Expectation and Satisfaction: Question for Argh

The pig is sitting in the kitchen by the counter with a collage-in-progress because the betas came back for Wild Ride–three of four are back and I’m expecting the last one tonight–and I’m trying to figure out how to fix the problems in it. Most of them are easy fixes, Jeep Fairy fixes, or “this detail is annoying” fixes, but there’s a big one that I’m not sure what to do about.

It’s the romance novel thing.

I think it’s pretty clear that with the exception of Bet Me, I haven’t really written a classic romance novel since I left Harlequin, that the main plots of most of my SMP books (again, not counting Bet Me or “Hot Toy”) have been women’s journey books, but even though I think it’s clear, other people don’t. They’re still expecting romance novels. And that’s bad because if you read my books as romance novels, they don’t deliver. Which is what happened to one beta on Wild Ride: She got invested in what she thought was a romance novel and then the reversals started to happen and she got thrown out into the cold.

Now I can say “Wild Ride is not a romance novel” until I’m blue, and some people are still going to read it as a romance novel. There’s nothing I can do about that. What I’m trying to figure out is whether foreshadowing the reversals takes some of the sting out of the disappointment or if that just skews the book more toward romance and increases the disappointment. The love interest doesn’t show up until the sixth scene in the book which seems to me to say, “Not a romance novel,” and the heroine has major problems of her own that have nothing to do with any love affair and that, to me, are where all the crunch is, but I cannot discount a smart reader.

So instead of painting the pig, I’m talking this out with the betas, trying to figure out how to make the book better without ruining it.

Which brings me to my real question here:

On what do you base your expectation of what a book will be?

The author? The title? The cover? The back cover blurb and/or advertising? The first page? How do you know what a book is about when you open it, what sets up your expectation of the story?

i think the success or failure of any novel rests on that, setting up the expectation and then delivering on it. So, big question. Help.

108 thoughts on “Expectation and Satisfaction: Question for Argh

  1. With your books, I figure there’ll be a relationship (what’s a Crusie book without male/female banter?) but the thing I LOVE about your books, is the whole story doesn’t hinge on “she gets her man.” I want to know if she’s conquered whatever demon was pestering her up front. The guy and the banter and the sex are great. But I rarely, if ever, read a true ‘romance’ anymore. I need the women I read about to be the women I hang with – their lives are about more than needing a man. And that’s why I read you. Sure, there’ll be a guy. And sometimes, he’s part of the protag’s conundrum. But he’s not the be all end all. Thank god.

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  2. What if The Guy isn’t The Guy?

    In other words, if the Crusie had no HEA that involved a romantic partner even though the heroine is doing just fine without one, happy as a clam, is that an expectation deal breaker?

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  3. I’m pretty pragmatic about expectations. I base mine on:

    jacket blurb
    cover
    title
    author
    in that order. I am ok with authors taking a different direction and have happily followed them into other genres if the writing quality is there. That said – I see your books as being about community and family. If you wrote a heroine who didn’t have those connections as part of her story I would probably be thrown a bit. But an HEA is not a requirement for me.

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  4. Honestly I think that if I didn’t read Argh I would buy the book expecting a romantic plot of some variety. That being said as long as the book is well written I could really care less, but I don’t only read romances. Some of the books I’ve enjoyed the most in my life I picked up on recommendations from other people that were so off base on the thematic front I wasn’t sure we read the same book.

    I guess my point is that everyone reads a book differently. You’re not going to be able to completely kill that expectation once it’s attached to your name but I don’t think the lack of romantic focus is going to be a deal breaker for the majority of your readers.

    My favourite book you’ve ever written was Fast Women and I would have loved that book with or without Gabe. It could have been Nell just cracking windows and healing her soul and I would have loved the journey.

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  5. Jenny –

    I love your books for many reasons besides the romance. I’d buy a book of your grocery and laundry lists sight unseen because I know it would be funny and worth the price.

    But I prefer at least a mimimal relationship and I think a goodly number of your readers probably do too. For me it doesn’t have to be a major part of her journey or the book. I want both to clearly feel the spark, and feel good about the spark, and at least she sees potential for the future.

    Crusie #and# Crusie&Mayer is/are brand names that say “here be lots of good stuff including a relationship with a now or at least the potential for a someday happy ending”.

    I don’t think there’s anything you can do to avoid that expectation from some readers. And a book that doesn’t meet those reader expectations would probably really disapoint some readers and reduce future sales.

    Vicki V.

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  6. Brand. Plain and simple. Sorry, but it’s working against you here. It would be a different story if every book you wrote with Bob had been a “non-romance”. Yes, it’s to me a romance even when things go Ka-Boom. I buy you because you are Crusie. If I didn’t read your blog I’d have no idea what was coming next, just that a Crusie was coming out.

    Here’s the good news. If you set up the book so that it’s understood that IT’S NOT A ROMANCE, then all is well in Crusie fan world.

    Back to the bad new…I have a skewed vision of what a romance is…everything that has a man and woman who meet within the first three chapters and fall in love AND have a happy for now or happy ever after.

    Good news.. Do your part and you really can’t change reader expectations. Even if you put up road signs, big red lights, arrows, sirens…you get the picture. For a reader it’s a downside that you read so much of a genre you come into every book with certain expectations. You can’t change expectations, but you can write a damn good book warning the reader.

