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If You Give A Reader A Cookie

Something I haven’t discussed, in this whole “where should you put your book” is that beyond structure there are reader expectations and… well, reader cookies.

“Reader cookies?” you ask. “You mean some publicity thing?  I have to find all my readers and bake them cookies?”

Er…. no.

Look, the thing to take in account on genre is that usually people have one favorite genre.  They might read others, but they had one they absolutely follow and “eat” like peanuts.  (Years ago Kris Rusch told me that science fiction readers are the narrower readers.  I don’t think she’s right.  I think she said that because most science fiction readers are prejudiced against romance.  but she also said that romance readers read every genre, and all I can say is she must come from a universe where Spock has a beard.  There’s no reason for her to lie, and I don’t think she was, but my experience is exactly the opposite of hers.)

But most readers, when reading genre, learn and come to crave certain points.

There are things in all genres that aren’t logical, they’re just convention and accepted by all writers/readers so that that type of story can be told.

For instance most of us, in most cases, understand that true love takes time and much contact to develop, but you can’t really show that in a novel (Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer comes close.) And you can’t show the many kinds of “true love” that aren’t necessarily romantic love.  There just isn’t enough space, and it wouldn’t make for a good narrative.

So instead, you have a sort of handwavium, like they look, they touch and they KNOW they’re destined to love each other.  Now in modern (written, because even in regencies this happens) romances, it tends to be because they had teh amazing secks.  Which is silly and probably teaches teen girls all the wrong things, but it’s also easy to write/sell.

In science fiction, you’ll have not just FTL — that would be easy — but all sorts of short cuts, gadgets and history that are never explained.

In mystery you’ll have detectives in small towns who solve more murders than the population of the town could stand.  And no one finds this weird.

Now if you’re reading cross-genre, that kind of stuff can annoy you no end. But eventually you get used to it.

What might take you longer to get is the reader cookies, i.e. things readers in the genre really like.

As someone who is making her bones in what could be called retro-science-fiction I do a lot of reader cookying.  Like… burners.  (No, they’re not lasers.  I actually figure they’re some form of concentrated gravity.  Yes, I know what Athena said.  But she’s not technologically literate, and also, honestly, she read a lot of 20th century sf from her father’s library.)  Or flying cars (I want my flying car.)

They’re things I find cool, and I remember being thrilled about when I was a kid reading sf/f, and since I’m center of the SF reader demographic (I’m more askew for fantasy) I figured others would have the same reaction.  Apparently so.

In mystery, particularly if you’re doing cozies, your reader cookies are often tied to the way your detective puts clues together, particularly if it only makes sense in the detective’s mind.

But  more importantly, making sure the reader gets the cookie involves making sure that they get what they paid for as it were.

Your romance needs to be romantic.  even if you’re galloping in other directions, with mystery, and sf and fantasy touches, YOUR COUPLE NEEDS TO HAVE A GRAND, ROMANTIC LOVE, (even if they don’t realize it till the end, which often happens in sweet romances) and there needs to be a happy ever after.

Your mystery needs to be mysterious, and your detective (amateur or professional) needs to solve it.

Your science fiction needs to at least wave at science, and the events must be interestingly futuristic (and no, just growing tomatoes on another planet and having emotional breakdowns about your status as female does NOT count.)

Your fantasy needs to be fantastic.  There must be magic and awe and spells and stuff.  (I fail so hard at this with the shifters.)

Etc.

I mean Dresden Files has a Noir Mystery structure, but yeah, it’s fantasy.  I mean, he’s casting spells, using his SIGHT, working with elves and the supernatural.  And that’s fine, because it’s a fantasy with mystery structure, but all the cookies are fantasy.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

Read the d*mn genre you think your work might belong under.  Read the top sellers at Amazon at least.  Take a week and read them.  Be aware of what the reader picking up your book is going to expect.

Because you can’t know what they want, till you know what else they’re doing.  So go and read it, and then decide how to classify your own work.

78 Comments
  1. paladin3001 #

    c4c…Off to do some baking….

    December 13, 2017
  2. I write space opera but most of my books (11 and counting) have a romantic element in them. It might be of the ‘boy meets girl’ variety or feature an existing couple who still behave romantically to each other, but it’s there in all but one of my novels. And whenever I mention that romance is the category for sales friends suggest I try my hand at writing romance. According to them I’ve already shown I can handle romantic situations (and without resorting to the glittery hoo ha trope).

