Readers resent change

Today I received the following email from a disappointed reader:

What happened to the medical suspense thrillers you wrote earlier? I understand that writers develop new ideas and do not continue to turn out the same old stories with similar plots, but these last books you have written were really disappointing. I’m sure you probably don’t want to hear these comments, however I believe you should be aware of poor reviews as well as the good ones. I’ll skip you future books.

This reader dislikes my crime novels, and is unhappy that I made the switch from the medical thrillers I used to write prior to 2001. So she’s not going to buy any more of my books.

This is the kind of letter that writers always hate to receive. Yet whenever we follow our creative urges and write a different sort of book than we have before, we will almost certainly get these letters. Interestingly enough, this reader puts her finger on exactly what she wants from a writer: The same kind of book, over and over.

So why do authors change their style or their genre? When we run the chance of turning off our readers, why do we take such risks?

Sometimes, it’s because we have uncontrollable creative urges that must be fulfilled. And sometimes, we do it to survive.

Back when I was writing medical thrillers, the genre was still hot. Robin Cook was the brand name in the genre, and he was always near the top of the bestseller lists. My first bestseller, Harvest, was released in 1996, near the height of the genre’s popularity, and I first tasted literary success as a medical thriller author.

But a few years later, I sensed that the genre was fading. A number of medical thrillers by other authors had failed in the marketplace. My own sales weren’t growing. And I myself was getting bored with the same old “good-doctor-caught -in-evil-circumstances” plots. So I wrote a hybrid novel, combining medical themes with a crime thriller: The Surgeon. It introduced detective Jane Rizzoli, and launched my crime thriller series.

And my sales took off.

I’ll never regret changing direction. It’s made my foreign sales boom, because medical thrillers are so often complete flops abroad. Crime novels have allowed me to escape the claustrophobic setting of the hospital and move my plots into the outside world. Because of Jane Rizzoli, I’ve been able to write about mummies and serial killers, nuns and Dead Sea Scrolls.

And that, it seems, has left some of my readers sorely disappointed. Because they want the doctors in jeopardy back.

I wish I could please everyone. I wish that each and every book I write would hit all the right buttons for every reader.

But it’s just not possible.

24 replies
  1. Omm Lucarelli
    Omm Lucarelli says:

    Am I just odd in that I like most of the books, partly because they’re different? It’s all mood dependent, I guess. Perhaps if you shifted off into high fantasy I might be surprised (though I’d probably keep reading, I like your writing style), but I wouldn’t say I’d like the same thing. After a while, “formula books” get a bit tiresome, and your books go off on all kinds of interesting directions!

  2. Mack
    Mack says:

    Hi Tess,
    When I read the title of your post, Stephen King’s novel Misery, came to mind. Fans can be a bit demanding at times.

    As a reader I don’t take it personally if an author shifts genres or styles. I rather like it in fact.

    There are a couple of examples where an author got more and more extreme – and not in a good way – to keep a series going. That’s when I stopped reading.

  3. april
    april says:

    I really think it’s because some readers and authors alike change over time. I don’t read the same things I used to read, and I felt bad leaving some authors behind who still write quality books. I’m just not as enthralled with the same things I was when I was younger. I loved Harvest. It’s the book that hooked me. I really love the later books though and, as I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t read the romantic suspense books for an unknown reason.

    No, you can’t please everybody. If you’re happy and you still have readers who grow and thrive with you, that is more than enough.

    I recently went through this with one of my favorite authors. She followed a genre she loved and left the one I loved behind. It was sad, but you could tell from her website that she was excited and happy so I was happy for her though I felt no obligation to follow her into the new genre. I wouldn’t respect her if she write strictly for my whims and, let’s face it, readers are never truly happy. We always want more of something or less of something even with a book we love. 🙂

  4. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    It’s true we can’t please everyone. This goes back to your “change of genre” post. In my opinion, you read the author, you don’t read the book. If you like an author, you take a chance on the book. It’s true. You went from medical thrillers to crime thrillers. As you said above “I’ll never regret changing direction.” So it works for you, it works for us. Being a doctor, you wrote what you know. But as learned as you are, you changed direction. All I can say is “Bravo!” I personally like medical thrillers, that’s why I stared reading CJ Lyons while I’m waiting for your next book. But whatever genre your next book is about, one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. You just throw the worm out with the rest of the garbage, and you continue. Please don’t let this reader discourage you. It may have been a disparaging email and I’m sorry you got hurt, but let’s pust past it, and look foward to your next best-selling book (no matter what the genre.) As the younger generation say “You rock, Tess!!

