Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Monday Musing: Author Promises

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 28•11

Lately I’m hearing more and more about writer promises to the reader and how to fulfill them.

When I first heard this topic title, I thought that it was a reverse reaction to something that Neil Gaiman wrote two years ago, that the author (In the specific author’s case, George R.R. Martin) is not your personal writing machine.  But when I read past the headlines, I found that the topic was actually about a book’s premise, and whether the author had fulfilled that premise by the end of the book.  

Most readers pick up a book with certain expectations. These are based on packaging, book blurb, author interviews and word of mouth. The author has very little direct authority over any of these.

  • Genre – Go into Amazon and you will see that the books are divided by genre. Each genre creates certain reader expectations. Romance novels better have two people who struggle with their relationship and end up happy in the end. A mystery reader expects a crime to be solved.
  • Packaging – Look on any shelf and you will find that like books are packaged similarly based on what is popular at the moment. Teen books involving vampires and werewolves will have an all-black cover with a very large object all in white (a tulip, a chess piece, etc.) on the cover to mimic the twilight books. Adult novels that involve vampires and werewolves will have a woman dressed all in leather standing in profile with a prominent back tattoo and a blurb by the top writer in the field. This is designed to tell people that if you liked X book, you will like Y book that is packaged the same way.
  • Book Jacket Summary– Somewhere there is a marketing employee who gets paid to write these. They may reveal everything about the book (spoiler alert!) or just enough to tantalize. The better paid ones will do the latter. Unfortunately, most people will get the former.
  • Content – The author has the most control over the actual content of the novel. This is where author promises are so important. Think about the book you are writing. What are you promising in the first chapter of the book? What about in the first 3 chapters? Do you have a clearly established protagonist? Do you stay with your protagonist through the entire story? Do they grow and change? Do they achieve their goals? If they don’t then what do they learn from it?

Many stories go wrong because an author is not even aware that they have made a promise. Instead the author is sidetracked by the tropes that they play with and the story flounders. Inexperienced authors who are writing by the seat of their pants are prone to this. Outlining or at least coming up with an ending that solves the problem in the beginning will help with this.

How does your story begin? In Journalism classes the professors teach students to start a story with a compelling first line (the lede). Ledes must be short, to the point, and tell the reader everything they need to know.  Many people who read a newspaper read only the headline. If a headline grabs someone, they will read the first three paragraphs. At this point they usually stop reading a story.

Although novels are different, the writer still wants to get into the meat of the novel at the beginning. In the book Carpe Demon, Julie Kenner begins her novel about a retired demon hunter turned soccer mom with the main character spotting a demon across a crowded department store while trying to push her toddler in a shopping cart. The juxtaposition of the domestic and the terrifying make a promise to the reader: The book will be about this woman trying to balance a domestic life with the strain of hunting monsters.  (The covers from that series promise fun summer reading. Although they fall within the urban fantasy genre, there is nary a leather-clad tattooed vampire hunter on the cover. Probably because she’s traded in the leather for a minivan.)

Once those promises are made, it’s the writer’s job to carry them out.

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39 Comments

  1. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

    • Tracy says:

      After Bridget Jones’s diary, there were a lot of whimsy covers with scrapbook cutouts on them. They promised a sex-in-the-city type of book. So many historical romance books were mis-packaged that way that the cover has actually gone out of vogue because readers don’t trust any book packaged that way to actually be a sex-in-the-city type of book.

  2. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  3. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  4. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  5. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  6. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  7. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  8. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  9. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  10. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  11. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  12. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  13. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  14. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  15. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  16. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  17. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  18. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  19. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  20. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.

  21. tracy_d74 says:

    This is soooo true. I hate getting to the end of a book and wondering, “What was the point? I thought X Y and Z would happen.” There have been a few YA covers that do not make sense for the book. I used to wonder how that happened. But apparently, some editors will design the cover without reading the book. This approach seems a bit odd. But I guess if you are going for the “cover gets sells,” approach..you’ll make money. But if the book doesn’t deliver people won’t get the next book.