The Writer’s Contract with Readers

Happy New Year, SE friends! I hope your holidays were perfect in all ways. Since we’re at the beginning of the year, with hopes and dreams running high, I’ve decided to focus on the promises we make to our readers.

In the business world, new beginnings are formalized by contracts. Writers have contracts with publishers, illustrators, promoters, and others. But the most important contract is an assumed one and it’s not legally binding. That contract is with our readers.

Through our book title and cover, as well as the listed genre and blurb, we make a promise to our readers. If we’re faithful to this promise, they know what to expect with just a glimpse.

I’ve a quick example. Here’s an assortment of books from the Story Empire library. Just looking at the covers and reading the titles, don’t we have a sense of the content of the books?

If you’re like me, when a book cover catches my attention, I check on the genre and read the blurb because I want to know more. Let’s see if you can match the clips below with the above books.

None of us like to write blurbs. To take a 100,000-word document and reduce it to a few sentences is frustrating at best. But those few sentences are golden. Through just thirty or so words, we offer the reader an impression of what lies ahead. And though it is difficult categorizing our book into genres (because our masterpiece defies such labeling), our readers deserve to know the journey we’re asking them to take.

So, did you match the blurbs with the books? I suspect you did. In the ideal writing world, there’s a coherent relationship of cover, title, genre, and blurb. And these books are great examples of just that.

Readers enjoy the unexpected ending, but they do not like to be misled. With millions of books published every year, writers make a pact with readers when they promise a thriller or a mystery, a romance or a fantasy, a Western or erotica. Whatever the genre, we help our readers find the perfect read when we categorize appropriately through our title, cover, genre, and blurb.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever been misled by the blurb or listed genre? Let’s share experiences.

Until next month, stay warm and be well!

81 thoughts on “The Writer’s Contract with Readers

  1. Great post, Gwen! I enjoyed your exercise of matching blurbs to the covers, and everything you’ve said about the unwritten contract between writers and their readers is true. I have the hardest time with titles and blurbs, not to mention categorizing my work into a genre. It will help to be more mindful of the readers and the first impression we want them to have. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Gwen. I’ve never dreaded writing ‘the blurb’, and titles have always come easy to me. But I will admit, I’ve read some books, with deceiving covers and especially not great titles. I find the title problem more with trad published, mostly because the author lose’s their right if the publisher wants it retitled. Very happy to remain and Indie. 🙂 x

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  4. HI Gwen, thanks for this post. I think most books I read have appropriate covers and classifications. I always struggle a bit with my books as they are historical paranormal which is a lot less common than historical romance. I have considered dropping the paranormal elements in my books and just making them historical to broaden the readership. I have been advised against this my a mentor and my mother. Hmmm!

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  6. This is an excellent post, Gwen. This particular part of the contract between reader and writer was never addressed in my writing education, which was pre-self-publishing. Back then, the publisher did all of that (not they they’ve always gotten it right either!).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I struggle with blurbs, too – but I can see that it’s crucial to get things right as you only have a few seconds to make an impression good enough to tempt your reader to buy. Great blog!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much, Trish. After reading the comments to this post, I think everyone struggles with writing a blurb. It’s amazing how challenging a few words can be, right? Thank you again. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve lucked out when it comes to picking up books that are true to their titles/blurbs. I was confused one time, though, when Amazon ranking-category listed a book under “occult and witchery” (or however it was listed; I don’t remember the precise wording). It was a coming-of-age, inner-city story. No witchcraft or spooky anything. The cover was an image of a wall with a calendar pinned to it, and the calendar had a cartoonish, sexy witch. (The wall was in one of the book’s settings.) The Amazon ranking-category thing was just plain odd!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Much like you, I’ve only been led astray by one book, but it was a doozy. On the plus side, it convinced me of the importance of faithfully representing our books to readers. They’re our community, after all, and sometimes that community includes our family. Thank you so much, Priscilla, for sharing and adding to the conversation. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve seen a few covers and blurbs over the years that led me to believe a book was something that it was not, but authors generally do an excellent job on that part of things. It seems a bit odd to me that the cover holds such importance, but it’s naive to think otherwise. What’s inside is the most crucial element of any book for me, but if we don’t attract a new reader’s attention in the first place, they’re more likely to pass on by. It’s a bit like window dressing.

