Writers Should Meet Reader Expectations

Last week we discussed “Why Writers Should Follow the Rules of Writing.” Now we’ll focus on reader expectations.

When readers consider our writing, they have a set of expectations – whether they realize it or not. If we don’t meet their expectations, they will stop reading. If we fail miserably, they may never read anything else we write – ever again.

The first expectation of readers is interesting writing that holds their attention. Without that, nothing else matters.

Nonfiction readers expect our writing will educate, encourage, or enlighten them. There are probably other reasons, too, but these are the main ones. Our writing must be logical, carefully researched, and well organized. It can’t contain factual errors or circular logic. It needs a compelling premise and a strong conclusion. Even if a reader disagrees with what we say, they shouldn’t find fault with how we said it.

Fiction readers seek escapism, entertainment, or an emotional journey. Like nonfiction readers, they may also want to be educated, encouraged, or enlightened, but, if so, these are secondary needs. With fiction, we need to hook the reader quickly, give them a reason to keep turning pages, delight them with surprises along the way, and not leave them disappointed at the end.

Also, each fiction genre carries its own set of expectations, such as word length, writing style, point of view, target audience, and so forth. These can best be learned by reading extensively in that genre. Read the classics, as well as contemporary works. Also consider those with critical acclaim, along with bestsellers – even if experts berate the writing.

The expectation of memoir readers falls somewhere in between nonfiction and fiction, while poetry and other written art (screenplays, song lyrics, ad copy, and so forth) carry their own unique expectations. Again, study successful pieces and praised works in the particular category to discern what expectations readers may hold.

Meeting reader expectations will go a long way towards success as an author, but the key is to simply write something people enjoy reading.

Should You Ever Take a Vacation From Writing?

Most jobs include vacation time, usually starting at two weeks a year and going up from there. Though I’ve never been a fan of taking a two-week trip, I used to look forward to those vacation days off from work to have a break, catch up on personal projects, and make shorter vacation-like excursions.

However, for the past fourteen years, I’ve had to forgo the annual vacation. As a magazine publisher of four periodicals, with overlapping production schedules, there’s always some time-sensitive task to do. At best, I can take a day off during a slow season or grab an occasional long weekend.

Although a traditional vacation isn’t feasible, should I ever take a vacation from writing? That is, should I schedule a time where, by intention, I do not write? A time when I take a writing break? If I do, will I return, refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to dive back into my world of words with renewed passion and heightened creativity?

I don’t know the answer, and I may never test my premise. At this time, I don’t feel the need.

In reality, if I take a break from writing, by the second day, I sense something’s amiss. My being longs for more. I have this innate need to create with words; I yearn to write. So a vacation would only agitate me.

Instead, here’s what I do:

  • When I complete a milestone on a major project, I take one day off.
  • When I can’t fathom another minute grinding away on my manuscript, I take a few days to work on another project.
  • When I need a break, I change genres. I work on a short story, web content, a contest submission, an article, or even plan a novel. Then, a few days later, it’s back to my project.

Do you ever take a vacation from writing? Do you ever do the opposite and take a vacation to write?

Stay Within Your Genre: The Importance of Consistency

Although I resisted it for months, I recently immersed myself in a Young Adult book, a romance, no less: Ditched: A Love Story, by Robin Mellom. I poured over it with can’t-put-it-down abandon. I read it in two days.

When I finished reading it, the next thing I did was I read it again. I enjoyed it that much.

After the second time, I went to Amazon to buy her next book. Alas, she has none – at least not any YA books. She does have a couple middle-grade/junior books, but as much as I like her writing style and voice, I couldn’t force myself to buy a book written for a nine year old.

She found a fan in me – and then had nothing more to offer.

Then I finally understood why people in the know, tell writers to “stay within your genre.” If you write period romance, then write only period romance – that’s what your audience expects. If you write crime novels, write only crime novels. Would you buy a romance by Steven King? No. Or sci-fi by Dick Francis? No, even if it had a horse in it, it wouldn’t work.

