Monday, November 23, 2009

The Reader is Always Right

We talk about editors.

We talk about authors.

We talk about agents.

We talk about contests.

Now, let’s talk about readers.

Can I let you in on a little secret? Without readers, we wouldn’t need any of the above. Readers are the lifeblood of this whole industry. Sure, we all know that, but I don’t think it hurts to be reminded every so often.

My boss has a big sign on his door that says, “The customer is always right.” And he believes in it. His first reaction to every complaint is that the customer is always right. Granted, we see some customers that we’re pretty sure aren’t right, but we run with that motto as long as we possibly can.


He has another sign taped to the wall in the copier room. “The sale is not complete until the product is worn out, and the customer is still satisfied.”

Where’s the proof in that? One example: I have a dog-eared copy of Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It’s falling apart, and I’m still satisfied!

So, let’s insert the word reader instead of customer. The reader is always right. Right?

No? Well, maybe not the reader who sends you that snarky letter detailing every misspelled word in your book, or telling you that she can’t stand your hero, or hates your heroine’s name because her ex’s new girlfriend has the same name. But given the correct spin, that reader can be redeemed, and go on to be your lifelong fan. Give it your best shot, and if they can’t be won over, you’ve done the best you can.

As a reader, I want to read stories that suck me in and hold me down until the last page. I love inspirational historical romance, but I also enjoy romantic suspense, contemporary romance, women’s fiction, a little sci-fi/fantasy, intrique, but none of those genre labels mean a thing if the story I’m reading is flat, flat, flat, or boring, boring, boring, or if the plot is half-baked.

An aside: In my day job, we purchase a product that looks a lot like a car radiator. There are several testing procedures these radiators have to go through before the manufacturer ships them to us. One test is immersion in a tank of water and air is pumped through the radiator. If there are bubbles, there is a hole somewhere, right? Recently, one of these had a hole the size of a pencil eraser, but had been stamped as tested.


We want the reader to be happy, to love our books, and keep coming back for more. To do that, we don’t want to skimp on story, character, plot, the editing process, or packaging. Offer your readers the absolute best product you can. Don’t cut corners on any part of the process.

Nobody stays in business offering a shoddy product.

Maybe I’m prejudiced, but it seems that my published Seeker sisters, their agents, and editors all partner together to offer a product that keeps the customer happy, and that’s what it’s all about. Give the customer what she wants as much as it is in your power.

Bottom line: the reader is always right….or they won’t remain a reader for long. And without readers, where would we be?

Happy reading!!


  1. Pam,

    This is a good point. I also think it helps if we can step back and become our own first reader. I recently heard Michael Connelly say he writes stories that he personally would want to read.


  2. Morning Pam, Great reminder. One thing I was told when I started to write. "Write what you love to read" Since I love to read romance, that is what I write. But first and foremost I'm a reader. smile

    I was also told that publishers stick to their guidelines because their readers know what kind of read they will get from them. They are first and foremost true to their "customers" or readers.

    I have chocolate velvet coffee as well as caramel truffle coffee and I'm going to curl up on the couch and READ right now.

    Oh yes, there are some bagels and different flavored cream cheeses to munch on until Ruthy shows up with more goodies.

  3. Exactly, Pammer. Which is why we also say, No emotion for the writer, no emotion for the reader.

    Well said.

    Plain ole java for me. Thanks Sandra.

  4. And in approximately 7 days I get to do nothing but read Seeker books and all my bedside toppling piles for four weeks.

    Woo hoo. I love writing vacations.

  5. Pam,
    Great post and great reminder.
    I have one of those dog-eared copies of Redeeming Love too ;-) and my copy of Petticoat Ranch and a Passion Denied are starting to get a bit shoddy as well.

    I have two good friends who are avid readers - not writers, but they are faithful to critique my work. Their insight is invaluable to me, because they are reading for the 'joy' of it, not for the 'editing' of it.

    Last week, my bff returned my first chapter of a new ms and said, "It seems a bit stilted, Pep. I had a hard time getting into it. Once I made it through the first few pages, it flowed well, but I didn't connect with the heroine right away."

    Wow - good info to know and when I reread it? She was RIGHT. Praise God for readers - and especially those loving friendly ones :-)

  6. Pam, YES!

    Simple. Concise. On target. You get a Ruthy gold star. Readership is clutch for an author. Huge. Mammoth. Umm... really big!


    Caramel coffee, Sandra???? And real cream with a hint of chocolate.

    Oh this must be part of God's plan because it feels like heaven.

    And Tina's not lying. I saw the books in Denver. Her pile is higher than mine. Amazing, and what fun to look forward to!

    Everywhere I go in upstate, Missy Tippens book is SOLD OUT.

    Every Wal-Mart. Every grocery store.

    (I don't do Target because they don't allow Salvation Army bell ringers. Brats.)

    Missy, so proud of you!!!!!!! YAY!!!

