Author Topic: When readers "miss the point," reader expectations vs. author objectives  (Read 1645 times)  

Offline JDDudley

  • Status: Dr. Seuss
  • *
  • Posts: 6
    • View Profile
As a young kid, I was once very excited to look for "Hunchback of Notre Dame" in the library because I assumed it was about college football. Boy, was I disappointed. Which brings us to the issue of author intentions vs. reader expectations. Do you ever get feedback from readers or reviewers that you felt was completely missing the point of the story? Like the person who doesn't like "The Godfather" because it wasn't humorous enough, or that didn't like "Blazing Saddles" because it wasn't a realistic depiction of how the railroad industry in the old West actually worked.

On the one hand, some will argue that it is in the readers' hands to read something however they want it, and the author has no right to tell them how to read it. On the other, some will argue that it is unfair for readers to judge an author's work on the criteria of something that the author was clearly not setting out to do; that it would be akin to criticizing a baseball pitcher for not hitting enough home runs.

In my own experience, my current series of novels are comedic action thrillers, not full-blown parodies like Austin Powers, but something more along the lines of Jackie Chan or Roger Moore-era James Bond movies. I thought that the blurbs made it perfectly clear what type of stories they are, but I still sometimes get feedback from readers who objected to the lack of seriousness in the stories, as if they were expecting something like John Le Carre.

Can readers judge books however they want, or is it only fair to judge according to what the author's goals were? Also, how much responsibility does the author bear to convey what those goals are?
« Last Edit: May 19, 2017, 12:57:37 PM by JDDudley »

Offline Al Stevens

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1693
    • View Profile
What would these titles suggest if you did not already know them?

Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird
Fahrenheit 451
The Bad Seed
...

Offline AliceW

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1558
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
Can readers judge books however they want, or is it only fair to judge according to what the author's goals were? Also, how much responsibility does the author bear to convey what those goals are?

Yes, readers judge the book in their hands based on their expectations. If they look at the cover, read the blurb, and then encounter something different that is YOUR fault, not theirs. You have set them up with a false expectation. Rather than expecting readers to follow your brief, change your covers/blurb to convey the correct impression.

Offline ShayneRutherford

  • Status: Arthur C Clarke
  • *****
  • Posts: 2593
  • Toronto, Ontario
    • View Profile
    • My Website
Readers can judge books however they want.

A lot of times people will read more into a story than an author intended, but if a lot of readers are failing to realize that your books are supposed to be light/humorous, then there's probably a disconnect between your blurb/cover and your story.
     

Online Sarah Shaw

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 485
  • Gender: Female
  • Prague
    • View Profile
I don't think this is a question with a strict a or b answer. On the one hand, readers WILL judge your books according to their own criteria, however, idiosyncratic and confused. Nothing you can do about it. On the other hand, a writer is under no obligation to cater to the average or unsophisticated reader, either. What the writer intended is also important and the source of a lot of discussion in literature classes.

I remember arguing with my 9th grade English teacher about the meaning of the poem 'Luke Havergal. I loved the poem and the way it sounded- and there's certainly nothing wrong with enjoying any piece of writing on this level. But my teacher argued that by not understanding long-standing literary conventions and metaphors I was missing a deeper level of the poem. The 'Western Gate' is a reference to death that anyone who studies literature ought to know. Being wise in the ways of stubborn teenagers he gently pushed me to go beyond my superficial understanding and to learn to read more deeply.

On the other hand, writers who are striking out on their own without reference to any literary traditions or genre tropes should not expect readers to just accept them on their own terms. If the work appears to be one kind of book and turns out to be another, people will be disappointed.

Basically, it's on the writer to ride in on a recognizable beast and on the reader to know that a camel is not a horse- or a dragon.

Offline CynthiaClay

  • Status: Madeleine L'Engle
  • **
  • Posts: 85
    • View Profile
    • Cynthia Joyce Clay
I don't think this is a question with a strict a or b answer. On the one hand, readers WILL judge your books according to their own criteria, however, idiosyncratic and confused. Nothing you can do about it. On the other hand, a writer is under no obligation to cater to the average or unsophisticated reader, either. What the writer intended is also important and the source of a lot of discussion in literature classes.

I remember arguing with my 9th grade English teacher about the meaning of the poem 'Luke Havergal. I loved the poem and the way it sounded- and there's certainly nothing wrong with enjoying any piece of writing on this level. But my teacher argued that by not understanding long-standing literary conventions and metaphors I was missing a deeper level of the poem. The 'Western Gate' is a reference to death that anyone who studies literature ought to know. Being wise in the ways of stubborn teenagers he gently pushed me to go beyond my superficial understanding and to learn to read more deeply.

