Shake it off. Shake it off. Managing expectations with respect to fans

When I wrote my first novel, Just Friends with Benefits, I basically winged it. I was walking to work one day when an idea for a story popped into my head. I made the decision to write a book and never looked back. I had no formal training and no experience, but the novel was pretty well received. I considered it a very positive start to my writing career and looked forward to releasing my second novel, A State of Jane.

Everyone who read A State of Jane before it was released commented on how much my writing had improved. The pacing was tighter, the story flowed easier, and the humor was sassy and fresh. I assumed if people enjoyed Just Friends with Benefits, they would LOVE A State of Jane. And many of them did. But then negative reviews came flowing in—Jane was unlikeable, the ending was not satisfying. Some preferred Just Friends with Benefits. Even though I stood by my plotting decisions, I was devastated. How could people not understand that Jane was a work in progress? How could they not appreciate the growth of her character and applaud her independence? How could they not notice how much I’d honed my skills?

My third novel, Blogger Girl, had both a “nice” main character and a more typical romantic comedy storyline. On top of that, I was still growing as a writer. If people enjoyed Just Friends with Benefits, I knew they would love my more polished but equally romantic Blogger Girl. And if A State of Jane wasn’t light and fluffy enough for them, I was certain Blogger Girl would win them over.

The reviews for Blogger Girl were by and large very good. It made it onto about ten blogger’s lists for the best books of 2013, has 111 reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4.5 and only one 1 star and zero 2 star reviews. For the most part, it is the fan favorite. Still, there were some naysayers, especially on Goodreads—Kim is too aggressive and full of herself. She’s so insecure! And she doesn’t do any work. One person wrote a review on Goodreads that my writing gets worse with every book. In her opinion, Just Friends with Benefits was, by far, my best book, followed by A State of Jane. She hated Blogger Girl with a passion.

*Sigh* For the love of God, who do I have to sleep with to write a book that everyone likes?

My fourth novel, How Do You Know? was released last month. I thought: this is it. This is by far the most emotional and heartfelt book I’ve ever written, and my growth as a writer is evident. My fans will be delighted! It’s got it all—sass, humor, romance, heartbreak, likeable characters. I’m as good as golden!

And then I had two bloggers who adored Blogger Girl and who enthusiastically agreed to read How Do You Know? decline to write a review because they didn’t connect with it as much as they would have liked. I appreciated their honesty and willingness to refrain from writing a review, but “ouch.” Then the doubts came flooding in. What if I am a bust at writing women’s fiction? Should I stick to chick lit? What if everyone hates this book except my mom, sister, beta readers, and publishing team? But then glowing reviews for How Do You Know? came flowing in: “Meredith’s best book yet.” “Meredith Schorr has done it again.” “I loved this book as much as her others.” My confidence soared again until I received a four star review from someone on New Year’s Eve who said How Do You Know? was engaging enough, but she liked my other books much more. Despite the four-star review, I was disappointed that it wasn’t her favorite.

And then it occurred to me that I’m a multi-published author and to expect every reader to enjoy each of my new books more than the one before is…well…expecting too much. Not to mention that unless I want my previous books to stop selling, I should hope readers will have different preferences so that there is consistent buzz for all of my books. The reality is that not everyone has the same tastes. Some readers prefer pure escapism to depth. Some people love a flawed character they can root for even as they scream at her. Others don’t want a character who might remind them of their own shortcomings. Some folks appreciate an uplifting, but realistic ending; others prefer the fairytale. Some people get a kick out of grown up characters acting juvenile and making fools of themselves. Others think it just makes them look foolish.

The good news is that between four novels, I now have something to please or offend *almost* everyone. I say *almost* because you can’t please everyone. At least, as evidenced in this blog, I have not mastered that skill yet. But as long as I continue to please people more often than not, I will be happy. I’m going to keep writing the stories that inspire me to the best of my ability—which will hopefully continue to improve with each book, even if some fans still prefer an earlier book.

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Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Meredith. It’s so incredibly helpful and actually inspired me to change my attitude about writing new books. I want to explore new genres and types of characters, but I have all the same fears you expressed here. The realization you’ve come to is one we all need to embrace! Thank you!!!

    • I’m so glad it helped you. The realization that it doesn’t make sense that with each book I write, my fans are automatically going to like it best simply because I wrote it the most recently has helped alleviate some of my own stress and expectations in that regard.

  2. You’re in good company,Meredith. I was warned about this very thing by Ken Follett, of all people. After my first novel was published I expected the same reader reaction with my second. I was devasted when some readers complained it didn’t live up to Garden of Lies. Ken told me the same thing happened to him with Eye of the Needle. He compared it to falling in love, When you fall in love with an author, the heady feeling you had at the outset wears off a bit by book 2 or 3. Blame it on human nature, not your writing style 🙂

  3. No two readers are alike. Just like no two books are alike. Sometimes I differ so much in opinion from someone else that I have to make sure we read the same book!
    I liked Blogger Girl best but still enjoyed the other three. I’m backlogged on reviews but will try to review HDYK soon.

  4. I can definitely relate to this post! It’s a great reminder that we’re all different, have different experiences, see things through different lenses, and have different tastes. How boring would it be if we were all the same, after all? And I definitely see this in opinions of books: some people love an ending with a strong, independent character and consider the character growth to be a fantastic ending, and others prefer the happily-ever-after romance. We had a debate once in a grad school lit class, about how no one ever actually reads the same book, because it’s always interpreted through our own lens, which is different from how someone else reads the same work. (If you want to be in REALLY good company, I’ve witnessed big divides on classic works with English lit grad students and profs split between loving a book and really NOT loving a book, and this was much more often than not.) Your perspective on this is wonderful and is so good to be reminded of!

    • Great comment, Jennifer! I totally agree that people see things through their own lenses. I know I do. There are certain themes that touch my insecurities, experiences etc. I try to be mindful of that when I read, but it’s difficult. I’m the organizer of a book club and there is always a difference in opinion. I try to keep that in mind, too, when I read reviews. But I’m a work in progress 🙂

  5. I love this post! It is so true. It is so hard to figure out what people will love / hate. I try to tell myself books are like food. We all can’t love the same thing all the time

    BTW – I snorted coffee when I read *Sigh* For the love of God, who do I have to sleep with to write a book that everyone likes?

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