Reader Frustration

So let me give you the background. As long as we’ve been together soulmate and I have two rules: Every night we’re apart we talk at eleven at night. That’s eleven for whoever is earliest, and sometimes when it’s hard to connect (think Australia or China) it might be every other night. The other is if we can possibly be together, Friday nights are sacred. So we were planning to be together last Friday night, but mother nature intervened (no, not THAT way). A foot of snow – snowed in, snowed out. We couldn’t be together. So I started reading Debbie Macomber’s new book, “An Engagement in Seattle.” I picked it up the same time I bought Nora Roberts’ new one. (More on that later).

Being somewhat frustrated already I didn’t want to “Read Like A Writer” (A good book, by the way) – I wanted to just read for enjoyment. So I started in. I’ve been reading two books lately that are excellent for my genre – Passionate Ink, by Angela Knight, and the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance (which is much better than it sounds) by Alison Kent. So even though I wasn’t consciously doing it, I was following the subtle building of sexual tension in Debbie’s book, marveling at the excellent use of Goals, Manipulation, and Conflict. I thought it was almost text book – for the first time I was following a lot of stuff I’ve read about, and it really added to my enjoyment of the book even though that wasn’t what I intended.

I’ve been in editing mode for the last several months, and I was even able to giggle when I came across an obvious typo – unfortunately it was the kind of thing that just pulls you out of the book until you figure out what she really meant. (Note to self: Don’t do that) But I kept on going. For one hundred and forty nine pages I loved gentle kisses, sensuous touches, and subtle innuendo. I’d like to quote what came next…

“He removed her bra and panties.

Then his own clothes came off…

Afterward neither spoke.”

What? Dot-dot-dot? After that long teasing beginning? What is this, Mama Mia? (which we’ve all seen seven times and know all the words to, right?). Angela constantly refers to a reader getting frustrated with our work and throwing the book across the room. I’d never read something that made me feel that way. Until now. I literally haven’t picked it up since. I’m not mentioning this to bash the book. In many ways it’s a beautiful read. That’s not the point. For me personally, it was an object lesson. Do NOT disappoint your reader.

This is a New York Times top 10 best-seller. Unless I’ve got her confused with someone else I think she has described coitus considerably less succinctly before. Then I looked at the stuff in the beginning of the book you always skip over. Turns out the two stories were written nineteen years ago – she and her editor decided to blow the dust off and send them out. A lot of girls must have bought the book to make it to the NYT list.

Ok, so maybe it makes sense. Maybe nineteen years has made a lot of difference in our expectations. Or… does that mean that there are a lot of disappointed readers out there? Or does that mean that mainstream romance just became slightly less explicit? Or does it mean anything? Can’t help but wonder. Let me know what you think.

Love,

Erika

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4 Responses to Reader Frustration

  1. Hi Erika,
    I can understand your frustration if you weren’t aware that Ms. Macomber is a PG writer. That is why Harlequin is so blatant about their lines – Home & Hearth, Tender, Passionate – the reader kind of knows what she/he is in for when they pick up the book. However, there can potentially be problems with that, too. Even in lines like Medical Romance or Special Edition, the authors vary in the sensuality level. Some write hot and some write chaste. I tried to close the door on the love scene between one of my hero and heroines and my editor wouldn’t let me! In fact, she asked me to write a second love scene for that book. I guess, once reader expectations are in place, the author should be consistent, or run the risk of frustrating the readers!

    I hope it doesn’t rain this Friday for you and your soulmate!

    • erikamoran says:

      Lynne,

      Thank you for your response. I certainly was mistaken – I did think I had read something of hers before that ran at a higher level of explicit description, so the error was mine – I had expectations that simply weren’t going to be met. I wanted to hold off answering until I got a chance to look at the book closely and indeed, way at the bottom of the copyright page, in teeny tiny letters, it tells you that if you have a question you should call Customer Care at Harlequin. So now I know – Mira Books is part of Harlequin.

      The fact that there were two stories each around 240 pages should have been a dead giveaway. So should the fact that the stories had a sweetness to them that you seldom see. I was in a hurry, and this was a secondary purchase.

      But the fact is that it was a lesson for me, since I am early in my writing career. Don’t disappoint the reader. In this case the mistaken expectations were mine – but being careful about raising the reader’s expectations and not meeting them is something I now know I’ll be very careful about.

      Thanks again for the insight, Lynne

      Erika

  2. Laura Sheehan says:

    I’ve been there, girl, and I feel ya! I’ve had those moments too… With more erotic authors it’s usually pretty obvious early on that they aren’t going to hold back on the good stuff, but with other writers you don’t know until much further into the book. Sometimes I reach the end of a “romance” novel and the characters don’t even KISS until the final page! That irks me a bit, but if the rest of the story was good enough to hold up the novel, I’ll forgive the author. That’s another reason I pay close attention to the reviewer blurbs and back-of-the-novel summaries. Words like “steamy,” or “hot,” or “sizzling,” or “passionate” are usually good keys to let me know that the book has the level of intimacy I enjoy… but sometimes you are deceived nonetheless.

    Worst, though, is the unsatisfactory ending! Rare in romance novels, but rampant in fantasy novels, it DRIVES ME UP THE WALL. I wanted to key Robin Hobb’s car after finishing her Farseer Trilogy (an EXCELLENT fantasy trilogy that ended in the worst possible way). It was so terrible that she ended up writing two more trilogies to give her characters a proper conclusion. I was literally in tears when I found out she had written those other two trilogies; I was so devastated when I thought she had left off her characters the way she had at the end of the first set!

    • erikamoran says:

      Laura,

      Thank you for stopping by my blog, and thank you for the comment. In a way I have only myself to blame – I’ve been so submerged in erotica – almost every thing I’ve worked on for the last year has been overly sexy. There are some excerpts on my website, and I’ve just been working on stories like that, so I probably expected that was what I was going to read without thinking about it. I didn’t look for those special words – in fact all I did was see that it looked like a romance and toss it into the basket on top of Nora Roberts’ new book, which is really why I went down that aisle in the first place.

      I pay a lot of attention to the way I end things – to me it’s the whole reason someone reads my work – to see where the story goes and be happy with that. If it isn’t a satifying conclusion I think I’ve failed. But I am early in my writing career – thank you for the reminder.

      I do occasionally write fantasy and I’ll try not to disappoint – if I do just let me know. The car is scratched up enough as it is 🙂

      Thanks again,

      Erika

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