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  10. Great post, Gwen! It is so hard to write a blurb, I’m working on one right now or trying to. And to figure out the right cover…the hardest. You want to entice without giving too much away. But some blurbs and covers I’ve read either haven’t matched up to what I’m reading or give too much away. I don’t usually mind if I find out it’s not what I expected and the story is still good, but a disappointing ending never sits well. I like to mix genres, so I never know what category to pick 😉 Thank you for including Dolphin’s Cave in your examples!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Gwen, I love the idea of an unwritten contract between writer and reader. It’s critical to have cover, blurb, and tag match the appropriate genre. As a writer, I strive for that, as a reader I rely on it. Sadly, I have been led astray more than once by a blurb, finding the content didn’t deliver what the blurb promised. When that happens, I think it leaves a bad taste with the reader. Excellent post, wonderfully illustrated!

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  12. I think most of us read the blurbs (though I know some who do not) and, at the very least, the book needs to be categorized somehow, even if it is to say it defies a category! If you cannot stand horror and a blurb misleads you into reading it (as far in as you do go), you will definitely no longer trust that author.

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  13. What a fabulous post, Gwen. I’ll never forget hearing the words in a writer’s workshop about what our book covers and blurbs promise the readers. It is a contract of sorts. I recently picked up a book that had a warm inviting picture of a happy couple on the cover, swinging a little girl by the arms only to find that the story was far from what the cover promised. It is not only disappointing but causes us to lose faith in that author. Thank you for sharing this today!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jan. The workshop you’ve mentioned sounds like a jewel. And your example is a perfect illustration of why it’s so important for writers to accurately represent their books. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  14. A super post, Gwen. We all struggle with blurbs. I think they are the most challenging part of this thing we call ‘writing.’ Your advice is excellent. I always hate to be misled, and I’m sure most readers do as well. Well done, as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. First of all, I hate writing blurbs. It is difficult to get the meaning of a novel in a few short sentences. I haven’t been burned so much with a blurb but recently with the title of the book. While the story lived up to its genre, the title was a bit misleading. Either that or the author and I have a different definition of the word “wild.”

    Getting a title and a blurb to match the story is important and something all authors should strive to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing that experience, Joan. It’s confusing at best when we assume one thing and find another. As for blurbs, it’s such a dreaded final step, but what a difference it can make. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I love this line: “Readers enjoy the unexpected ending, but they do not like to be misled.” It annoys me to pick up a book that doesn’t match the blurb or the cover. It also annoys me when the blurb summarizes the whole story. I want to discover it for myself. I hate writing blurbs, but I understand it is a necessary component for attracting a reader, so I do my best to make sure it divulges enough to hook the reader while also keeping my promise to entertain them. Great post, Gwen! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  17. That was a fun exercise, Gwen, and I’m pretty sure I matched the books with their blurbs. I am having the same dilemma with my Redcliffe Novels series. They look and sound like romance from the titles and covers, but the content is paranormal and verges on horror. I like to think of them as Contemporary English Gothic but that isn’t a recognised sub-genre in the bookshops. I will keep working on them and try to get the formula right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Catherine. I’m confident you matched them all correctly. It’s challenging “to get the formula right” but when it is, we have happy readers. Your series sounds intriguing and I wish you all the best as you fine-tune the titles and covers. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Great post, Gwen, with important points. There’s nothing worse than picking up what you expect to be a gentle Christian romance only to find it full of BDSM, insest, and other dark stuff. That old adage, ‘It does what it says on the tin’ is so relevant here. Getting the labelling right is as vital as writing a good story. Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Harmony. I’ve had the experience you’ve described — picked up a book thinking it was a Christian romance and discovered it was quite the opposite. I felt betrayed by the author. The genre and blurb should help readers with their choice, not confuse them. I love your adage, right on. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Happy New Year, Gwen xx (And to all the others who make me feel welcome to comment on the great Story Empire posts.)

    You have summed up what I have just re-done for my latest book, and I did it with the help of comments and constructive criticism from a group of thriller readers. None of them had read the book, which was a huge plus. They told me what my cover and blurb led them to expect from it.
    Changes to the cover were minor – a different font for the title. The blurb is completely different; it concentrates on the DCI who will feature in future books. Obvious? It should have been, but I’d been too busy outlining the story through two other major characters. To put it as many of these marvellous readers did “asking questions and GIVING THE ANSWERS”!
    It’s an exercise I can recommend to everybody. We all try to do it for each other, but it’s one time you would do well to approach strangers.

    Liked by 4 people

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