    Pammers, I can't wait until you have your very own readers. So overdue, my friend. When they get a hold of your wonderful historicals and amazing voice for contemporary Southern, they'll be clamoring.

    Pumpkin rolls to start off Thanksgiving week. With cream cheese filling, of course.

    Tender, moist, Ruthy-cake. Sweet filling, gently sugared and rolled, then sliced for your delighted pleasure.

    Oh, yum.


  7. Thanks, Pam, for an important reminder. Without our readers where would we be? I'm grateful for mine, especially those who take the time to send an e-mail after they've read my book. That connection is precious!

    Ruthy, care to share the recipe for the yummy pumpkin roll?


  8. Morning all! I've got to head out to the day job, and keep an eye on that QC (quality control) we've been talking about here!

    Sandra's comment reminded me of one thing, though. Technically, publishers are our "customers", but then they're answering to their customers, the readers.

    We should write to please the publisher, as the publisher aims to please the reader. It's a win-win situation.

  9. Great post, Pam! Readers are what it's all about. And as a writer with a debut book out, I can tell you first hand how wonderful the reader letters are when you reward them with what they consider a "good read."

  10. Pam,

    The company where my hubby worked for 11 years before he lost his job due to economic downsizing makes radiators and engine cooling systems, too, so I understood your QC comment.

    Speaking as a reader, I absolutely love one of Suzanne Brockmann's older series, especially the first book--Prince Joe. Prince Joe is tabbed, creased, and well read. But I'm not as thrilled with her newest books. So she's losing me as a reader.

    As writers we are not going to please everyone all the time, so we need to write the stories of our hearts and let God do the rest.

  11. Mornin', Pam ... Very interesting take on the customer is always right -- a philosophy I absolutely believe in. I never thought of relating it to readers, but you're right -- we have to please our readership or we won't sell books, period. But we also have to remember that not everyone is our readership, so we can't change our focus for the disgruntled few.

    I agree with Cathy who said that Michael Connelly says he writes stories he personally would want to read. I know I do -- I basically write for an audience of two -- God and me. And if there are crazy women out there just like me that like a hefty dose of passion and drama with their spiritual reading, well, then, that's my readership! And THOSE are the gals I need to please or like Lisa mentioned, they will stop reading my books ... and probably I would too! :)


  12. Oh so true, Pam. Sure a reader can be coming from some strange place where your book pinches, and they're reaction isn't what you meant by your writing at all.

    But even then, we need to ask as writers, "Why did the reader feel that way? What can I do to NOT affect a reader that way?"

    This also plays into branding. A reader comes to one of my books with EXPECTATIONS. It is DANGEROUS to not meet those expectations. I've got a personal thin skin about a book I'm reading thinking it's a romance that doesn't have a happy ending. Really majorly unhappy about such a thing. It's not that I don't think authors should be allowed to try different things.

    Just WARN ME.

  13. What a great array of coffee and snacks, and good advice about the readers and guidelines -- they know what to expect.

  14. I have, in the last few years, had some of my favorite authors seriously disappoint me. I'm not naming names.

    But I just get a HUGE impression that the money is TOO GOOD and they are out of ideas but they can't say no to that new contract. As an author, this terrifies me. That the day will come when I start writing substandard stuff because I'm burned out, but I keep writing anyway. I hope that day never comes. And if it does, well, I guess I hope someone has the nerve to tell me to SHAPE UP or QUIT.

  15. I sooooo agree with this! I think it was Athol Dickson who wrote a few blog posts about this a while back. And I believe this is one of Donald Maass's "pet peeves." If we don't spend the time to really give our best book--best characters, best plot, best revisions--then why are we doing this? For money, I guess.

    I have to admit, it really bothers me when I hear pubbed authors talking about how they had no passion for their story, how they wrote it quickly, or they put off writing until the very last minute when they barely had time to finish before the deadline. That really bothers me. It makes me feel like they have no respect for their readers, and there's a certain arrogance in that, as well. Do they really think they've written their best story? Or that it is just "good enough"? Good enough for whom?

    Sorry, I don't mean to sound ... mean, but that's my take on it. And I could very well be guilty of the same thing some day, but I sincerely pray I won't.

  16. I must chime in here on favorite author's disappointing. I had a favorite author that started writing category romance. I followed her to progression to longer women's romantic fiction. Then she made an exciting announcemnt. She changed agents and publishing houses. I read two of those books and was disappointed. Although they had some romance in them, they were more issued oriented books. I haven't purchased one of her books since.

    So, I do think it's important to keep your readers in mind. I also see the need for an author to stretch but maybe it needs to be handled gradually verses a 180 degree turn?

    Just my opinion....

  17. Can't please all of em but got to please some.

  18. Mary honey, you are NEVER going to quit because somebody with a fertile mind like yours will NEVER run out of ideas!!

