Great (reader) Expectations: Why a book is not a selfie


I’d been watching a youtuber’s channel and was growing increasingly interested in the book she was about to bring out. Her work consists of lifestyle videos with a focus on cookery. She’s a vegan and although I am not, I love the creativity she brings to her recipes.

As the weeks progressed I followed vlogs of her meetings with a publisher, recipe testing mornings and the excitement which was building as the publication date approached.

At the end of the summer, the book came out. The cover looked eye-catching, the hype around it huge.

And then I read the reviews. Overall, those who love her channel and enjoy the vegan/health/good living slant liked the book. But it’s the comments of the disappointed customers which interested me. Bear with me on this one…

I don’t want to do the youtuber down (so no names mentioned). In truth, she’s great at what she does and the book is presented beautifully. But I do want to think about what reader expectations mean for writers and creators:  what exactly we are hoping for when we pick up a book – be it fiction or non-fiction – blog or online course, soap opera or costume drama.

Earlier in the week I watched this interview by Joanna Penn with the indie editor Harry Dewulf.  (If you are a writer or creator of any kind I wholly recommend Joanna’s work with writers; she shares a mountain of good sense and experience about writing and self-publishing in her youtube interviews as well as in her blog.)

In Joanna’s interview, Dewulf says: ‘One of my biggest areas of discussion with authors is the experience that the reader has reading your book.

This for me was eye-opening. I had always thought, when writing this blog for instance, about my reader, but a novel is different, less immediate, and in that it’s  easier to forget that what one person creates, another will, in some way, live through.

The writer Jordan Rosenfeld says the same in her tweets on writing:

‘Agents, publishers, & readers want to be seduced into into the “dream” you’ve created in words.’

It’s all about the reader, not the writer.

This came across in a number of the reviews I read about the youtuber’s new cookery book. One person said:

‘I like to see the end result of a recipe not the author wearing a dress standing on the street. I thought there would be more mains recipes than there is.’

Somewhere along the line the reader’s experience was lost. My guess is that the publishers made a call, knowing that the youtuber was loved and lovely looking, to make the book about her, rather than the fabulous recipes she was sharing. While this is great when you’re relaxing in front of youtube, they may have forgotten that people who cook tend to prefer pictures of the food they are making, rather than of the author.

Writers of fiction may learn a lot from this. My own take-away is:

  • A book is not a selfie. If the telling of its story doesn’t compel its reader to read on, some reflection and/or editing may be required.
  •  Expectation is everything. When we’re climbing the steps to a rollercoaster we don’t expect the umbrella ride at the end of it! Writing fiction is the same. Every book makes a promise in its opening. As writers we must keep that promise to our reader. Whether it is to thrill or intrigue: to tell the story we appear to be telling in the first few pages.
  • In this age of information, we only have to talk to people or go online to find out what readers and viewers want, what works. Writing from the heart is often advised but to carve this passion into something another person will enjoy, a wealth of manuals, testimonies, podcasts, wonderful pieces of literature and other authors exist and may be consulted. If you’re interested in writing fiction, I recommend starting here.


Readers what do you look for in your reading experience? Writers, how do you make your work live up to readers’ expectations? As always, please feel free to comment below.






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