Do You Trust Me?

We writers spend a lot of precious hours dreaming about and worrying over contracts with agents, editors and publishers, but today I want to focus on the most important contract we’ll ever make—the one with our readers.

Since most of us are both readers AND writers, let’s look at this from a couple different perspectives.

As a Reader
When we open a book, whether we think of it or not, we automatically expect several things from its author:
  • To be entertained
  • To read about believable characters we can love or love-to-hate
  • To be surprised and intrigued without being lost
  • To not be let down by major outcomes (character deaths, love triangles, etc.)
If those basic expectations aren’t met, the reader loses faith in the writer – not in his or her ability to write, but in his or her ability to craft a satisfying story (cough, GRRM, cough). Books suddenly fly across the room and into walls. The risk is that, once readers feel their trust has been betrayed, it’s next to impossible to win them back.

As a Writer
There’s a big difference between honoring your readers and “caving” to the market. So how can we create a unique story with our own characters, twists and ups-and-downs without losing readers?

  • Maintain an engaging novel throughout. We can’t have a spitfire beginning and then sputter, and we also can’t afford to build to the big finish without hooking the reader from the first page.

  • Don’t write bland characters. It seems simple, but if you’re going to err on characterization, you’d be better going overboard than not giving enough. Readers LOVE their characters – great characters lead to book club debates, t-shirts and more. Just think of how people focused on JK Rowling’s divisive characters of Snape and Umbridge.

  • Be thoughtful in your plotting
    • Avoid twists that come completely out of the blue – they often leave readers lost, and readers will see through twists that are there solely for the sake of “shock value.”
    • Set up the proper reasoning and stakes ahead of time – without context, the reader doesn’t have a reason to care about your story, your characters or their choices.
    • Fill in any plot holes – this one should be pretty obvious. : ) 
    • Balance character changes, deaths or romances with reader expectations. No matter how much weight you put on the “artistry” of your writing, you still need to write for your audience to a certain extent. Try to find that “sweet spot” where your story doesn’t follow the first, obvious resolution but also doesn’t veer into the absolute worst case scenario.

 The good news is we have a LOT of leeway to play with the details!


  1. You make a lot of good points and they're well worth remembering. I have a number of favorite authors who always thrill me but you're right in the fact that if an author lets me down (or throws me for an unbelievable loop), I'll think twice about buying another one of their books.

  2. That's one reason I hate hype over new authors who have yet to prove themselves. More often than not, I end up starting a series and loving it but then being hugely disappointed before the end. (cough, Terry Goodkind, cough) I love Patrick Rothfuss's first book, the name of the wind, and was really excited for the second in the trilogy. It was awful. Now I'll probably read the third book, just from morbid curiosity, but then I'll never read anything he writes again.

    Alternately, I implicitly trust Terry Pratchett. I've never been anything less than pleased with any of his Discworld books.

  3. Tracey, I know what you mean. I hate that feeling!

    Sarah - totally agree about Terry Pratchett. Loved Discworld.

  4. "If those basic expectations aren’t met, the reader loses faith in the writer – not in his or her ability to write, but in his or her ability to craft a satisfying story (cough, GRRM, cough)."

    Wow, I was sure I was the only person in the world who felt like this (about GRRM). Whew.

  5. I've always been tempted to give Mr Cussler a go. Where's a good place to start?

    I recently had a book across the room moment. I then picked said book up, tore it to pieces, and placed it into a bonfire. Just thinking about it makes me angry and distressed.

    So, to cheer things up, I'm going to give you an award because your blog is so lovely! Tada!

  6. Hmmm....I'd say Margaret Atwood has earned my trust (so far). I haven't really been disappointed by any of her books.

    Personally, I try to view each book objectively. Book B should not immediately be labelled as unreadable despite my dislike of Book A. I find that unfair. Am I never going to read William Faulkner again because I had a bad experience with AS I LAY DYING? No. Am I never going to watch another David Fincher film because FIGHT CLUB (1999) was underwhelming? No - The Social Network and Se7en are films I enjoyed.

    The only time I will judge an author's book prematurely is if I have read maybe 5-10 of their books and hated/disliked ALL of them. Then I maybe have an idea of what to expect.

  7. Ha, Margo - I'm sure we're not alone. :)

    Miss Cole, thanks for the shout out! I'll keep it goin'. Have to admit I'm a bit leery about your "bonfire" experience. :) Yikes! Hope to avoid whichever book caused that reacion.

    For Clive Cussler, I like Sahara, Deep Six or Inca Gold (this is the first one I read). You don't have to read the series in order to get into it.

    GK - wise advice. I'll admit that I usually give the author the benefit of the doubt for at least a second book. After that, it gets iffy.