    Best of luck.

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  7. My two cents worth: I base my expectations of what kind of book it will be, on who the author is. If I’m not familiar with the author, then I guess I base my expectation on where it’s shelved in the bookstore and after that, the cover blurb.
    Uh… and I’ve always thought of you as writing romance novels (incredibly well-written, satisfying romance novels with fabulous characters). Wasn’t DLD a romance? I’ve just read Dogs & Goddesses and it’s wonderful, but isn’t it a romance too? And I reread Crazy for You recently (big fan) and I thought that was a romance too. Maybe what I think of as ‘romance’ is broadly a relationship story where the hero and heroine spend a lot of time together in the plot, and ultimately pair up (the ‘happy ever after’ can be implied). I hate the formulaic stuff from the romance houses like Harlequin, but some of that could be because of the length restriction so they don’t give their authors much leeway (a title like ‘The Italian Count’s Pregnant Mistress’ makes me want to run away). I thought ‘ROmance’ was a kind of umbrella heading with lots of flexibility therein. If you published a book that didn’t have the hero and heroine ending up together, I’d notice and might feel a mite disappointed. But if it had wonderful Cruisie characters and humour and snappy dialogue, I’d get over it pretty quickly!

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  8. Author, author, author. And I feel a wee bit uncomfortable (meaning betrayed) if my author of choice (meaning you) takes me in a direction I hadn’t planned on (meaning non-HEA). That said, what I love about Crusie novels is that the characters are flawed and funny, with stretch marks, self esteem issues, and committment fears included. I can well imagine the heros with wolfman hairs growing out of their backs and tiny thigh pimples too. I don’t mind if the route to HEA is unconventional because that, too, is a reality of life. It is your willingness to deliver a HEA to flawed and genuine characters that makes you be such a breath of fresh air to the genre, and makes me not mind that Nancy Pearl outted me as a romance reader to my fellow library employees.

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  9. If I’ve read an author’s previous work then I base my expectations for the new book on the old book. Which in this case (if I wasn’t a reader of this blog) would probably hurt you at first because I’d be in the wanting a romance camp, and I don’t know how well the back cover blurb could be at dispelling that expectation. I’m pretty sharp, though, so I think I would catch on pretty quick.

    If I haven’t read the author before I base it on the blurb and, these days, I try to read an excerpt of the first few pages to get a sense of the voice and tone of the story so I know what I’m in for and if I can stand to read it.

    I also go by reviews a lot to find books. When the SBTB were still doing regular reviews I pretty much always seemed to agree with their assessments of books (so the expectation was if the SBs liked it I probably would). Dear Author is less reliable to me as far as lining up with my own taste but they give such good, detailed reviews I’ve had some good finds there.

    I’m probably a little weird in that I tend to do a lot of research on a book before I decide to read it. I am not an “impulse buyer” by any stretch of the imagination.

    *sheepish face* Sometimes, if it’s an older book, particularly SF, I try and find out if there’s a plot synopsis on wiki. I just don’t trust most authors not to jerk me around anymore.

    So, to sum up, probably the two biggest things that set up my expectations for a book are the blurbs and summaries I’ve read of the plot and the first pages.

    Hope some of this rambling helps. 🙂

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  10. I go by past experience with an author, what kind of cover it has, what the blurb says (assuming I haven’t been following the development of it online, as I have here). Something like a blurb that says “In this novel, a departure for the authors, …” (only said better) might help.

    Knowing it’s not a romance with HEA going in, I’m fine with it; I recently read a romance where the story was totally NOT the romance, which was the deadest romance I’ve read by that author. Good book, and I wish she’d left out the romance entirely.

    I’d add that you’re already known to be heading in new directions, so I’d imagine some readers might go “Oh, so THIS is where she’s heading.” Some will go “Hey!”, but some will go “Oh, good.”

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  11. My expectation of story comes from the marketing: the title, cover, back cover blurb. Sometimes the excerpts on the authors prior novels can be misleading if they are now writing in a different genre. Use tags like “women’s fiction” or a “popular novelist” or a “NYT bestseller” on the cover and don’t allow references that stress the romance in the story. Add some tags that say something to alert your romance reader fans that “this one is going to be different” then play up those differences.
    I’ve watched your progress with interest and am glad, thrilled really, that you’re exploring new things. You’re a fabulous, intelligent, witty, storyteller and something tells me you have many fabulous stories, other than romance, to tell. So write what YOU want, what you’re passionate about, and you’ll have many of us follow you AND you’ll pick up other fans who may not have read you before. I’ve been reading some amazing women’s novels lately and they leave me with a satisfied sigh that all is right in my characters world. And that might mean they say goodbye to the guy, or go out and buy another puppy, or move back home with their elderly mother. So long as the story doesn’t end on a down note it’s fine with me.

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  12. This is all great feedback. And by the way, I’m not looking down on readers who want a brand. If Dick Francis had written a book without a horse in it, I’d have been VERY disappointed.

    I’ve been thinking about this as I read through the responses above, and I realized that Bob’s character does have an HEA romance. Just not with my heroine which is fine by her. But I tend to think of the heroine as the reader’s placeholder, so what happens to her becomes much more emotionally important that what happens to any other character. Another reason to deliver a happy ending for her, even if it isn’t the one the reader was expecting andn/or wanted.

