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!)