    But I don’t read romance. I mean, sure, I’ve read a couple of romance books someone (usually my wife) recommended them but that’s it. I don’t know the genre and wouldn’t know what cookies to bake for the party. Space opera, though, I can do in my sleep. It’s probably because I’ve been reading it for fifty years. I’ve got all the right cookies ready and waiting for that party.

    On a somewhat related note, true love can hit fast and hard and without the couple falling into the sack. I proposed to my wife thirteen days after I met her. A couple of months ago we celebrated our 36th anniversary.

    December 13, 2017
    • What Hlvogel said. Romantic elements? Check. Romance reader cookies? AH, not so much, although, to my chagrin, I sense “romance” trying to sneak into Still No Title Yet. Except there’s a massive disconnect between the characters’ culture and modern expectations. Not that seems to be discouraging “romance.” Le sigh.

      December 13, 2017
      • Possibly its contagious. My characters are all romance all over the place. “…and we are back to that place where we always go!” is a common complaint in conversations.

        Can characters catch romance cooties from other author’s books? Hmmm…

        December 13, 2017
      • Romantic elements I think are part of the human mind and heart. Love isn’t always the kind that results in ‘and they get married, have lots of sex and children’ for me; so it’s not a problem. “I want to protect you” is just as valid to me, as is “I want my beloved to be happy.”

        December 13, 2017
    • I deliberately went outside my comfort zone for my first novel, since I was afraid any mil sci-fi or such I’d write would end up being fan-fiction, and there was no danger of that happening if I wrote romance 🙂

      December 13, 2017
    • I have a friend who writes romance and I’ve read one of her books, which was fairytale retellings in a paranormal romance setting. And I did give her a review, though it’s very guarded, and I told her to her face that I just didn’t know the expectations well enough to rate it properly. Because I’ve read and loved a lot of fairytale retellings—on the fantasy side. And it doesn’t matter how much romance there is in there, the cookies are entirely different.

      December 15, 2017
  3. “I have to find all my readers and bake them cookies?”

    Er…. no.

    Too bad because I’m pretty sure I could do that in a toaster.

    December 13, 2017
    • Wouldn’t it be rather cramped in there?

      December 13, 2017
      • “Toaster” is a catch-all term. They can be quite roomy. Or so I’ve heard…

        December 13, 2017
        • There are toaster oven cookies…

          December 13, 2017
          • A proper toaster oven (we’re only on our second in almost two decades) is basically a miniature oven. Ours even has a convection setting. And yes, you can do cookies (or other baked goods) if you have the properly-sized pans to fit. You usually don’t even need to adjust the temperature or timing.

            December 15, 2017
  4. Not entirely certain that I’ve got the right application, but:

    Give the reader a cookie; don’t give the reader the recipe.

    I read something recently in which the author spent a goodly amount of time explaining why a crack in a space suit was a bad thing.
    Having the character in a space suit = cookie, right?
    But, dog, we’ve been eating these cookies for YEARS. We don’t need to have a page and a half devoted to the perils of a cracked faceplate. That’s the recipe. Don’t need it.

    December 13, 2017
  5. C4c

    December 13, 2017
  6. Science fiction readers are prejudiced against romance…

    Yep, guilty as charged. Doubly so if the science in the science fiction is science fantasy. However, if the science is hard, 9/10 ish, then the romance will get a pass. I’m not adverse to romance, but I am adverse to romance lobotomizing the science.

    Probably make me a very bad person or something.

    December 13, 2017
    • No. You missed what I meant. I mean that you don’t pick up a ROMANCE novel now and then.

      December 13, 2017
      • This is me. I read sf, oh, daily. Hourly sometimes. For absolutely no pay most of the time. *chuckle* But romance? The closest I come is the Kdramas I watched with a friend of mine back in the day. I got her sucked into sci-fi, she retaliated by mandating I watch her shows so she could talk about them with me. They weren’t horrible. Just not my preferred brain-candy.

        December 13, 2017
      • I have a limited tolerance for romance. Infinite for Heyer, but while I will occasionally pick up a thriller or paranormal romance, I find myself skipping over large sections because of the “graphic sex” cookies that keep showing up.

        December 15, 2017
        • search Sweet or Traditional romance on Amazon. There are now a bunch of them. Doing well, it looks like.

          December 15, 2017
          • Eh, it’s only occasionally that I’ll need that particular popcorn, and I generally have a couple of authors I’ll go to for that. Still building up my Heyer collection (secondhand; she’s dead, so I don’t worry about supporting her.) So I get a new (to me) every once in a while.