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  13. Just realized that I hadn’t commented here for a while – did the new layout turn me off? Was it the topics or my lack of time? Never mind.

    For me, a HEA is important. I hate to close a book and feel sad for the H/H because they didn’t get what they wanted. This doesn’t have to be a relationship, but then the blurb is important because I go from there. If it promises a love story, I expect one with a HEA of some kind.

    But then, I feel that at present, I don’t match the flock of Argh people, anyway. Not just because I don’t care for the new layout. After reading the Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, I decided I don’t want another novel with supernatural content. So I’ll pass on D&G and I’ll probably pass on Wild Ride, too. I’ll rather go with the many, many books which deal with ‘real’ problems, and I hope that your next fun book is going to be one of those. Because I like the way you write.

    So basically I think it depends on how the content is described on the back. I must admit that occasionally, I take a sneak peek at the last page. And I read the reader reviews on Amazon, particularly the negative ones.

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  14. I have to throw in my two cents. What I love about your books are the relationships. I like the fact that your characters relate well with one another and that their quirks are believable and realistic. The fact that your hero and heroine don’t end up together, well, that might throw me for a loop for a little while, but that’s life. We often begin relationships thinking they are heading in one direction, but they veer and things change, hopefully for the better. The fact that our main characters end up with different people might chase a few people off, but imagine if Quinn had stayed with Bill just because it was expected. They’d both be miserable (or at least she would have been) and we’d be disappointed as readers. Part of the joy of reading your works is that you take us places we didn’t see the story going. I love it when you escape from the formulas and add in the quirky notes that we can only get from a well written Crusie novel.

    So yeah, some people will be disappointed, but that’s going to happen constantly unless you only write formula novels, and those become repeative and boring both for authors and audiences. Okay, sorry for the rant and tangent. I’m certain that you have already prefaced it remarkably well. Please don’t make changes that work against your natural inclinations just to appease a few naysayers.

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  15. Grumble, grumble. I’m very unhappy, because I feel that an author who is writing to other people’s expectations is not writing to her full potential. (An author who writes, and it just happens to meet other people’s expectations, is pretty damn lucky and must be very happy, I think.)

    I’m also going to make an unpopular statement: in general, people who only like romance novels do not like weird, freaky supernatural stuff. They want a fairly standardized product.

    I would be very interested in seeing the market research about readers of paranormals — I have a feeling that they read across more genres — I am very willing to bet that they don’t just stick to “paranormal romances.”

    From what I’ve heard, romance readers make up the biggest market share.

    So, you’ve got hard choices. You can cater to the romance market, and sell lots of books (but if they don’t have that “spark” because the books bore you, you might not sell a lot of books anyway.)

    Or, you can follow your interests, write the best you possibly can, and maybe attract new readers (but possibly alienate old ones).

    Personally, I would like to see you keep writing what interests you. I feel like writing something that has become old hat will lead to burnout, and the only Crusie we’ll be seeing is the luggage line (because that’s what interests you).

    (-: And the luggage line is very nice and good — however, I buy luggage only once every three or four years. I’d buy a Crusie book every week, if there was any way to clone you and keep the output at your high level of talent.

    There’s an awful lot of romance writers out there, and the readers who are disgruntled at having to process something new can find consolation in a different author. But a writer who is willing to go out on a limb, yet keep it fun and exciting . . . well, that’s pretty good.

    I read you for your sense of humor. I adore the food scenes, but if you were to write a book with a HEA that did not involve high sugar and loads of fat, I think I could still be happy.

    Sorry to rant . . . but it really upsets me that people want a genuine Crusie . . . and then want to dictate how it should be written.

    You might want to consider a different pen name for other (non romance)endeavors, but I really hope you let us know who you are, and where we can buy your books.

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  16. Does a female lead character have to end up with a guy to have a HEA? I don’t think so. You said sometime ago that your character and Bob’s character won’t be romantically linked. I assume that it’s explained somehow so the reader does expect that pairing. If she’s a strong kickass kinda gal, why can’t she ride off into the sunset all by herself?

    If The Guy isn’t THE GUY then the reader should feel that and not be rooting for them as a couple. Readers fall for the male character because he’s heroic, noble, charming, good looking, etc. Then there is usually a budding relationship of sorts and some sexual attraction. If those elements aren’t there, then how can the reader be disappointed at the end? I mean it’s OK if he’s more of a Mr. Right Now instead of a Mr. Right.

    The only times I get frustrated is if the rug is pulled out from underneath me. You know he’s Mr. Wonderful through most of the book but then all of a sudden he’s a shallow selfish pig. I hate that because it’s not really staying true to the character and it’s cheap. In that case there should be some foreshadowing so the reader knows he’s not Mr. Wonderful even if the heroine doesn’t! OR if the writer kinda makes it murky as to who Mr. Right really is. The guy with all the virtue ends up being the friend or hero’s brother.

    As a reader I am willing to go on the journey that the writer takes me on. If it is written well (you’re pretty good at this writing/storytelling thing 😉 then you understand why the heroine is making those choices and you are rooting for her.

