One Writer’s Journey

October 3, 2014

Keeping Promises to Your Reader: What I learned from my September Reading

Promise me a secret and you had better deliver.  I’m serious.  If your title includes the word secret, there had better be a worthwhile secret.  For a magazine article, one secret will probably do.  After all, reading a magazine article isn’t a huge time commitment.  But if you promise me a secret in a book length work, you had better deliver and the size of the secret had better correspond to the size of the book.

I’m seeing a lot of work lately where the author uses words like secret, mysterious, or blood to tempt the reader.  “Come here!  I’ve got a secret/a mystery/something super scary to share.”  The reader cues in on whatever buzz word you used (secret, danger, blood) and knows what to expect.

Or at least they should. And the promise needs to lead to something worthy of the readers investment.

This means that for a longer book-length work, the payoff needs to be HUGE. It needs to be worth the effort it took the reader to get there.  There’s nothing worse as a reader than to get to the end of the manuscript and feel like you’ve been cheated.

Stephanie Bearce does a great job in her Secret Files series.  No one secret carries the whole book but she has a lot of potential secrets to chose from since these are books about spies, secret missions and more.  She loads the books down with facts and secret tid bits galore.

This payoff is just as important in an ominous book. Laura McHugh promises the reader a story about the weight of blood.  Mention weight and blood together like that and the reader knows that there is something big, something heavy.  I’m not going to tell you what because any detail would be a huge plot spoiler and this book is worth reading.  It is far from an easy read but this author knows how to use atmosphere to keep you turning the pages even when you know you are not going to like what happens next.

You may not love it, but you can’t look away and you knew what to expect.

That’s better than a broken promise.  Do this, and you are going to lose readers whether they be editors, agents or people who bought your book.

Instead, make an accurate promise and deliver.  Your readers will love you for it.  We’re fickle that way!

Now on to my list for September.

  1. Bailey. Catherine.  The Secret Rooms.
  2. Bearce Stephanie.  Top Secret Files:  The Civil War (Profrock Press)
  3. Bearce Stephanie.  Top Secret Files:  World War II (Profrock Press)
  4. Black, Holly.  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Little Brown)
  5. Chatelain, Jeremy.  May the Stars Drop Down (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
  6. Gildwitz, Adam.  In a Glass Grimmly (Dutton Children’s Books)
  7. Ingalls, Ann.  Ice Cream Soup (Penguin Young Readers)
  8. Mazer, Ann. The Salamander Room (Dragonfly Books)
  9. McHugh, Laura.  The Weight of Blood: A Novel 
  10. Morales, Yuyi.  Viva Frida (A Neal Porter Book: Roaring Brook Press)
  11. Rosenstock, Barb.  The Noisy Pain Box (Alfred A. Knopf)
  12. Smith, Jeff.  Out from Boneville (Scholastic)

What have you been reading?



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