On the other hand, writers who are striking out on their own without reference to any literary traditions or genre tropes should not expect readers to just accept them on their own terms. If the work appears to be one kind of book and turns out to be another, people will be disappointed.

Basically, it's on the writer to ride in on a recognizable beast and on the reader to know that a camel is not a horse- or a dragon.

That's one terrific teacher you had!

Thanks for supporting my art.
Cynthia Joyce Clay | Cynthia Joyce Clay's Blog | Plays I've Filmed

Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

  • Status: Harvey Chute
  • *********
  • Posts: 12770
  • Gender: Female
  • New Jersey
  • Her Royal Sithiness
    • View Profile
    • Bards and Sages Publishing
Reader expectations are the results of your marketing efforts. Your book cover, your blurb, the categories you place the book in, how YOU present yourself in promotional material. The majority of "but the reader missed the point" complaints can be traced back to not providing the proper context and clarity up front.

Obviously, there are some people who are just dense. But they are not the majority. I've stopped reading dozens of books not because I "didn't get it." But because the author sold me X when the book was actually Y. If you tell me your book is a horror novel, I don't want to suffer 2/3rds of the book on the romance between the two main characters. If you tell me your book is sci-fi,  expect some actual science in it. And by the gods, if there is a dragon on the cover, there better be a dragon in the story! lol

Writer, Publisher, Game Designer, Resident Sith
Julie Ann Dawson | Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | eFesitival of Words

Online David J Normoyle

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 797
    • View Profile
    • David J Normoyle
Brandon Sanderson talks about making promises to the reader, then fulfilling those promises.

Generally readers are really good a picking up the tone of a piece. The problem is when that tone jumps around. No one reads Douglas Adams and complains that it isn't realistic enough. Douglas Adams has already hit the reader with a fistful of jokes in the first few paragraphs. Everyone knows what to expect.

In a very early scene, Guardians of the Galaxy has Quill doing a dance number, listening to 80s music, while he steals an infinity stone from a weird planet. The movie keeps that jokey tone throughout, and the movie works great despite having lots of hokey nonsense throughout.

If you want readers to appreciate the light/humorous moments in later parts of your novel, make sure there's lots of jokes and funny action in the first few scenes. First lines are especially great way to set tone and expectation. (Compare: "How does one describe Artemis Fowl? Various psychiatrists have tried and failed." with "I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather." If Artermis Fowl wasn't light and funny, the readers would be disappointed, and if Mockingjay wasn't full of dark pathos and heartfelt emotion, readers would be disappointed.)

Make your promises, then deliver.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2017, 01:15:29 PM by David J Normoyle »


David J. Normoyle | website | facebook

Online Sarah Shaw

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 485
  • Gender: Female
  • Prague
    • View Profile
That's one terrific teacher you had!

Yes, he was! Whenever anyone speaks contemptuously about literature I shake my head and think, "They should have had Mr. Carrigan!"

Offline Sue Ann C.

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 190
    • View Profile
    • Website & blog
Readers can judge books however they want.

Yes, they can and they do. It's fiction, you are free to write with any goals you desire and readers are free to interpret however they wish. It's really not possible to dictate or expect certain reactions or interpretations of your work. I learned that through years of writing short fiction, and came to appreciate the difference of opinions and reactions. If you write nonfiction, and readers miss the point, you have a problem, but fiction is wide open. 
« Last Edit: May 21, 2017, 06:32:30 PM by Sue Ann C. »

Sue Ann Connaughton | Website

Offline Dennis Chekalov

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 260
    • View Profile
Your The Clown Prince of Paris cover says Le Carre out loud. At least, to me.
Quote
Roger Moore-era James Bond movies.
Maybe you could mention this in your blurb.
Beta Reading & Developmental Editing Services. Free sample edit up to 1000 words.

Offline Guy Riessen

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 195
    • View Profile
    • Guy Riessen Author of Dark Fiction
So here's the deal, your covers do not indicate that the novels will be humorous, your blurb hints at it, and your look-inside sets the tone just fine.