    Hope that helps.

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  17. “I hate the formulaic stuff from the romance houses like Harlequin, but some of that could be because of the length restriction so they don’t give their authors much leeway”

    I feel obliged to point out that Jenny wrote 6 novels and 1 novella for Harlequin. She’s also written that “Category is an elegant, exacting, exciting form of fiction. It requires precise pacing, tight plotting, and exquisitely brief characterizations. It is truly as fine a form for fiction as the sonnet is for poetry.” Of course, not all category romances live up to those standards, but some do.

    “some people will be disappointed, but that’s going to happen constantly unless you only write formula novels, and those become repeative and boring both for authors and audiences”

    Depends what you mean by “formula,” doesn’t it? Some people would think of all romances as “formula” fiction, but many authors write romance novels in ways which keep their work fresh and interesting for both them and their readers. In addition, regardless of genre, readers’ expectations and preferences can vary widely: one person’s “repeative and boring” can be another person’s “consistent high quality.”

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  18. If I’ve read the author in question a lot, then I’m expecting something in the neighborhood of what I’ve read before. If I’ve never read the author, then the cover, the voice, and the section it’s shelved in are going to set my expectation. So, basically, if it’s got your name on it, I’m expecting some sort of He/She relationship that’s going to end in an HEA. Sorry, but if I wasn’t a cherry that’s what I’d be expecting. Even from you and Bob, because the last two books have had H/H’s with an HEA. Granted their was a lot of violence and weapons too, but I still got my HEA.

    However, that’s not to discount a good story and set up. If you start telling me right up front that I’m not going to get that in this story, then at least I’ve been warned. I’m going to be disappointed and you may lose me before I get to the end of the book because I’m a picky reader (Although probably not because I’m pretty sure I’d read your grocery list). But, I think you can warn the reader with lots of warning signs and blinking lights in the story right from the beginning. I also think the cover is going to be crucial in letting the reader know not to expect what you’ve sent her before. If you’ve got a man and woman swinging on a rope again, you’re going to have a problem.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that if Bob’s character gets an HEA, but your character doesn’t, then there could be another problem: the reader thinks “Oh good, I’ll get to see that character’s HEA in the Next Book!”

    Except that, you two aren’t sure there’s going to be a Next Book. So, you may be setting your reader up for a double disappointment and that could cause problems for both of you later on.

    I always hear “write the book that wants to be written.” If this is the book that wants to be written, then it is what it is. And, yes, you might end up with disappointed readers that you’re going to have to deal with in email and book signings, but what are you going to do? That’s the book that wanted to be written. And, ultimately, I think your readers are lovers of story and if it’s a good story, they’ll be happy. Maybe not as happy as they would have been had there been an HEA, but if the story is good and the characters are engaging they’ll at least have that to hold on to.

    Good luck. You know, it occurs to me that one reason you have such loyal readers is you really sweat this kind of stuff. I’m sure you’ll figure it out, and I’m sending lots of hugs out to you. {{Hugs}}

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  19. My expectations come from my experience with other books by the same author if it is a writer I’m familiar with. Not to say that a reader’s expectations of a writer shouldn’t evolve and change (they should be able to expect a variety of works from the author), however, I think there is something to be said for those expectations. I hate to say it, but I do expect a romance. Not a traditional or conventional fall in love story, which is why I and so many love your books, but more of an evolution story of your heroine. While the heroine is dealing with her baggage and finding herself, there is a guy who she finds, or finds her, that ends up complimenting her TRUE self, thereby solidifying her belief in the changes in herself. I think that is my general expectation for your books.
    That being said, expectations were meant to be broken. And if anyone can do that with wit and aplomb, it is you (and Bob).

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  20. My expectation is going to be that there is a romance within the course of the book, whether or not that’s the main focus. I almost think that expectation is stronger because the heroine is written by a woman and the hero by a man. You’re each writing “your” side of the same story, and I wouldn’t expect that one side of it ends with the hero having a romantic HEA with someone else.

    Those are my expectations going into the book. How my expectations change during the course of the book is another matter. My Pavlovian response to two characters I love who have good chemistry will be that I want them to end up together. If it’s clear that wouldn’t be good for them, although they are good for each other’s character arcs, that’s a different story (literally, I suppose).

    But going in, I would expect the two of them to end up together. I imagine there are going to be readers who will be pissed off that they don’t end up together regardless of how clear you make it that they won’t, because in romance (which they may believe they’re reading) it’s the author’s job to make the conflict between the h/h strong enough that you wonder how they’ll ever overcome it.

    Hard to give advice when I haven’t read the actual book.

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  21. Author, but I accept a wide range of genres from a good writer, which even made me read vampire stories when Robin McKinley and Tanya Huff went thataway.
    From you writing on your own, I’d be a little surprised to find a story was a non-romance mainstream, fantasy, soft-horror, etc., but as long as the ending wasn’t depressing, it’d be OK.
    When writing with somebody else, it’s not the pure Crusie, and all bets are off on the genre. I’d still expect it to be well written, when it has your name on it, but for my own taste the Miss Fortunes and D&G are actually too close to the romance formula.

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  22. Author
    Title
    Back blurb
    Inside left cover jacket if it’s a hardback.
    I read all before I buy.