            December 15, 2017
  7. Then are always mavericks, like Charles Stross, who spindle and mutilate genres with abandon. Quote from one of his Laundry books: “Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

    December 13, 2017
  8. Science cookies, romance cookies, action cookies, check check check! I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, of course, but it seems that’s what it was.

    Yay! Go pants!

    December 13, 2017
    • I’ve been waiting for some smart company (with a great power of persuasion, I suppose, to allow it) to come out with a chicken soup… Chicken Soup… for the Stomach.

      December 13, 2017
    • I completely understand and endorse this comment, but I’m sitting here LMAO because you know how weird this would sound out of context?

      December 13, 2017
      • What’s bad is I have this type of conversation with people in Real Life, due to me just assuming that everyone knows what I’m talking about. “Doesn’t -everyone- know that?” Yeah, no. Not so much.

        Which is a source of never-ending dismay when I’m trying to explain something like “pants” and “romance cookies” to some younger female person who is looking at me like I’m nuts.

        Younger female person who also doesn’t know the difference between a hard drive and an SSD/flash drive, which I also assumed she knew. Oops! “How can you work in an office with a computer all day and not know that?” said I as a jest. Double oops!!

        Turns out, nobody knows shit like that. I’m a freaking mutant. This explains much about Real Life, and why I live in the middle of nowhere, happily surrounded by acres of nothing but the odd hay bale.

        December 13, 2017
        • I think it’s stuff like that that has my husband coming home and randomly, happily picking me up and saying “I’m so glad you’re you! Do you have any idea how miserable I would be if you weren’t?”

          December 13, 2017
          • Yeah, because then you’d be somebody else, and he’d be saying “Who are you, and why are you in my house?”

            December 13, 2017
            • Heh, he has told me on a few occasions I will wake up and talk to him, and it’s clearly not me, because I’m rather obviously dreaming, and conk back out. This morning? “You were having a conversation with my watch.” An incoherent one, since in response to his watch beeps, I’d go “Mii?” *beep* “Miiii.” *bee-beep* “Miiiimiiii…” then “zzzz”

              He thinks it’s bloody adorable.

              December 13, 2017
          • Robin Munn #

            That sounds like the kind of thing I say to my wife from time to time as well.

            December 14, 2017
        • A hard drive is inside the computer or a little box, and a flash drive is inside a really little box.

          I sorta know something about flash memory and hard drives, but really, you couldn’t give me a test on it. If it fails to work someday, I will do a little research… but yeah, there are these spots of ignorance. I am but an egg.

          December 13, 2017
          • Robin Munn #

            Most important difference is that a hard drive of the conventional variety has a motor in it, and moving parts. An SSD has no moving parts and no motor.

            December 14, 2017
    • I can cook. No, not the books, I have some standards. Although the current on again/off again sf and fantasy bits might be cooked. Anyway. I can’t bake worth anything. But now I want to make little spaceship cookies and little dragon cookies and little battling knights cookies, just to say I do reader cookies. Because the current WIP’s have become a hopeless mess. *chuckle*

      December 13, 2017
    • Pants!

      December 15, 2017
  9. Incidentally, the issue of foreshadowing came up in regard to my second book, and Sarah’s posts on foreshadowing are getting a Phantom perusal shortly. Story needs more advance notice to the reader that Sumthin’s Gonna Happin’ Bro!

    December 13, 2017
    • I have little notes taped to the monitor (and the laptop, when I get around to replacing it). Things like “Add some JOY and WONDER d*mmit!” and “Foreshadowing is not the shadows of very large numerals!” Sometimes I even get around to doing those things. Or at least think I do. *chuckle*

      December 13, 2017
      • I have Sarah’s “Certificate Of Real Writerhood” posted here somewhere. I look at it from time to time to remind myself that I’m not a velveteen rabbit. Those are days when the pants are being starchy.

        December 13, 2017
  10. Ben Yalow #

    But … the shifters were really interesting fantasy.

    December 13, 2017
  11. c4c

    December 13, 2017
  12. Nicholas Archer #

    “Years ago Kris Rusch told me that science fiction readers are the narrower readers. I don’t think she’s right. I think she said that because most science fiction readers are prejudiced against romance but she also said that romance readers read every genre…” I think this one might need to re-check her stats here, Captain. I’m a big Sci-fi Reader but I am more than happy to read any Genre especially if I’m reading Short Fiction or a long forgotten Genre.

    “Yes, I know what Athena said. But she’s not technologically literate, and also, honestly, she read a lot of 20th century sf from her father’s library.” Who or what are you referencing when you say this?