    Abe

  5. IServeTheCat
    IServeTheCat says:

    The Sinner was my first Gerritsen novel. As soon as I got back from Rome, I hit up Amazon for The Surgeon and The Apprentice. I have loved or liked all of the Maura/Jane books.

    I went back and bought a few of your earlier works, including a two-for-one deal from Harlequin. I guess you could say they didn’t hit my “buttons” as you put it, but the quality of writing was still quite good.

    No matter what direction your muse takes you, I will likely keep reading. There is definitely something to be said for good craftsmanship.

  6. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    It’s called Comfort VS Growth and both the reader and the writer have to decide what’s best for them longterm

    For the writer who wants to stretch the creative muscle it presents a tremendous risk since they could lose a portion of their readership (some of whom might actually take time to say so)
    On the other hand they might gain new readers who will welcome them with open arms in addition to getting a second wind creativly by having a new series of genres to explore

    For the reader it’s less of a risk since after one book if they don’t like the direction the author is headed they simply quit buying future books

    But still— if the writer and reader remain in the comfort zone we get stuff like (My personal opinion here folks) the slide area that James Patterson’s once excellant CROSS series has become.

    But again– it’s all about Comfort VS Growth

    It just depends on how far down the path of Comfort and Growth the reader and writer are willing go.

  7. sean
    sean says:

    Well, you gained a reader in me by switching! Don’t get me wrong I love your medical thrillers as well, but I wouldn’t have picked one of them up.

    I read the Surgeon and the rest is history.

  8. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    I don’t think it’s possible to please everyone, and I’m sure you enjoy writing in a new perspective. The reader would have more cause for disappointment if you had somehow left a series hanging.

  9. dustinhood
    dustinhood says:

    Tess,

    As a young writer who sits back and observes what successful authors do, most authors do switch genres. For instance Nora Roberts has switched from romance to mystery under the pin name J.D Robb. As for the switch, I’ve read most of your novels and I dont mind the switch. However I do favor a novel with several genres in on. Perfect example is The Surgeon. So my view, to be a successful writer, you must write the genre of the era.

    Dustin Hood

  10. bob k
    bob k says:

    Tess,

    You’re post brought to mind the chorus of the Ricky Nelson song Garden Party (yes, I am THAT old!!) –

    But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
    You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

  11. Mary Duncan
    Mary Duncan says:

    Good one, Bob K! It’s so true. If you can’t please yourself in the creative process, you may as well stop all together.

    People are funny in that they get tunnel vision when it comes to certain genres. I’m not sure how someone can only read medical thrillers, or only romance, for that matter. Where’s the growth? There’s a great big world out there. If they don’t want to experience it all, what’s the sense?

    Tess, just keep doing what you do. Your true fans will always be here for you.

    Mary

  12. soniavcf
    soniavcf says:

    I think is good when writers change their way of writing. Variety is good. And Tess, I think you were right, and you can see it with the letters and comments of many readers.

    Obviouslly there can be people who aren’t very happy with the change, but it seems you are also happy with your new characters, the plots and so on. I hope you have much success and that you have many new readers every year. I can assure you that I recommend your books 😉

  13. PackingPadre
    PackingPadre says:

    Tess,

    I started reading your books with the Harvest, but easily followed your change of direction with the Rizzoli-Isles books. You never leave everything behind. The current series still includes romance, medicine with Dr. Isles and of course crime thriller.

    The only books of yours I haven’t read are your pure romance novels, and I expect I will get to them someday. Although one librarian friend said you and Tami Hoag made good career moves in going from romance to crime.

