Wednesday, March 16, 2016

9 Ways to Win the Hearts of Your Readers

Writers have a responsibility to be true to themselves, as well as prompt and flexible with their publishers. Most importantly, though, we have a responsibility (make that plural) to our readers. What should they be able to expect from us, and what should we do to win their hearts?

1.     Entertain them. I write fiction, so some of my nonfiction writer friends might disagree with this. But after all (in my defense), how entertaining can a physics textbook or a tome on the joys of Gram-negative or -positive bacteria possibly be? (Perhaps it is to those who study it. Go figure.) For readers of fiction, though, entertainment is paramount. They have every right to be taken away (sorry, Calgon) to unknown worlds, or at least different locations where adventures lurk and people are challenged.

This bird did not do what she
should have to win her readers'
hearts. Yes, you should be
ashamed, you silly goose.
2.     Enlighten them. We don't have to educate them, although that doesn't hurt, but they should at least pick up one or two facts or ideas they might not have known or thought of before. Good research provides a whole world of new things to present to our readers. It's just one more way to make our work memorable.

3.     Encourage them. Even the most dreary of plots has an up side. Readers expect a measure of encouragement if for no other reason than they don't have to live in those times/circumstances/ families or isn't one of the characters to whom bad things happen. Light-hearted novels can provide encouragement in the form of humor; others might show the prevailing of good over evil or the truth that human beings are capable of overcoming circumstances beyond their normal control.

4.     Edit. But (some will say), isn't that what editors are for? Yep, they are, but as the author of that piece of work, we should offer our best to the editors so they aren't so caught up in correcting our blatant errors that they overlook the more subtle ones--like plot holes or characters with changing eye colors--or worse yet, just throw up their hands and throw in the towel altogether. And you can be very, very sure there are readers out there more familiar with proper formatting and editing procedures than we are. Let's not let them down. Expert editing ensures that the reader can concentrate on our prose, dialogue, characters, and plot, rather than our mistakes. That goes double for those writers who self-publish. Find a good editor before you send your work out to the world.

5.     Proper editing includes grammar and spelling. Even if one or more of your characters speaks ungrammatically, that's no reason for you to do so during the rest of your book, and spelling isn't something your editor should be tagged with catching. With today's computer programs, you can't get away with misspelling anything without sirens going off. Take advantage of your computer's subtle (haha) cues that something is wrong. Your work will be better for it.

6.     Proper pacing. Readers (particularly those who aren't also writers) might not realize it's uneven pacing that startles him/her and interrupts the flow of your book. Any disruption to that flow niggles at the reader's mind and takes them out of your story for a moment. We don't want that. We're creating a world for our reader to inhabit for the amount of time allotted for them to read--and hopefully long after. Vague, indefinable, nagging thoughts that something isn't quite right won't work to our advantage. We might be upending their imaginary world with our words, but let's do it purposely and smoothly.

7.     Touch their emotions. Make them laugh, cry, sigh, yearn, get angry, commiserate, or pump their fist--but do something to touch them.

8.     Provide a satisfying ending. Notice I didn't say happy. Not all stories reach their conclusion with happy endings. It's that way in life, and it's that way in fiction. But a satisfying ending does three things: it ties up loose ends, draws things to a natural close, and it ...

9.     Leaves them wanting more. There's not much that's more gratifying for a writer to hear than a reader telling them they can't wait for another one of his or her books to come out. It might be in a series, perhaps not. Doesn't matter. Just knowing they want more of your work means you're doing a lot of things correctly.

And most importantly, you've won their hearts.

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