Over at JA Konrath’s blogÂ today, Joe talks about keeping your readers happy by giving them what they expect.Â After writing two books that featured serial killers, he says:
Â “But in DIRTY MARTINI, I have no serial killers, and now I’m concerned my readership is going to say, ‘We expected serial killers—where are the serial killers?’
“As writers, I believe we owe our readers something. We have to walk a line between giving them more of what they liked, and giving them something new.”
Unfortunately,Â no matter which line we walk,Â some reader somewhere is going to whine and complain about our latest book.Â Â And boy, have I been at the receiving end of those complaints.
After writing three medical thrillers (HARVEST, LIFE SUPPORT, and BLOODSTREAM) I wanted to try something completely different.Â I had a story I couldn’t wait to write, about a subject I’ve long been fascinated by: space travel.Â Â GRAVITY was still a medical thriller, but it happened to be set aboard the space station, and there was no villain involved.Â No evil guy, no dastardly conspiracy.Â I loved that book.Â
But the readers?Â They complained, oh how they complained.Â “This isn’t like your other books!Â We didn’t expect this!Â Why did you do this to us?”Â I had not met their expectations, and they were pissed.
So next I wrote THE SURGEON.Â Not a medical thriller, but a crime thriller, with a serial killer.Â Fresh complaints came in.Â “This isn’t a medical thriller!Â This is just a serial killer novel!”
I followed it up with THE APPRENTICE, featuring another serial killer.Â Now the complaint was: “She wrote the same damn book again!”
Then came THE SINNER, aboutÂ the cover-up of aÂ corporate disaster in India.Â No serial killer in this one.Â So guess what the complaint was?Â “Where’s the serial killer?Â I wanted another serial killer novel!”
With THE MEPHISTO CLUB, I tried to do something different yet again.Â I wanted to bring archaeology and Biblical history into the story, subjects that I’ve been fascinated with since my years as an anthropology major in college.Â I wanted to skirt the line between the real and the metaphysical.Â Â
Naturally the complaints came in.Â “You stepped over the line!” “This one was tooÂ weird, too different!”
What’s the lesson here?Â It’s this:Â readers can be a cruel, nitpicky, bunch.Â Â They will punish you with one-star Amazon reviews no matter what you write.Â Write two similar books, and they’ll complain you’re uncreative.Â Write aÂ wildly creative book, and they’ll complain you stepped over the line.Â They’ll complain if there’s a romance subplot.Â They’ll complain if there isn’t a romance subplot.Â MEPHISTO CLUB was called “nothing but a Harlequin romance” by one reader.Â Another reader complained that it was graphically gory and upsetting.Â Yet another reader called it a blasphemous attack on Christianity.
They were all talking about the same book.
So my advice to Joe (and every other writer)Â isÂ this: just say to hell with it.Â Don’t obsess over trying toÂ meet readers’ expectations, because someone’s going to complain no matter what you write.Â Â So you might as well write the book you want to write, the book that will fulfill YOUR expectations.Â Because you’re probably the toughest critic of your own work, anyway.
And to all thoseÂ nitpicky readers, the onesÂ who think they’re so much smarter than the writer they’re complaining about, here’s a revolutionary idea: goÂ write your own damn book.