    December 13, 2017
    • I think she means that the Character from the Darkship series is not technologically accurate in what she assumes, and says, in print.

      December 13, 2017
    • My character in Darkship thieves talks about the burners being lasers. From the way they work, they can’t be. But for various reasons, Athena read 20th century sf. Also, she was never really educated because it was pointless for her position. SO she assumes a lot of things.

      December 14, 2017
      • TRX #

        Just because people *call* it something, doesn’t make it true.

        One of these days you’ll probably read about me in the national news, where I finally snapped and beat someone half to death with a pistol because they called a dish antenna a “satellite” One. Last. Time.

        December 14, 2017
        • Athena is BY DEFINITION an unreliable narrator. Partly because she was told a lot of lies. Partly because she makes up explanations for herself.

          December 14, 2017
        • where I finally snapped and beat someone half to death with a pistol because they called a dish antenna a “satellite” One. Last. Time.

          *bursts out laughing*

          December 14, 2017
  13. I’m trying to write a paranormal romance, and the subconscious is fighting the notion. The romance is limping and the eerie stuff is missing and . . . and the back brain says it doesn’t want those romance cookies with their icky pink frosting, and there’s bound to be a scientific explanation for the odd stuff. I’d give up and call it an Urban Fantasy, but the whole point of writing it was to stretch and do something different!

    December 13, 2017
    • Nicholas Archer #

      Why not read some of the Weird Stories of H. P. Lovecraft or the Horror Stories of Robert E Howard. They can be quite creepy without the goriness of many modern stories. If you want a Horror Story with a man saving the woman he loves I’d recommend “The Hoofed Thing” by Robert E Howard.

      December 13, 2017
      • I’m trying to stay on the eerie side of the Eerie=>Creepy=>Horror=>Slasher continuum, mainly because I don’t read or watch Horror or Slasher and so I’m completely ignorant of those cookies.

        December 14, 2017
    • Nicholas Archer #

      Actually here is a link to an audiobook of The Hoofed Thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrwvSi43Mf0

      December 13, 2017
    • TRX #

      A lot of pulp fiction – Edgar Rice Burroughs and his imitators, largely – hinged their entire plot lines around instantaneous Twu Wuv. Other authors used enough of it to poison their stories. EE Smith, I’m looking at you…

      I don’t know, maybe teen girls think that way when their hormones go nuts, but for teen and preteen boys, it wavered between “whaaaat?” and “eeew!”

      December 14, 2017
    • The one time I tried to write a paranormal detective story, it just… went straight into horror, and I gave myself nightmares – the kind that had me desperately logging into my MMO and turning on all the lights in the room – I had no curtains (too hot) and I was staring desperately at the screen, ignoring the darkness outside. This was before I read Dresden Files too.

      December 14, 2017
  14. Mary #

    I’ve heard the romance readers read more widely than fantasy/SF fans, too. The person saying so was doing on basis of analysis of those membership cards you can get at Barnes and Noble and used to have at Borders.

    December 13, 2017
    • Nicholas Archer #

      It’s possible but in my own experience, the Romance Readers I know typically only Read Romance or some sub-genre or cross-genre of it. Except Gothic (Horror-Romance) the Roman Readers I know don’t tend to read anything with Horror or Thriller though they will read Suspense. However, I’m sure this isn’t universal that’s just my experience with Roman Readers.

      December 14, 2017
    • Um…. those cards came in as Amazon did. I think most of us had moved to Amazon then or shortly after. Okay, old people who read SF read less of other genres. Considering the SF the stores carry…. I’m not surprised.
      SERIOUSLY I know romance readers. They don’t read anything else. My MIL thought my Shakespeare trilogy MUST be for children because it had fairies. Years later, she thought Nora Roberts had been the first to put fairies/elves in books for adults.
      BECAUSE SHE NEVER READS ANYTHING ELSE.

      December 14, 2017
      • If they were using those membership cards to determine who read what, how did they define, say, a romance reader who sometimes read other stuff and, say, a Science Fiction reader who occasionally read romance?

        Did they have romance readers also reading a bunch of stuff or did they have readers of a bunch of stuff who occasionally picked up a romance?

        Perhaps a subtle distinction, but an important one, I think.

        December 14, 2017
        • Also, it’s possible women who mostly read romance picked other things for the family as gifts or because they were going to the store.
          The survey is flawed.

          December 14, 2017
        • Mary #

          The observation was that about a third of the books that romance readers read were not romance.