    Maybe the back blurb could say something like “This isn’t a Crusie romance. Crusie and Mayer team up to …” And there’s no back blurb on a beta version, is there?

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  23. “Bob’s character does have an HEA romance. Just not with my heroine which is fine by her.”

    Stated that plainly, yes that would bother me. But there’s more to being a fictional couple than being the most prominent male and female character in the book. At least there is if the author’s any good. If there isn’t any vibe between the two characters then I wouldn’t be disappointed at all. I do want to see the heroine happy or at least hopeful for the future, though.

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  24. I’ve been a Crusie reader for ages, and I always enjoy the humor and realistic character descriptions enormously. That being said, I buy books based on author, or (if it’s a new author) by title and back blurb. I love a happy ending, but it doesn’t have to involve a man making a woman’s life complete.

    In fact, even though I’m an unabashed romance reader (I call it comfort fiction), I tend to re-read most often the books that don’t tie up relationships in a neat bow. That way I get to imagine my own epilogues, so to speak. As long as my main characters are happy with where they are, conflicts resolved and such, I am a satisfied reader.

    Hope that helps!

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  25. Like others, if I’m reading an author I’ve read before, I base my expectations on previous books.

    After that, it could be cover, title, recommendations from other readers. I almost never read back cover copy until after I’ve read the book.

    I have read some books that have romantic elements and happy endings, but not HEA endings for the two characters primarily involved in the romantic elements. I was not disappointed, but I also had no expectations going in that I’d be reading a romance.

    I think for me, it would depend on how early I knew that 1) the guy would get his HEA with someone else and 2) the girl would not be getting a HEA at all. If those came at the very end, I think I might feel cheated. But if relatively early on the guy meets the other girl that he gets his HEA with, and I get invested in her as a character so that I don’t want to split them up to get him back with the heroine, that would help.

    And this maybe doesn’t help you set up expectations from the beginning, but how happy is the heroine’s happy ending? Will a typical romance reader truly feel she’s happy, or will we end up thinking, “I’m so glad you got all that worked out. Now you can finally get around to finding Mr. Perfect.” It’s a pretty natural thing for a lot of people to want to matchmake, so it can be difficult to accept that she’s going to be happy forever without a partner.

    The end of a stand-alone book, I think, represents the point where a reader can say, “Okay, this person (or these people) have found a place where they can have a happy life from now until the end of time. Sure, they’ll have ups and downs and sad times and arguments, but they’ve finally worked through some huge problems in their lives to end up in a place that will truly allow them to be happy ever after.”

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  26. Remember when you and Bob went to the media consultant prior to the release of DLD and “romantic adventure” was one of the key talking points? That set you and your reader base down this road. With a male and a female protagonist in Wild Ride, the expectation exists for many readers that the characters end up together by the end of the book — regardless of whether they meet in the first, second or sixth scene. It isn’t different enough, even with demons and minions and dragons to break the brand expectation.

    Nora can do a trilogy set in the Chesapeake area or one set in contemporary times that goes back to an alternate world with vampires and readers still know that each book is going to be a romance.

    Robert B. Parker can do a Spenser novel, a Jesse Stone novel or a Sunny Randall novel and the reader knows that all are going to be the same type of book, albeit with different characters.

    That’s my overall take on branding and expectations. My personal feeling as a Crusie-Mayer fan, and as an author, is that I embrace your right to go where the muse, the Girls/Boys in the Basement, and your creative inspiration take you. If you deliver a good, entertaining book, I’m happy.

    If, however, in the course of the book you’ve set me up to want to see the man and woman develop a relationship and are together at the end of the book (whether it’s happily ever after or happily for a good while)and that doesn’t happen, I’m going to feel some disappointment because I’ve become invested in these characters. It won’t ruin the book for me, but there will be some lingering wish for a different ending.

    On the other hand, if they’re fighting evil together through the entire book as compatriots/friends/partners in demon-ass-whupping and you have them developing HEAs with others at the same time, then I’m going to be happy because there was no expectation that this one woman and that one man would end up as one couple together.

    This might be clear as mud, but it’s the best I can do before the second hit of caffeine.

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  27. I started off reading SF/F and mysteries. It was 20 years before I willingly picked up a romance novel, at just the point in time that I began to get dissatisfied with SF/F. What I discovered was that the most important parts of a good story for me were entertaining characterizations & ensembles, with a strong male/female relationship, overlaid with humor, supported by a clever plot, and an ending where the good guys “win”. At which point it became less about genre and more about ferreting out the authors that could give me what I like the most. And I’ve found that the male/female relationship is not the most important ingredient in that recipe unless I am specifically looking in the romance section of the bookstore.

    You have become one of my absolute favorite authors because you provide all of these elements. For the romance genre, you are my favorite author, both solo and in collaboration with Bob. And I consider each and every one of your books to be a true romance, at least as I define them I guess.

    I’m a picky eater, but I know a few people that are such good cooks that I would eat anything they put in front of me, because I trust their talents that much. I feel the same way about you as a writer. I’ll try anything you put out there. If I don’t like it, I’ll try the next one and the next one. But I still think of you as a romance novelist, so I’m going to expect a romance. Same with your collaboration with Bob … DLD & Agnes were both romances as far as I am concerned, so that is the expectation I’ll have of any books you produce with him. I know by reading your blog that WR will be different, so I’m prepared for that, although if I don’t get the other elements that I expect from your work, THAT would disappoint me.

