What Do Readers Want?

AJ and I continued talking about the subject of self-publishing versus going through a publisher today. We can’t seem to leave it alone this week.

My recent release is getting average ratings when I expected more. I don’t understand it. It’s well-written, has an interesting story and two likable main characters, and a terrific couple of locations. But I’m getting average reviews. Sure, there’s been the odd four- and five-star review, and a couple of lousy ones, but most have fallen in the middle at three. I’m talking about Goodreads, a site many writers see as the bane of their existence, but none of us can stop from visiting to see how our latest is doing.

I asked AJ if I was full of shit, if maybe my perspective on what constitutes an entertaining read was so badly off, I wouldn’t recognize good from bad. He was as mystified as me.

A couple hours later, he shook me by the shoulders and said, “I figured it out!”

According to him, I write men like men. I do not write men with women inside. They don’t over-emote, they don’t obsess. Sure, they have feelings and emotions, but they aren’t spending every minute of every day analyzing them.

He said, “I’m reading a book right now that has what I call girly men in it. It’s not very good, but it’s getting four-star reviews. One reviewer even said it was the emotional connections between the characters that lifted it to that level.”

So…because my guys don’t emote all over the place, female readers won’t like my stories? I rolled my eyes and got even more depressed. It’s been a horrible week for me, confidence-wise. I’ve been vacillating between hope and utter despair in regard to my writing. I didn’t write at all yesterday, I’ve been so bummed.

AJ continued. “You’re not writing straight romance, and your male characters are men, not  pseudo-men who act like women. That’s who’s mostly writing them, ya know. Women. And a lot of them can’t wrap their head around how a man really acts in life. That’s why they’re protesting the so-called cheating in the book on GR.”

“They want to read about men who act like women.”

“This particular audience does, yeah. You have to find your target audience, or they have to find you. Don’t give up!”

Yeah, well. The financial wolf is howling at the door and if this was some melodrama, snow would be flying, my fingers would be freezing, and the cupboards would be bare.

When did writing because such a pain in the ass?

Many years ago, I read about a book called The Beans of Egypt, Maine. I don’t recall the writer’s name, but it got lauded in the New York Times and reviewers couldn’t say enough good things about it. The author would take an entire day to write one sentence. She spent years getting every word in the book exactly right. It was going to be the next Great American Novel, or so it was said.

No one read it.

I’m not sure if this should make me feel better or drive me to suicide.

About Theo Fenraven

Theo Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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4 Responses to What Do Readers Want?

  1. W. Lotus says:

    This would be why I stopped reading mainstream romance novels: I got sick of the over-emoting, etc., etc., etc.

    Anyway, AJ is right: you need to find YOUR target audience, not write to an audience whose desires mean writing tripe you’d be vomiting over before you finished your first paragraph.

    What writers in the genre do you like to read? Where is their audience? Can you write to their audience?

    • I like Jordan Castillo Price. She writes men. Also, Marie Sexton, or at least I enjoyed the one book I read by her. Other than them? I can’t think of anyone! How sad is that?

      I’ve learned reviews don’t mean a thing. They’re subjective. For instance, I kept seeing an ad for an m/m book by someone I wasn’t familiar with, but the blurb sounded terrific, so I bought it.

      I had the hardest damn time finishing it. The men were saps, their dialog was Indiana Jones lite, and the plot wasn’t even that good. I hated it.

  2. akblkgold says:

    THIS is EXACTLY why I read you & AJ … you write like MEN … not women! Thank you very much! Your books are sharp, articulate & NOT full of foo foo speak … guys talk & think & act like your characters … not like woman speak MCs. Very few women have listened to & observed men close enough to instill their characters with the right resonance. Putting jeans & a flannel shirt on a character & calling them a male does NOT wash! Thank goodness for the differences! Why I LOVE your books … guy books!!!

    • :) Thanks. I’m still seeing (and not reading) these books, so they must be popular with the ladies, eh? To each their own, but I prefer a more masculine tone in the books I read.

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