but the romances are subplots. The main story is about the relationship between the mother and daughter. It’s a comical tale of the tug-of-war that ensues when a daughter severs the apron strings and her mother is faced with empty nest syndrome.

So why is TALK GERTIE TO ME being sold as a romance? I can’t answer that. Authors, especially first time authors, have no control over the business decisions made by their publishers. I have to believe there were sound reasons behind my publisher’s decision to market my book as romance. And truthfully, I’m not sure it’s hurt sales. Overall, I’ve received wonderful reviews. The few that have been not so wonderful were all because I hadn’t met the readers’ expectations. They expected a romance. They wanted more Nori and Mac, less of Connie and her adventures in New York. And of the handful of negative reviews, all but one did like other aspects of the book. Even the author of TALK DISAPPOINTING TO ME gave me 3 out of 5 stars.

My next book isn’t due out until June 2007. LOVE, LIES & A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION is a romantic suspense. Unlike TALK GERTIE TO ME, I haven’t bent any rules or combined any genres or sub-genres. And the book is even written in 3rd person, not the double 1st person of TALK GERTIE TO ME. It’s just romantic suspense. No chick lit, no hen lit, no imaginary friends popping in with their nickel’s worth of snarky, unwanted advice. I hope I don’t disappoint any readers, but I probably will -- especially those who were expecting another book like TALK GERTIE TO ME. To them I say, you’ll have to wait for the sequel.

4 comments:

Cheryl Bolen said...

You've brought up some good points, Lois. I hate that publishing -- as well as all media -- has imbedded itself into niche mentality. Everything has to fit in one neat little slot. And heaven help you if you deviate from that slot!

When I was very young there was always room for cross-over hits in music. The channels we used to listen to had so many different sounds and a vast appeal to a wide variety of ages. Kind of like Life magazine or Saturday Evening Post magazines did. Of course, those publications can't thrive -- or barely exist -- in today's niche market.

Take decorating magazines, for example. You used to have House Beautiful and that pretty much covered all types of decor. Now we've got to have Country Homes, Cottage Homes, Coastal Living, Traditional Home, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, etc., etc., each appealing to one little niche in the market.

Looking back on the 20th Century bestsellers, I wonder how many of them could even find publishing homes today. How could you describe their books in one little word on the spine?

Nancy Herkness said...

Even that one little word on the spine doesn't seem to help sometimes. My second novel SHOWER OF STARS was clearly marked "romance" on the spine. Yet when I went in to sign stock at one chain bookstore (who shall remain nameless to protect the clueless), no one could find the ten copies their computer said they had. Finally, my daughter wandered into the Science Fiction section (her favorite genre) and shouted, "Mom, it's over here." I guess someone read the back cover copy, saw the words "meteorite hunter" and decided it must be science fiction!

Kalen Hughes said...

The shelving thing drives me nuts. I hunted all over Borders for Jennifer Crusie. Prowled through the Romance section for what seemed like hours, aghast that there were no books by her. I finally gave up and asked. Oh, they put her in fiction. Grrrrr.

Allison Brennan said...

Excellent points, Lois. Reader expectations are valid and we can't control them. They expect something based on the cover, the blurb, or their previous expectations. This is one reason I'm going to be writing RS for a long time--if I change, it'll be subtle. I had some readers upset that there wasn't a stronger romance and others who wanted no romance (or no sex) in the "mystery book." But all we can do is write the stories that we love.