Last night, I had the great pleasure of seeing Itzhak Perlman in concert. Like many of those attending, I entered the concert hall expecting one thing and soon came to understand I was getting something totally different. My expectations might have been blown but the experience, oh the experience. Let’s just say that once I learned to let my expectations go, it turned into one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.
Bear with me, there is a purpose behind this.
I have enjoyed Perlman’s work for years. So when I saw he was going to be in Dallas this year, I jumped at the chance to go. I went expecting the usual mix of classical and modern pieces you so often get with such concerts. I knew there was a title to the concert, there always is. I didn’t research it because it didn’t matter. I wanted to hear Perlman and I had tickets in hand. Nothing else mattered.
In a lot of ways, I’m thrilled I didn’t research the concert like my friend who went with me did. Why? Because I had the joy of being led on a musical trip, not knowing what would happen next and finding each new “turn” more exciting and enjoyable than the one before it.
You see, Perlman took us to a Jewish “wedding”. It was a night of celebration. Celebration of the joys of life. Celebration of survival. Celebration of music.
It was also his, along with the musicians with him, to share their joy of Jewish (more specifically Hasidic) music.
It didn’t matter that most of us couldn’t understand the lyrics of those songs with vocals. We didn’t need to. We could understand the music. We could understand the joy in the movements of those on stage. We didn’t need any encouragement to clap or tap our toes. We were transported and transformed for a hour and forty minutes of non-stop joy. Even the more serious pieces were still joyous.
You know it is a special evening when a dance line of concert goers suddenly takes shape in the aisles and men and women, children and teens, whites, black and everything in between, old and young get up and dance. Some knew what they were doing and they taught the steps to those who simply were moved to dance. It was an experience no.one present will soon–if ever–forget.
So what does that have to do with writing?
It’s really simple. When a reader picks up a book, he has certain expectations. Those expectations are formed by the cover, by the blurb, by an author’s past works. As an author, we have to be careful not to shatter those expectations too much–or not enough. For example, say your favorite author writes nothing but military science fiction. You’ve become enough of a fan that you buy each book when it comes out. You don’t worry about the blurbs or the covers or anything. As soon as the book is announced, you put it on pre-order.
The book arrives at your house (in hard copy or digital) and you sit down in your favorite chair and open the book up to start reading.
Except, you stop almost immediately and check the cover to make sure you haven’t been given the wrong book. This isn’t a military sf book. It’s a romance or a mystery or something. But not what you were expecting. Now, part of the fault lies with you for not knowing what you were ordering and realizing it was different from what you’ve been reading from this author. But do you keep reading and see if the author can pull you in like he does with the military sf? Or do you return the book and swear never to buy anything from the author again–at least not without carefully reading the blurb?
That is where the burden falls to the author. If they write the book well enough, if their characters are engaging enough and the plot interesting enough, many of those suddenly disappointed readers will continue reading. They might grumble but, eventually, they will be pulled into the book. There will still be some who won’t read because it isn’t “their kind of book”. There’s no way around it. But what sort of a gem might they be missing if that’s the case?
This isn’t to say an author should only write one type of book. It is to say you need to be aware some readers won’t adventure out of the genre with you. This is one of the reasons why traditionally publishers would have their authors use pen names for other books. It is why some Indies still do the same. After all, how many times have you said you’d never read this sort of book or you’ve heard your friends say they wouldn’t read science fiction if there was any romance in it? It doesn’t matter if the romance is part of the plot, even an essential part. If it’s in the book, they aren’t going to read it.
I guess what I’m saying is we each have our own tastes but sometimes, it really is good to step outside the norm to to let go of our expectations. We might be pleasantly surprised if we do.
(featured image via Pixabay)