    I think your problem will come from placement. If bookstores put it in general fiction it won’t sell, because your & Bob’s core readers won’t be able to find it. If it goes in fantasy, your core won’t be able to find it, and Bob’s probably won’t either because it would be under Mayer instead of Dougherty. And if they did, it would confuse the hell out of them because it’s a big departure from the Area 51 stuff. If you put it in romance, the core readership will find it, but the ones not in the know will be confused because it won’t be what they expect. I don’t know how to fix the problems of expectations versus marketing.

    Good luck, and regardless, I can’t wait to read Wild Ride.

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  28. What an interesting question…I, too, base my expectations on the author’s previous work, but not so much in following a formula but a certain style. What I love about your characters is their smart, snappy dialog, their complex predicaments, and their reflective journeys. I also appreciate how your novels, whether collaborations or not, “flirt” with the romance formula, revising it as necessary.

    I don’t think I would have a problem with the resolution of *Wild Ride,* as long as the heroine is in a good, happy place. In such an ending, you’ve preserved a sense of emotional justice, but have also written an alternate “ending” for female characters, which I appreciate. Transferring the HEA to another character is, to me, another way of playing with the formula, and would be quite interesting from a structural standpoint.

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  29. Where is the conflict? I assume there is some between the H/H or they wouldn’t be in the same book. If there’s conflict, it feels weak to resolve it by having him wander off and fall in love with someone else. If he’s already in love at the beginning, that’s different. But if he’s going to fall in love during the story, why NOT with your girl? What’s wrong with her?

    Seems to me you decided before you wrote it what this story wasn’t going to be. Okay. But what if it is?

    As someone else said, very hard to tell without having read it. You’ll figure it out. Probably it will take three days.

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  30. I’m OK with the female protagonist not ending up with the male protagonist (although if they have sex and he goes off with someone else, it may look as if she “lost”, I’m afraid; but if they’re not in THAT kind of relationship, then it’s fine).

    And I don’t need her to end up with ANYONE – so long as she’s in a really good place with everything else. And has plenty of people and is generally OK. Not “sadder but wiser”, but “really figured out what she wants and getting that”.

    Good romances make me feel all warm and fuzzy, confident that all will be well, mutual support, companionship and all that. I don’t like characters that aren’t open to relationships, but there IS a lot more to life than finding a partner.

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  31. I’d feel ok if it was a Nell/Riley situation, say, or even a purely professional relationship so long as there was a hint of romantic HEAs elsewhere. Both the Crusie brand and the Crusie/Mayer brand have created expectations of some sort of romantic resolution and I think it would be hard to back away from that in terms of reader expectation and satisfaction.

    That said, I’m slowly eking out the CJ Sansom Matthew Shardlake series, all of which have the central mystery plots resolved but set up our hero with a potential HEA that sours, and I love those books.

    I do think the author is the greatest source of expectations, and I don’t think authors should be afraid of experimenting. One of my favourite authors is Michael Chabon – but I didn’t enjoy Yiddish Policeman’s Union nearly as much as I’d expected to, not compared to my enjoyment of his other novels. There were many delights in it, but the payoff wasn’t pulled off as well as I’d imagined. That won’t stop me from getting the next Chabon, and I thrill at the variations and developments in his style.

    You and Bob are good writers, and you should tell the story you feel is right for your characters. If they tell you they don’t need a conventional HEA, then maybe they are right.

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  32. BTW, all that being said, I don’t think you should change what you’ve written. I think a major overhaul of that nature would fundamentally change the book, and honestly, as others have said, you have to write the book that wants to be written. Otherwise it won’t be a good book. I think that readers who don’t care for it will be balanced by new readers who do enjoy it.

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  33. Generally, my expectations for books are based on the author/genre. If I am familiar with the author’s work, I go by that; if I don’t, I default to what I expect from the genre.

    The thing is, you’ve been defying the genre’s expectations from the beginning. Where others have been tame, you’ve been sexy. Where others have been sexy, you’ve been realistic. (Oral sex? CLUTCH YOUR PEARLS, MABEL.) Where others written the traditional HEA, you’ve written about raising dogs, not babies. That one really got me, actually. I seriously just sat there for a second.

    When you and Bob starting writing together, I started reading it with my usual Crusie expectations, and literally ended up with a headache. I thought I was going to read a breezy book and found instead something denser, more plot-heavy, that moved at a completely different pace than what you wrote by yourself. I have to admit that it took a second, shifted-expectation reading for me to love (rather than just enjoy) DLD, and that shifted expectation allowed me to read Agnes with the “right” eyes.

    But you wouldn’t be Jenny if you didn’t still surprise me after all this time, if you didn’t keep poking at the traditional expectations of someone who started in the romance genre, and if the hero and heroine don’t end up together at the end of your next book? I’d just put it down at the end, smile, and say “You did it again, Jenny.” I’d be proud of you, really, because I can’t imagine any other so-called “romance writer” getting away with it but you.

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  34. Author, first and foremost. Especial if it is an author with an established record, such as yourself. Your name is your brand, and so far your brand is most well known for romance.

