What a reader wants
by Jessa Slade on February 2nd, 2009

Currently working on: The big 3/4 fubar
Mood: Gleeful

I consider myself first and foremost a reader. I learned phonetics with LOTR. (Ar-Sakalthôr, anyone? How about Tar-Ancalimon? Númenor didn’t fall to hubris but to unwieldy names — Sorry, I should’ve called geek alert first). I read Black Beauty 11 times in a row. My bookshelf spilleth over. I am reader; hear me slap down plastic at Powells Books!

That said, I have no idea what readers want. When I go through Powells endless stacks or I search my library’s collection online, I am amazed at how many choices there are, especially when I can’t quite imagine who those titles might appeal to — or why.

Sample these delights from Bookseller’s 2008 oddest book titles:

  • I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen, by Jasper McCutcheon
  • Cheese Problems Solved, edited by P L H McSweeney
  • If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs, by Big Boom
  • And of particular interest to the writers among us: How to Write a How to Write Book, by Brian Piddock
  • Though the impossible urge is to please everyone, I’ll have to go with what my mother told me about my story. My mama said: It better have a happy ending.

    Demons were okay by her. And premarital sex (in fiction, at least). And some other fairly intense questioning of various “truths.” Fine, fine. But there better be a happy ending.

    So maybe that encapsulates what every reader wants, from any genre she is reading? She wants a happy ending. Maybe not a great love between the hero and heroine as is the case in romance, but the happiness of a story that comes to its promised — if not necessarily expected — conclusion. The killer is caught. The mystery solved. The world is saved. The cowboy rides into the sunset. Ah.

    Scientific analysis of a dog’s ‘happy end.’

    As a reader, when I turn the last page, I want to be left in ‘ah.’ As a writer, I seek that ah-ful, ah-some moment of Happily Ever Ah-fter.

    Besides, I figure, if I can’t please everyone, I can at least please my mom.

    Out of curiosity, what have you done — or refused to do — to meet the expectations of your mother or someone else who mattered to you? In the end, did it feel right or wrong? How do you balance the expectations of others with what you want for yourself?

    P.S. Mom, you’re all good; stories with happy endings were the only ones I ever wanted to write.

    14 comments to “What a reader wants”

    1. 1

      I’ve asked myself the same questions – when reading a book, picking a book and trying to figure out what to write… And I’ve asked other people too and they all agree with your mom :) Whatever the story, a happy ending will win the day!! As for balancing the demands of others with my own wants – most days I’d say that I do it really well but other days I’d say that I either end up doing everything possible to please others or everything possible to please myself; it mostly just depends on my mood :)


    2. 2

      Hi all

      Hmm, happy endings. I seriously loved reading Jeanie Frost’s Night Huntress series, but was devastated when I got to the end of book one to find no happy ending… just as well book two came to the rescue with the ‘ah’ factor! :smile:

      My family expectations would have to be that “a person is only as good as their word”.


    3. 3

      I get so mad when books dont end with the ah factor. And it doesnt even change if I liked the book or not, I’m just annoyed waiting for the sequel, which hopefully there will be one.

      I try to do things to make and keep my mom happy but we just differ on a lot of opinions so some stuff we just dont talk about. Like certain TV shows, movies, books.


    4. 4

      I’d have to say that the expectation I met for my parents was not compromising on my dreams. I think they were a bit dismayed to see where that led me (i.e. down the long, bumpy road to publication), but they always wanted me to be happy.


    5. 5

      Caroline, I cheated: I read book 2 of Cat & Bones first. So I got the ah I needed and went back for book 1.


    6. 6

      [...] a chance to win a copy of RAVENOUS, leave a comment at our group blog where I posted about what readers want — as if I know — and talked smack about my [...]


    7. 7

      As soon as my parents got wind of the fact that I was writing a book, they fully, wholeheartedly expected me to become published. Not too much pressure! What didn’t I do to meet their expectations? Well, I’m sure my house is never as clean as mom would like to see it. But if it were, I’d never have time to be a published author!


    8. 8

      Characters I can invest in, good dialogue and easy on the scenery description.


    9. 9

      An ah ending is required, not a happy ending, just read Hemingway.


    10. 10

      As I grew up on Science Fiction, my primary expectation is a big, interesting idea that is somehow divulged through a good story. If the idea is innovative and the characters draw me in, all the better. I don’t have to get the happy ending, but the bad guys must get their come uppance and the ending for the protagonist must at least be satisfying –meaning it makes sense given the story arc.

      I just easily toss a book against the wall that has a happy ending that doesn’t make sense, as much as those where the happy ending is right there but the author doesn’t go for it. Another misstep, in my mind, is when everything is delivered perfectly by the author and then he/she adds an epilogue that isn’t needed. It kind of spoils the moment for me. But I guess I’m a pretty picky reader. :)


    11. 11

      Hey, Francois, welcome home, world-traveler. Speaking of world-weary travelers, Hemingway’s end might not have been a happy-happy one in the romantic sense, but it was entirely fitting in the trageo-romantic worlds he created. He lived — and died — very much like his characters. Did that make him happy, do you think?


    12. 12

      Of course there was my aunt’s response to my happy-ending book: “Have you thought of writing mysteries?” Apparently, for some, the HEA just isn’t enough …


    13. 13

      I wonder the same thing Jessa…what DO readers want? I read to try to figure that out, and would dare you to see who’s TBR pile is taller and not fitting into the deep shelf it’s squeezed into :) , yours or mine?

      In Portland, there’s a wonderful readers group on the west side I would love to participate in, but I live exactly in the opposite direction, as the crow flies east, many, many, many miles into the mountains. I wish there were a readers group on my side of town, then maybe I could begin to answer that question :)

      On the subject of mothers…mine believes the *external* life we are living is just trappings for the inner journey we are taking. I don’t disagree with her. The nut didn’t fall far from her tree :) Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother, but sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with her :D


    14. 14

      I need a satisfying ending. The villains can still be around, just no longer a threat. The hero/heroine don’t have to pledge undying love but must be wiser and happier.


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