    Daniel

  14. therese
    therese says:

    This reader is complaining about a career change you made in 2001. In American, during the last months of 2001, the most oft heard phrase was – it’s a whole new world.

    Story has been part of the human condition since the first marks were made on cave walls. I agree with everyone that good writing is good writing no matter what genre. In the publishing world, new stories are pitched on three basic points: What is it? What’s it like? How’s it different?

    That’s what real readers want to know – It’s a Tess novel. It’s another Jane/Laura one. There’s a mummy in it!

    Of course, I’m still partial to “The Bone Garden”, maybe because it was my first love and I’m more into history and mystery then crime. Feel free to write whatever story you want to tell, readers will find you.

  15. Roberto Nogueira
    Roberto Nogueira says:

    Hi Tess,
    It seems to me that you are in need of some care from us, your loyal readers. Are you afraid that we will abandon you? No chance.
    Again we must reassure you that you are a great and skilfull writer, that we love your stories and care for your well being.
    Take your time and do your best – we’ll be there for you.

  16. Tatiana
    Tatiana says:

    I like the fact that you change genres. I don’t get bored with your books because you don’t seem to get bored writing them. I once loved Robin Cook’s books, but they became formulaic years ago because there are only so many variations on the medical doctor/evil whatever that any one person can come up with.

    I make a point of telling people that you do this when I review a book of yours on my blog so that new readers aren’t caught unaware by it.

    There are plenty of readers looking for a writer that explores their range rather than sticks with a narrow niche. It’s harder for us to find writers who do this, but we’re loyal. 😉

  17. billiegirl77
    billiegirl77 says:

    I have to tell you , that I only recently ( early August ) started reading your work. I have since then read ALL of them except Under the Knief, Call after Midnight, In their Footsteps, Theif of hearts, and Peggy Sue got murdered. I loved everyone, some of which I read cover to cover in one day.

    I love to read. I will go from a Luanne Rice to James patterson and then back to Mary Balogh. Your books however had me hooked, I could not wait to get a hold of the Keepsake, and looking forward to the next one. One of the things I love so much is the fact that you go from mystery to medical thrillers .

    I started to keep a list of what and how many books I read in a year, 2007-25 : 2008-41 : 2009-? .The last 5 of yours that I haven’t yet read will be part of that number. Thank you for that.

  18. SkysMom
    SkysMom says:

    I can honestly say I have not read a single book you have written that I did not LOVE. Sure, I loved some more than others…but nonetheless, I have recommended them all to my friends and family and will continue to support your future ventures, regardless of genre!

  19. netti
    netti says:

    I personally admire a writer more for the ability to switch genre’s. Some people just aren’t happy unless they are griping.

  20. rattus
    rattus says:

    I have always found great comfort in the fact that authors have the ability to change genre. As Tatiana said, we don’t get bored with your books because you don’t get bored writing them.
    To me, your writing in the beginning, displayed a similar style to that of Patricia Cornwell, and as I am an avid reader of Ms Cornwell, I was delighted to find someone else who wrote books I find rivetting. I am personally very pleased that you have changed genres with your books.
    To me, it keeps you one of the freshest writers on the scene.

    Thank you

  21. PackingPadre
    PackingPadre says:

    Tess,

    I can’t help but comment again on this topic. There are writers, through no fault of theirs, I simply tire of, John Grisham being one. He still writes good books, but I don’t care to read them. You stay fresh, as does my other favorite, Nevada Barr, whose latest I just pre-ordered. While Barr hasn’t changed genres, her locations are always different and Anna Pigeon’s coworkers are not the same from book to book.

    Daniel

  22. McIntosh
    McIntosh says:

    Tess,
    Shame on you! Changing directions in your writing choices! I was under the impression that you wrote strictly for this lady and no one else. Here I thought all the morons in the world just called radio stations about artist’s “changing” their directions and “if they keep singing songs like that, I ain’t gonna buy no more of their CD’s!” Nice to know some of them can write. Keep doing what you’re doing. There are many more readers to take this one’s place. I still find it hard you can;t please all of the people all of the time! Now, about GRAVITY…………
    Joe

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