Sometimes, even the most successful writers take their eye off the proverbial ball and strike out with a book. While there is no single or simple reason why this happens, I do have a theory on the matter.
I think sometimes, writers forget who they’re writing for, and in doing so fail to craft a book that delivers the kind of experience the readers in their genre not only expect but crave. Today’s post is a checklist you can follow to help keep you on the right path so every time you step up to bat, you’re focused on hitting a home run.
#1: Remember Who You’re Writing For
As an author, you’ll hear plenty of advice—such as “write what you know” and “if you’re not interested in the topic, then you can’t expect your audience to be either.” Both these adages are sage counsel, but sometimes in trying to follow this advice writers become so focused on embracing their personal knowledge and chasing their own interests that they forget the most important advice of all:
Remember who you’re writing for.
I can tell you who you’re definitely NOT writing for and that’s yourself. Even if your book happens to be an autobiography, the story might be about you but it’s not for you. Every book a career author writes is for an audience—an audience of readers. You probably think I’m being coy here, but I’m serious. Every time you put fingers to keyboard, you need to remind yourself that you’re writing for a wide cross-sectional audience—people of different genders, races, ages, religions, professional experience, political views, education, upbringings, interests…etcetera, etcetera.
You must craft your narrative in a way it will be interesting and accessible to the largest possible audience. Remember, if you’re writing for yourself, that’s an audience of one.
#2: Give the Readers What They Want
If you’re writing a thriller, then the book needs to thrill. If you’re writing a romance novel, the book better have a heart-pounding relationship. If you’re writing a mystery, an enigma better get solved…and so on. In the fiction market, novels are categorized by genre to help readers (aka prospective buyers) find titles that (hopefully) will meet the criteria of the kind of story they like and want to read.
Every time you put fingers to keyboard, you need to remind yourself that you’re writing for a wide cross-sectional audience
If you’re not sure what readers in your genre want, then I encourage you to read a bunch of 5 star reviews for books that are comps to your WIP. The readers are not shy about telling the world exactly what they like and don’t like. Look for the detailed reviews that really distill the elements that made a particular book shine. Then, make a list of the things readers love and the things they don’t and identify trends. From the list of trends create a checklist and refer to it whenever your start a new project.
#3: Give the Audience What They Expect
I know what you’re thinking, this tip is the same as the last one. If you give the readers what they want, aren’t you also giving them what they expect? The answer is not necessarily. There’s a subtle distinction here best illustrated by example.
Make a list of the things readers love and the things they don’t and identify trends
If your book is a military thriller, what the reader wants is an exciting plot, with thrilling action, and a white knuckle climax. What they expect is to find a cast of military characters, conducting military operations, from military bases and platforms. Now imagine a military thriller where at the halfway point the main characters discover a magical gateway in the desert that transports them to another realm where they must battle wizards and dragons to survive. I don’t care how suspenseful and thrilling the climax is, military thriller fans will be disappointed.
Every genre has plot and structural conventions that must be followed and generally adhered in order to meet reader expectations. If you don’t know what these are, you MUST learn them and craft your novel accordingly.
#4: There Must Be Pay Dirt
If you’re not familiar with the term “pay dirt” it means reward, profit, pay out. Imagine buying a ticket to Disney World, only to walk the entire park to discover that all the rides are either broken or closed. Now imagine buying a book and getting to the last page of a story without experiencing a satisfying ending.
Every genre has plot and structural conventions that must be followed and generally adhered in order to meet reader expectations.
Readers want the heroes to win, the bad guys to get their just deserts, uncertainty in the plot resolved, and the “what if” question driving the story to be answered. Readers are willing to dig, but you must reward them with pay dirt for the effort.
#5: A Book is a Contract, so Honor the Terms
Not only are readers investing their money in your book they are also investing their time. Depending on the length of your book, the time investment could be significant. In exchange for their money and time, the reader is looking for a particular kind of experience. As an author, it is a mistake to think of your job as someone who writes and sells books. If that’s your mindset, you need a new paradigm; you need to reframe. As authors, our real product is escapism. Our job is to transport our customers into another person’s life, where they get to experience problems, adventures, drama, conflict, love, loss, and danger through someone else’s Point of View. Never forget to fulfill your half of the bargain.
I hope you found this blogpost eye-opening and helpful. We’d love to hear your thoughts on Facebook.