I never understood why I couldn’t make a career by writing non-fiction and speculative fiction and devotionals and children’s books and memoirs and even poetry. It might be fun for me but would leave my audience confused and my career would fail to gain traction.

Now I understand why I can’t do that. I still don’t like it, but I do comprehend.

Can you see yourself writing in only one genre for the rest of your career? What genre is it?

What’s the Value of Writing Contests?

I sometimes submit my work to writing contests. And I sometimes wonder why. Though I want to win, I don’t really expect to. This isn’t self-deprecating; it’s realistic: I write nonfiction and most of the contests I enter are for fiction. So why do I do it?

To Stretch Myself: Many of the contests I enter are through Writer’s Digest. Their challenges are fiction focused. Though I only dabble in fiction, I want to one day pursue it. Stretching myself now will pay off later. Plus memoirs (my present focus) borrow from fiction techniques, so that’s another bonus.

To Try Different Genres: The first contest I entered was for poetry. I don’t write poetry – or at least I hadn’t since my teenage years. The opportunity to dip my toe into this genre appealed to me. Even though I didn’t win, my work made it to the finals. This encouraged me to pen more poetry and I did publish a subsequent piece. I’ll never be a poet, but poetry is a nice diversion.

To Learn: Each submission is a learning opportunity. In some cases, judges offer feedback on your work. This is a great opportunity to grow as a writer. The contests I’ve entered so far, do not provide comments, but comparing my submissions to the finalists and winners show me how I can improve.

To Celebrate: If you win (or are even a finalist), this is cause for celebration. And if it’s put on by a prestigious group, winning is an impressive addition to your resume. Plus, for all the aspiring writers who talk about submitting but never do, mere participation is a reason to cheer.

To Win: For some contests the payoff is bragging rights, others award prizes, and some include publication in a magazine or book. The tangible rewards are compelling, but for me they simply represent an added bonus.

Have you ever entered a writing contest? What were your motives and expectations?

What to Look for in a Critique Partner

A friend asked what to look for in finding someone to critique her work.

If you are looking for feedback on bits and pieces of your work in progress (WIP) or various writings, most established critique groups should be a fine fit. However, critique groups are not well suited to provide a critical review of every word of an entire book. For that, you need a dedicated critique partner, also called beta readers.

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject:

  • Make sure they are readers who read in your genre.
  • They need to be able to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
  • Make sure they don’t have an issue of their own that will snag you (such as being a frustrated, unpublished writer or someone who talks about writing but never actually does it).
  • They need to have the time to invest in your project.
  • They need to be willing to let your voice come through and not subject you to their preferences.
  • You need to be compatible. That doesn’t mean you have to be friends, but it wouldn’t hurt. That doesn’t even mean you need to like them, but it sure would help.
  • They need to be someone who you respect and will listen to. Otherwise, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Then there is the issue of compensation. That’s a tough one. If they also happen to be a writer, you could swap critiquing services. Paying someone for this can be expensive, but keep in mind, if it’s free, you often get what you pay for.

What I do know is if you find some trusted critique partners or beta readers, treasure them and never take them for granted.

What Are You Reading?

In last week’s post, I pointed out the value and importance of reading in order to become a better writer.

The question then becomes, What should I read?

  • First, read in your genre. If you are writing young adult fiction, then you need to be reading young adult fiction. To write for a market that you are not reading is foolish and shortsighted; it will also likely lead to failure.
  • Next, read to inform your writing. Just as research is needed for non-fiction work, so too “research” is warranted for fiction writing. Don’t be that writer that places an object, event, or person in the wrong time, place, or situation. Informed writers avoid these traps.
  • Read outside your genre. My focus has been on non-fiction for a long time. Too long. All of the books I read are of a similar tone to what I write (biblical post-modern spiritualism is the best description I have found thus far). Frankly, I grew bored with my non-fiction reading list and even bestselling, frequently recommended books produced a resigned yawn. I needed a break. Did I stop reading? No, I took a side trip to juvenile fiction. The result has been new insights into writing and an idea for a series of fiction books. (This is in addition to the 20+ non-fiction ideas marinating in my mind.)
  • Lastly, read for fun — or perhaps this should be the place to start!