    I don’t know how to fix this with your betas. Maybe you just need different betas for non-romance projects.

    But for bookstore customers, you might want to consider a pen name. You could even include the Crusie name on the cover, say something like “Jennifer Crusie writing as (new name)”. It would let us know that our expectations for this book should be different from a Jennifer Crusie romance without compromising the story.

    And please, don’t compromise the story in an attempt to protect fans from their own expectations. That way lies madness.

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  35. Okay, so to make sure I have this right – Ethan and Mab each have romantic subplots, but not with each other. Ethan gets his girl, but Mab ends the book in a good place, but not in a relationship. I’m going with this and answering from that standpoint.

    It sounds like you’re fighting two battles here:
    1. How do you battle expectations that Ethan and Mab will end up together?
    2. Will your readers be okay with the fact that Mab ends the book without a romantic relationship in her life?

    My thoughts on battle number 1: I think your cover and your back cover copy are your friends here. This book should probably have a different look than DLD and A&tH. Unfortunately, your prior two novels are not your friends in setting expectations – you’ve set a precedent there. I’m sorry to say that readers that don’t read your blog will probably be thrown for a loop or at least a bit confused for a while. But, I think if you clearly convey that there is NO romantic chemistry between your leads from the start of the book, you’d be fine with me. (No thinking about her lovely curves, no mental assessment of his broad shoulders.) Attraction to the actual romantic interests right away would also be helpful in setting expectations. As a totally out there suggestion, is there any way to make Ethan and Mab related? I mean, since this isn’t a VC Andrews novel, that’d be a big clue for me that these characters aren’t going to be involved romantically. 😉

    Thoughts on battle number 2: This one might sting you a bit more, in my opinion. I had gathered from your previous discussions that you had a Hero and Heroine that weren’t going to be involved with each other. Hearing that Mab doesn’t get a traditional romantic HEA, however, threw me for a moment. I had thought there would be two happy couples at the end of the book. I think the writing is your friend here, too. If you “warn” me throughout the book and give me good reasons to believe that this guy is nice, but he isn’t The One for Mab, I won’t be as disappointed at the end when it doesn’t work out. Also, knowing that Mab is happy at the end will go a long way with me in being satisfied at the end of the book.

    And that’s all I have for now.

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  36. Without having read any other comments first, so apologies if I am redundant.

    Part of the “romance” assumption seems to be inherent anytime a woman writes a book. Unless the book is gritty and dark, women writers tend to get shelved in romance. This is especially true if the story has a wacky, fun feel to it. If a man wrote the same book, it would be shelved differently, even if the guy does end up with the girl.

    Example: Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is clearly not a romance. There is no HEA in the Plum world, and through 14 books readers still don’t know who Stephanie is going to end up with for sure. But because this series can’t be definitively catagorized as anything else, they are considered romance.

    I think you and Bob have a tricky line to walk. There’s your girl and his guy but you aren’t planning to give them HEA with each other. There will be expectations; but as long as you play fair with the reader, I say don’t worry about it. You won’t please everyone, but you know that already.

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  37. This may sound extremely simple but I try not to make assumptions about what kind of book I’m picking up to read. I want things that interest me of course but before I buy a book I open it and try to feel the character. I want to beleive in and like the character I’m taking the ride with, be it a man, woman, or donkey 🙂 I dont expect a romance from you but I do expect some great banter, and general crunchiness. A hero or heroine that I can be proud of by the end of the book.

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  38. What Mary Stella said.

    Even when I know the author, however, the cover plays a huge role in my expectations. If “Wild Ride” steps away from the bright colors and fun illustrations of your recent books, I might expect a different kind of story. But you’d have to work really hard to convince me not to expect a romantic relationship between the main characters.

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  39. I set my expectations by the author, blurb, and the tone set by the first page. I suppose I would expect a Crusie to have an HEA, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it didn’t.
    What would probably set up expectations is if there were a story that featured a single woman (a character that I liked working) closely together with a single man (whom I also liked), and they had friendship and laughter, enjoyed each other’s company and relied on each other to get out of bad situations… I wouldn’t expect one of the two to go off with someone else and do HEA.

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  40. sigh… love that misplaced parenthesis.
    Two people working closely together are in some kind of relationship. When it’s a single man and a single woman I’ve been conditioned to expect friendship to lead somewhere more.

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  41. I read for voice. Tell me the story like you mean it, and I’ll follow you anywhere. The authors I read are all distinctive. The plots are different. The construction varies, but the thing they have in common is authenticity. I love quirk. I love emotion. I love intelligence, but it comes back to voice.

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  42. Voice is, indeed, key – so I choose almost entirely by author. For AND against. But characters have to grow.

    I read all the Stephanie Plum books – but I’ve quit buying them (mostly). Because people aren’t changing much, and they’re not in a place where they should be stopping, in most cases.

    I read lots of mysteries, and they don’t always have a romantic HEA, but they DO have resolution and (in the ones I like) hope for the future.

    No idea how to warn people!

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  43. This is hard, because as a writer, I think you should write what you want to write, what excites you to write about. I know how one wants to grow and stretch as a writer, and that can mean exploring other genres or forms. Of course you should do what you are passionate about trying.