    And, Melanie, I totally agree with you. Passion is ESSENTIAL before I can even begin to go forward in a story. Keith keeps telling me I'm not much of a businesswoman, and he's right, because passion drives me, not work ethic, which is bad. I will never make money at this, but I sure do love what I do ...


    Boy, you can tell this is Thanksgiving week, can't you? Crazy week

  19. Hey, I'm finally back!!!

    A couple of people mentioned that we can't please everyone. And that is very, very true.

    I can't even seem to please the 3 guys that live with me, but that's a different story, I guess!!

    By saying the customer is always right, I am speaking in generalities, that the reading public as a whole is right. That publishers and authors need to please the...uh...masses by giving them what they want, a great book, and leave them wanting more!

  20. Rose, sounds like you had been reader this author for a while, but it only took two books for you to quit her cold turkey.

    She lost your trust and it's going to be really hard to get it back.

  21. Scary business, this pleasing the reader! :) But it's true. I guess the main thing (as someone mentioned) is to do our best and write a book we'd love to read.

    I don't usually laugh while I'm writing--although sometimes a scene will tickle me and I'll have so much fun writing it. But I do cry when I write. And I just about always cry when I type The End. (Which I just have to do! I don't know if that's cool or not, but I do it. [grin])

    Also, I love it when I go back to read a story on the final edits. I've usually been away from it for while, and it's fresh. That's a good test to me, to see if I laugh and cry. To see if the book affects me. Of course by then, my editor has gotten hold of it, so it's in tip top shape! :)

    Great post, Pam!

  22. Hey all!!
    I totally agree, even though I'm merely a reader : D

    *speaking in an official voice* SPeaking on behalf of....well....all the readers in the world, we think that it is very important to keep the reader in mind. It is very easy to fall in love with an author if they are courteous to the reader.

    *clearing throat* So, personally, I love blogging and going to authors websites to see their process and things like that. It really helps.

    So, following up with a Thanksgiving theme, I am so appreciative to all of you Seekers and other bloggers that chat with me. You cannot even begin to imagine how special you are to me. I hold you all very close in my heart because you help me in ways that are unexplainable(I don't even know if that's a real word!). I love all of you dearly,


    Love and *hugs*

  23. Hi Pam:

    I’m sorry to drop by so late but since you’re talking about marketing, I like to add a few comments.

    There is a saying in marketing that if you want to catch a fish, use bait that the fish likes to eat and not what you like to eat.

    Who is to say that a reader will prefer the better book? Perhaps you could write a better book which you find more pleasing (because of its higher quality) which a reader would not enjoy as much as the more likeable book you could have written. For example, as a reader I like epilogues because it is a way of getting a second HEA for the price of one. But many authors don’t care about what the reader likes; they care more about what they think and they may think that an epilogue is ‘hokey’.

    As a reader, I am not too hard on writers who ‘knock’ books out in six to eight weeks. I can think of a few authors who could write much better books (and have in the past) if they’d just slow down and write a book every other year. But as a reader is this what I always want? Not in all cases.

    As a reader, I want an enjoyable reading experience from a romance novel. If I can have that “enjoyment fix” four or five times a year instead of just once a year, then I am a happier reader. This is especially true of Harlequin Medical Romances which are quick reads but have too few titles a month.

    I believe authors are selling a book to be resold to their publishers but to their readers they are selling and enjoyable reading experience. These are not necessarily the same thing.

    BTW, I really enjoyed your post.


  24. Cool post as a reader I feel Privileged. On the subject of favourite readers disappointing. I noticed this with one of my early favourites. The books were still good but to predictable. like read one read them all. I did have one thought too like when we buy goods everyone has favourites. Like Chocolate as far as Im concerned if its not cadbury its not chocolate. Readers are like this with books we have favourite categories which doesn't make the others bad its just not to our taste. Like I dont really enjoy heavy suspense or thrillers, horror or some chick lit. But I love historical and contemporary that are not obsessed with being married. As a reader sometimes we see things that authors may not have intended to make us think or give us a new perspective. I do love the Oh I never thought of that moments. or Now that explains something. They say in customer service if you have a complaint you tell about ten or more people but if you like something you only tell a few. I think in reading its the other way around we tend to let people know when we read a really good book where as one we dont really like we dont really talk about it unless asked would you recommend it to which I have to say If you like xxxx you will probably like it but I didn't cos of xxx.
    Now i've finished rambling I need Chocolate! (good thing its on special anyone want to share?)

  25. YOU are absolutely right, Pam! Being a jaded reader (after soooooo many years) I'm always open to new writers and new stories, but I immediately know when a book is not working for me. I'll always finish it, hoping there is just one redeeming element, and sadly, if there isn't, I can't say I'd pick up another book by the same author.

    Give the reader the best product you can produce at this time. There's a lot to be said for revising over and over again until you get it right : )

    I have a keeper shelf and then I have a vintage keeper shelf. Books I reread that never fail to resurrect that initial enjoyment.

    What a level of excellence to strive for!

    Thanks for the reminder, Pam!!!