Recently I received a copy of a publication I had hoped to submit a story to. I wanted to check out this collection, as freelancers are told to do, so I would know the tone and tenor of the stories that made it in print. My expectations were quite high, to be honest. I supposed this particular publication to be of the literary variety, and probably my writing wouldn’t fit, but nevertheless, on that outside chance, I was willing to pay the price of the collection to find out.

When it arrived, I was a little taken aback. The cover was … a bit amateurish, but still, I looked forward to sitting down with it and diving into the stories. Except that most of the publication was not “stories,” but poetry and art work as well. OK, I could live with that, though I now also noticed the amateurish look of the entire publication.

When I finally did begin reading the stories, is it any wonder my mindset, once prepared to consider the stories on a plane above my own writing and admire them from afar, shifted? The look of the publication altered my expectations.

This is a little shocking to me, because I’ve claimed for a long time I hardly notice covers of books or the quality of the paper or the color of the font and such. Yet, undoubtedly those things and others have played a part in creating my expectations for stories.

The real lesson for me, however, is about meeting expectations. In some ways we authors create expectations. If I categorize myself as a fantasy writer, I need to create a fantasy world or some fantasy elements in this world. Otherwise, a reader coming to the work expecting to find a place that is Other would have unmet expectations.

I’m convinced unmet expectations are the greatest cause of reader dissatisfaction.

Which brings me to another point. When an author pitches a book, either to an agent or editor, or on the back cover to readers, he needs to be truthful. Because of marketing, I think we have fallen into hyperbole. But in reality, when I read “the next Tolkien” in an endorsement or a back cover blurb, I’m not sold. I sort of roll my eyes and think, One more in the crowd of NOT Tolkien.

In other words, if a book makes this comparison to the best, I’ve already written it off. Why is that? The claim creates an expectation I don’t think can be met. I’m disappointed before I ever start.

Could be no one else reacts this way. I’m interested, though, in what creates high expectations for others. Reading a review? A recommendation from a friend? The book cover? The forward matter (a cool map, for instance)? The feel of the paper? The back cover blurb? The first page? What gives you your reading experience expectations?

Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 12:53 pm  Comments (7)  
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