          December 14, 2017
          • Read? No. Bought, yes. And you know what? It really sounds like (in the old days) mom going to the store and buying her romances, the science fiction for Billy and the mystery for dad in those series they follow.
            I mean, as a methodology that “study” should be laughed out of respectable settings. ANY respectable settings.

            December 15, 2017
      • Mary #

        I had such a card before Amazon was founded.

        December 14, 2017
    • TRX #

      Romance readers read everything, by definition. Straight-up romance of various types. Porn-romance. Vampire romance. Werewolf romance. Horror romance. Cowboy romance. SF romance. Fantasy romance. Police procedural romance. Detective romance. Mystery romance. Probably there’s some auto repair romance out there somewhere, under the romance genre’s own Rule 34.

      December 14, 2017
      • science fiction romance is a strange beast. I’ve tried to read a couple. It’s like they ONLY explain everything that doesn’t need explaining. Melts your brain after a while.

        December 14, 2017
  15. I have recently been told that the 20booksto50K crowd is in the process of copying me and are going to take over the genre I’ve been writing my Stryvant novels in. Because obviously it’s easy and they can all make that money too! (Apparently I was one of the main topics at their last con in Vegas).
    I don’t know why people think this is easy. It takes lot of hard work just to make sure you’re giving the audience of the genre you’re in, the cookies that they want. Then after you’ve done that, there’s all the other things you have to address beyond those cookies to make sure that they enjoy it and come back for more.
    I made more money as a consultant, with a lot less effort. Someone needs to tell these people if they’re only looking for money, to get a regular job. Yes, it’s nice to be successful, but I do this job because I love it.
    But success did not come to me overnight, it took work, lots of work. Further, success is fickle. You can be riding high one year, and back down in the dirt the next.
    Of all the places to try get rich schemes, writing is definitely not it.

    December 14, 2017
  16. There are also “poisoned cookies”–at least for me. There are certain bits that will make me drop a book and head for the nearest exit.

    Spending the first chapter introducing a character who then dies. (William Goldman gets a pass on this one in “Marathon Man”.)

    There is only one person in the world who can do this job and that person is:
    A) Another character’s ex-spouse
    B) Needs to be broken out of prison
    C) Needs to be bribed/threatened to do the job

    Evil corporation creates evil stuff with no rational explanation of a motive.

    There are others, but these are the ones that come easily to mind.

    December 14, 2017
    • Yeah, I’ve got a few . . .

      Characters too stupid to live.

      Keeping the critical information away from the other characters “for their own good.”

      December 14, 2017
      • TRX #

        The “urban fantasy” genre is full of characters who have absolutely no curiosity, even when they could easily gain knowledge of things that are critically important to their personal success or survival.

        Some of the plotlines are the equivalent of hinging a story on the character not recognizing or knowing how to use, say, a telephone. Or maybe a fork. It’s *possible* they might not know what they were for, if they came from the Amazon rain forest or had brain damage, but it’a not something the author can just drop into a story and ignore the consequences.

        December 14, 2017
        • “The “urban fantasy” genre is full of characters who have absolutely no curiosity, even when they could easily gain knowledge of things that are critically important to their personal success or survival.”

          One of the best early moments of the Buffy TV series was when a character is told for the first time that the town is full of vampires and other things, and the teller says, “I know this sounds weird…” and is interrupted with, “No, that makes so much sense.”

          December 15, 2017
    • Mary #

      Undermining the happy ending of the story before.

      December 14, 2017
  17. Lawrence Block made a similar observation in one of his books on writing. Someone asked him “How can I learn to write a mystery?” Block’s reply: “Read five hundred mysteries.” The immersive approach, as with languages, will tell you everything you need to know, though most of the information will be subconscious.

    December 14, 2017
    • It’s the ONLY thing that works for me, actually. For languages too.

      December 14, 2017
      • When it comes to new genres I’ve been told that one needs to analyze them, see what “makes them tick”. And then use that information to guide your own stories in that genre.

        I absolutely suck at “analyzing” stories. Most of the time, I don’t even know where to begin. The only thing that works for me is reading so much in it that I internalize the conventions and what you call the “cookies” here. Part of the reason I almost exclusively write science fiction and fantasy is that that’s what I’ve read since I was very young indeed (very first book I have a distinct memory of reading was science fiction).

        December 14, 2017
    • BUT you need to have a beginning first. So, I take, say two years of language, then start reading books in it, very slowly at first.
      What they call immersion in the schools isn’t, and is responsible for AMericans not being fluent in any other language.

      December 14, 2017

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