Are You Delivering?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

While scrolling through my pile-up of emails last week, I screeched to a stop at a YA title. I don’t recall the writer, but this self-pubbed author had done the first right thing. She’d grabbed my attention immediately with an intriguing title. Yay!

In fact, she’d done several right things, from a marketing standpoint. She’d gotten her new and intriguing title out there in the right places, and, I noticed, she’d already garnered quite a few reviews.

Which is great from my standpoint. When I don’t know an author’s work, I’ll read a couple of reviews. And my favorite place to skim reviews is Goodreads. I feel like I get a fairly balanced bunch of reviews and the reviewers tend to be savvy readers. So when I saw a similar criticism showing up in several reviews, I passed on this YA novel.

The book had a great title, and it had a compelling blurb. But the book itself wasn’t what was promised in the title and the blurb. Time and time again, reviewers complained about expecting a story on a certain topic only to find that the book wasn’t really about this topic at all.

Unfortunately, this author had done one big wrong thing: she hadn’t delivered on what she’d promised.

It’s possible that the author made an innocent mistake; perhaps she didn’t really understand what her book was about. But it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that she pulled the old bait-and-switch on her target audience. And in doing so, her readers felt duped, and she hurt her marketing strategy. And that was a shame, because she managed to get her book into the hands of an impressive number of readers.

You’re probably thinking that this doesn’t happen very often so you don’t need to worry about your book not delivering. But take it from someone who’s received way more than one critique along those lines. It’s pretty common. In fact, I’m avoiding a revision right now because I know that it requires a major rewrite. I didn’t write a story about what I promised in the title and first chapter.

So how to make sure that you are delivering on what you’ve promised? First, make sure you know what your story or novel is about. If you can sum it up in one good sentence, then you’re off to a decent start.

Next, read your story with that sentence in mind. When or if the story veers too far off the rails from where it began, it’s probably time to stop and get things back on track.

And last, get feedback, either from your critique group, beta readers, or a professional editor. If you hear, “I thought this book/story was going to be about…” then prepare to take notes. You haven’t delivered on your promise.

And please, do this work before you put your book out there. Revisions may not be fun, but they can fix a whole lot of problems. On the other hand, if you’re facing a whole slew of bad reviews? There’s no easy fix when you don’t deliver the goods.

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer and she will get to that rewrite right after she finishes revising her latest middle grade novel. (She does finish stuff, honest, and you can find out what if you check out Cathy here! Um, check out her blog. Her blog!)


Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Such great advice here, especially being able to whittle a story down to a single sentence. That IS important, and in my editing work I've found that authors who cannot do that when I ask usually have a ms that's all over the place. And boy, do I feel for that YA author. Waiting for reviews is torture all by itself, let alone the scenario you've described. Another great post, M Yoda!

Angela Mackintosh said...

This is super common in articles--the article content not living up to the promise of the title, which is bad, but an entire book is so much worse! Yikes. Cath, maybe you should use the blurb as a prompt and write the real novel, how it should be. :)

Pat Wahler said...

As always, excellent advice, Cathy!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--I hope that someday I get the chance to "deliver" a book that's the whole package. Thanks for the advice.

Renee Roberson said...

I've definitely failed to deliver a time or two myself. I remember submitting a book synopsis and opening pages to an editor I met at SCBWI one year. She sent back a gracious note basically saying that the concept was intriguing for a middle grade novel but I had failed to deliver (My words, not hers). It was true, and it helped me see there was more work to be done!

Mary Horner said...

Great reminder to keep your focus and deliver what you (and your title) promise!

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