A misunderstanding is more on the reader's head than yours, but if you want to clarify even more--add something cute or funny to your otherwise straight-up thriller cover. Like the guy on the Clown Prince of Paris is wearing a jester's hat, or he's holding a Harpo-style bike horn, or wearing a spraying water boutonniere, or whatever comic bent you want to present. Your blurb says the guy is a comedian as his "job" but in no other way indicates that humor will be a part of the story line. You could consider putting a pun or two in the blurb. And like I said, if you read the first page of the look inside you immediately see the bad "foul" pun.

All your ratings on Amazon are 5-star, so obviously those people "got it," so you don't really need to do anything else.

But I think a pun in the blurb--particularly if it's dropped before the fold--would fix the problem completely. That way even glancing at the page would indicate the story will be humorous.

Guy Riessen | website

Offline Guy Riessen

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 195
    • View Profile
    • Guy Riessen Author of Dark Fiction
Wait. Have the guy on the cover holding up a pistol with the stereotypical joke "BANG!" banner sticking out of the barrel. No mistaking that for Le Carre!

Guy Riessen | website

Offline ShayneRutherford

  • Status: Arthur C Clarke
  • *****
  • Posts: 2593
  • Toronto, Ontario
    • View Profile
    • My Website
Your The Clown Prince of Paris cover says Le Carre out loud. At least, to me.Maybe you could mention this in your blurb.

Your covers don't say humor at all. And although the blurb hints at it, if people already expect serious spy fic, they might not pick up on what little there is in the blurb.
     

Offline Eugene Kirk

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 202
    • View Profile
As a young kid, I was once very excited to look for "Hunchback of Notre Dame" in the library because I assumed it was about college football. Boy, was I disappointed. Which brings us to the issue of author intentions vs. reader expectations. Do you ever get feedback from readers or reviewers that you felt was completely missing the point of the story? Like the person who doesn't like "The Godfather" because it wasn't humorous enough, or that didn't like "Blazing Saddles" because it wasn't a realistic depiction of how the railroad industry in the old West actually worked.

On the one hand, some will argue that it is in the readers' hands to read something however they want it, and the author has no right to tell them how to read it. On the other, some will argue that it is unfair for readers to judge an author's work on the criteria of something that the author was clearly not setting out to do; that it would be akin to criticizing a baseball pitcher for not hitting enough home runs.

In my own experience, my current series of novels are comedic action thrillers, not full-blown parodies like Austin Powers, but something more along the lines of Jackie Chan or Roger Moore-era James Bond movies. I thought that the blurbs made it perfectly clear what type of stories they are, but I still sometimes get feedback from readers who objected to the lack of seriousness in the stories, as if they were expecting something like John Le Carre.

Can readers judge books however they want, or is it only fair to judge according to what the author's goals were? Also, how much responsibility does the author bear to convey what those goals are?

Hey Dudley,

You books sound very much similar in tone of mine. I too am going for a action orientated but slightly comedic feel. I think it's all in the cover and blurb. But I don't think it's possible to NOT attract the wrong reader and have them balk. At least a few of them anyway. I will say though the people who DO get it, really seem to enjoy it. Maybe because it's just a bit different than the norm.


Once Giants Series - Coming May 2017

Offline Lummox JR

  • Status: Arthur C Clarke
  • *****
  • Posts: 2572
  • Gender: Male
  • Syracuse, NY
    • View Profile
    • When I Become a Supervillain
Your covers are beautiful, but I can't help but wonder if they're pitching something more serious than you intend. (On the other hand, I don't know how the comedic part could be conveyed, short of going with something very hammy and a bit retro with the typography.) I haven't looked at the blurbs.
Aspiring supervillain, torturer of words, rantcrafter extraordinaire, and unlicensed blurb doctor


Offline noirhvy

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 533
    • View Profile
Norte Dame University stopped using Hunch Backs when the T Formation came in.
It is my experience that people want to put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole and get very upset and confused when a novel in not one or the other.
I wrote a novel that seems to be a private eye novel but its more of Hollywood History and to tell you the truth it's GasolineEnginePunk (just a bit more modern than SteamPunk).
How to find the "right" audience. Aye, there is the rub.

Online afshan.jaff

  • Status: Madeleine L'Engle
  • **
  • Posts: 58
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
    • Amazon
What would these titles suggest if you did not already know them?

Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird
Fahrenheit 451
The Bad Seed
...

