We always say not to judge a book by its cover. If you've been in the game for a while, though, you know that readers are going to do just that. They make judgments based on you as the author, your name, your genre, your cover art, and a thousand other little details that get calculated in the first few seconds of exposure. The same thing happens as soon as someone hears your sales pitch. No matter how fine-tuned you've got it, they're going to have reached certain conclusions before you get even halfway through it.
It does you no good to ignore this, or to wish that it didn't happen. The human mind forms judgments and separates things into categories. However, with a little bit of strategy, you can actually hack this tendency in order to surprise your readers and catch them off guard.
Also, before I forget, make sure you sign up for my weekly newsletter to get updates on all my latest releases and new projects!
Speaking of My Latest Book...
My latest release is a perfect example of reader assumptions in action, and before I even typed the first word of the first chapter I could already hear readers dismissing it as a cozy mystery or a YA novel because my main character was a cat, and the cast was made up of street-level animals. As most folks who've read Marked Territory already know, however, this book does not pull punches when it comes time for the cast to throw down... and alley cats are nasty, vicious creatures when the claws come out.
|Seriously, go get your copy today if you don't believe me!|
For some readers (judging from the comments I got on social media) this was pretty jarring. They saw there was a cat on the cover, and read the blurb about him helping out a bunch of strays on the south side, and assumed this was gonna be a bloodless tale of a bruiser with a heart of gold. The book is far more similar to stuff you'd see from Dashiell Hammett or Robert B. Parker in terms of content, though, and tends to focus a lot more on underworld figures and solving the central mystery. When violence breaks out, though, it's short, nasty, and brutal.
Using Their Assumptions To Your Advantage
Some people will argue that if your book runs counter to what someone thought it would be, then it's your fault for not putting some sort of indicator on it. On the other hand, some people believe that it's the consumers job to check what they're purchasing, such as how parents who took their kids to see Watchmen in theaters had only themselves to blame for ignoring the R rating because it was, "just a superhero movie," and should have been safe for the little ones' eyes.
|I tend to fall into the latter category, for those who are curious.|
On the one hand, I can confirm that you're going to have to field questions from people who want to check their own assumptions. And if you answer honestly, you very well might lose a sale or two (I've run into this with people looking to buy a book for a particularly young reader, and that is definitely not my audience). You're also going to receive at least a few strident comments from people if they bought a book expecting it to be one thing, and it turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.
With that said, anything that makes you stand out from the rest of the field (and which gets people talking) isn't something you should avoid!
I've had conversations with several authors, especially newer ones, who worry that stepping too far outside of genre conventions and reader expectations will mean their stories aren't as widely read or accepted. However, I'd venture that if everybody else is trying to fit in, and you're willing to stand out, then people are going to notice you a lot more often than they will your peers.
If you're worried about not fitting a formula or confounding expectations, don't worry. That might just be what you need to get people to sit up and take notice!
Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!
That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list.