I had always assumed that 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' is a crime thriller about a serial killer on a murder spree of opera singers.  :-X
Afshan Jaffery | Twitter

Offline Tulonsae

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 310
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
I had always assumed that 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' is a crime thriller about a serial killer on a murder spree of opera singers.  :-X

When I was young, I thought "To Kill a Mocking Bird" was about a girl who's pet bird had been killed (possibly by her father) and how she and the family coped. (Obviously, I watched too much Disney Tomasina type stories.) I still haven't read it. But since it's a favorite of many craft books to cite for examples, I know the general plot now.

Offline Jeff Tanyard

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1221
  • Gender: Male
  • Georgia
  • Wait and hope.
    • View Profile
    • My Blog
As a young kid, I was once very excited to look for "Hunchback of Notre Dame" in the library because I assumed it was about college football. Boy, was I disappointed.

Down... set... sanctuary!   ;)

Quote
it is in the readers' hands to read something however they want it, and the author has no right to tell them how to read it.

This.

When I was young, I thought "To Kill a Mocking Bird" was about a girl who's pet bird had been killed (possibly by her father) and how she and the family coped.

Even knowing the in-story meaning of it, I still don't like that title.  It's a "sin" to kill a mockingbird because they're such wonderful things who never hurt anybody?  Really?  Mockingbirds can be pretty mean.  I'm guessing Harper Lee never had an outdoor pet who was terrorized by the local mockingbird.  And let's not forget this fun characteristic:

Quote
Some types of mockingbirds are known to lay "alien eggs", or eggs that are laid in another bird's nest. Similar to the cowbird, the mockingbirds' offspring will force the other nest inhabitants from the nest, taking all the food from the parents and forcing the foster-parents to rear and fledge them.

In my opinion, a better title would have been To Kill a Bluebird.  That species more accurately reflects the sentiments of Miss Maudie.
Jeff Tanyard | Author Website

Offline Crystal_

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1787
  • Gender: Female
  • Portland, OR
    • View Profile
Some stories are easy to misinterpret than others. I have I've book where the two MCs have different ideas about why they relationship ended (it's a second chance romance). Their deeper feelings aren't revealed until the turning point. Lots of readers took them at face value. They really believed the break up was exactly as it appeared to the heroine. That doesn't make it a bad book. Just one that asks the reader to dive deeper. Not everyone does, which is fine too.

If you are consistently getting"wrong" reactions to the book, you may want to look at the packaging or the book itself.

Offline IreneP

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 958
  • Gender: Female
  • Austin, Texas
    • View Profile
    • IrenePreston.com

Can readers judge books however they want, or is it only fair to judge according to what the author's goals were? Also, how much responsibility does the author bear to convey what those goals are?

I'm firmly in the how they want camp. I actually view this as the last step in the artistic process and find it fascinating how different readers get different things out of my stories.

If a lot of readers are really off the mark, you might want to look at why. Where are they getting that impression and how can you fix it if it's not what you're trying to convey?

Offline Kyra Halland

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1307
  • Gender: Female
  • Arizona
    • View Profile
    • Welcome To My Worlds
Even knowing the in-story meaning of it, I still don't like that title.  It's a "sin" to kill a mockingbird because they're such wonderful things who never hurt anybody?  Really?  Mockingbirds can be pretty mean.  I'm guessing Harper Lee never had an outdoor pet who was terrorized by the local mockingbird.

My parents had a cat who developed an abscess on top of his head from being pecked there by a mockingbird. It was the cone of shame for him.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled authorly discussion.


Tales of fantasy, heroism, and romance.
Kyra Halland | Website | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Goodreads

Online RightHoJeeves

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 650
  • Gender: Male
  • Perth
    • View Profile
    • Lawson Copywriting


Seriously though, I would agree with others that your covers don't really convey humour. They seem to be really good covers for slightly different books.

When you say humour spy fiction, my mind immediately went to the Charlie Mortdecai novels:

James Lawson

Online Dolphin

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1636
  • Gender: Male
  • Under the Sea
  • Skree'ee--eee, eeek!
    • View Profile
If a reader doesn't get your book, it's because 1) you screwed up, and/or 2) they're not one of your readers. You avoid #1 by writing and editing well. You avoid #2 by publishing and marketing well.

Still, there is a degree to which this cannot and should not be avoided.

Once you become a household name and your oeuvre is taught globally at the secondary level, your work will be forced upon millions annually. Many of them will sneeringly discard it and consult Cliff's Notes or perhaps Yahoo Answers to pen their book reports. "It had such a good premise," they'll say, "but the author ruined it with his self-indulgent attempts to prove his own wit. Newsflash: you're not quirky, you're tedious."

This is the highest form of success for an author. This is how you will know you have arrived.