    That said, selfishly, I myself would love something more similar to Welcome to Temptation than to Don’t Look Down, or your collaborations. I would. I buy books based on author, then blurb/back cover copy, then title. For me as a reader, your earlier, more HEA books resonated more profoundly with me, hit deeper emotions–in part because they aren’t typical linear romances. Your characters have depth, flaws, strengths and problems I can totally “get.” And yet we still get to experience their heady, joyous, terrifying highs and lows as they negotiate a building romance, and I find that thrilling.
    I love Bob, I love Krissie and your other co-authors, and yet pure, unadulterated Cruisie is what I was so shocked by, fell so in love with, lo these many years past. I’m happy with it including a mystery, I’m fine with paranormal aspects, but I will always be pining for that spark between the two main protagonists, that delicious, difficult dance between two imperfect people who will save each other and commit to a joint future.

    I know I’ll love your writing no matter what form it takes, but yes, however unfair or unwelcome it is, I will always be hoping for another woman’s journey book that includes an HEA relationship. And hot sex.

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  44. Before I start a book, I have expectations based on the author’s previous work. But once I’m reading the book, my expectations for where the book will take me are all about what I’ve read so far. If two characters spend a lot of time meeting cute, exchanging copulatory glances and being filled with longing then I expect a romance, at least as part of the story. But if there are none of those markers that scream romance than I don’t expect it to happen.

    Speaking of author’s moving in new directions, I recently read Terry Pratchett’s Nation. It totally blew me away–seriously beautiful and thought provoking. And a departure from classic Terry Pratchett. Did it still sound like him in tone and writing style? Yes, mostly but not entirely. And I have to say I was not disappointed in the least.

    So, let the story be what it is but make sure the story is true to itself all the way through. Good luck resolving all of this to your own (and Bob’s) satisfaction. I’m really looking forward to reading this.

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  45. This is a tough one. I’d like to know going in not expecting an HEA.

    You can see the flak that Suzanne Brockmann got for having 2 characters that people thought were going to end up together end up with different people. I liked the new pairings much better 🙂

    I think as long as you can make us believe that everyone is in their best place at the end, it isn’t a problem. But, I do think it would be easier if everyone knew it wasn’t a romance going in.

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  46. This is all great and thank you so much for responding.

    I have to stay true to the book we wrote and not try to make it be all things for all people. But I also need to revise to make it clearer what the book is. We didn’t begin by defining what the book was not, but we did get a much better idea of what the book was about as we wrote, which is pretty standard for me. So I think going back in this last rewrite before it goes to Jen and sharpening some things is a good idea.

    I think it goes back to the idea of reader as a collaborator. The writer writes half of the story and then the reader brings her expectations and desires and fantasies and fills in the blanks. And the trouble comes when the reader’s needs can’t match the spaces in the writer’s story. Sometimes, it’s just not her book.

    But I can’t use that as an excuse to ignore the objections of smart people. So it’s drawing the line between what the reader needs and what distorts the story and ruins the book.

    This is going to be interesting, seeing what happens when this finally comes out. I do love this book. A lot.

    And I love these responses. Gives me a lot to think about. Thank you.

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  47. I usually pick out books based on the author and will follow a good author in almost any direction they go. I think you are a great author and will read anything you write. However, my expectations of a book’s content is based on my previous experience with the author. I love that your women are learning about themselves and growing and changing, but that has always included a relationship. So, if I just picked up _Wild Ride_, I would expect the heroine to end up with the love of her life (matched in a way that I am confident will last over time, because they’ve worked through some major issues already) and I would be disappointed at first if she didn’t. After the first read, I would probably love it more, because that’s actually my life. Happy but not in a romantic relationship.

    Having been warned in advance, I’ll adjust my expectations to not include the romance, but I think unsuspecting Crusie readers will be disappointed and possibly feel betrayed.

    I just read _A Given Day_ by Dennis LeHane. I picked it up based on the author, didn’t even look at the back or the dust cover (until about 100 pages in when I was thinking, “ummm?”) and I expected it to be a mystery like his Patrick Kenzie series or _Mystic River_ or a fast moving thriller like _Shutter Island_. It was actually historical fiction which unfolded very slowly. For the first 100 pages I had a hard time because I kept expecting the action to pick up. Once I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, I relaxed and enjoyed the experience, but it really threw me at first. I had 600 or so remaining pages to adjust my mindset and in the end just really loved it and am hoping that he will write more like it.

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  48. I base my expectations differently depending on whether or not I know and love the author’s previous works. My first Jenny book was Fast Women so I don’t expect everything to be tied up neatly in a bow at the end of the book – the story doesn’t necessarily end when I turn the last page. Suz has more growing to do, etc. I expect a relationship of some sort, but not a traditional HEA relationship. The characters are usually deeper and more layered (like and onion or a parfait depending on if you prefer Shrek or Donkey…) than a traditional HEA story has.

    If I am picking up a new author for the first time I am often unduly influenced by the cover (so Kindle and audiobooks help bridge my cover preference prejudices). I read the back or the flap and then I usually pick a page at random and read a couple of paragraphs looking for a couple of things in particular. I struggle to enjoy first person narratives (with a few exceptions like Sue Grafton) and really can’t stand to read books written in the present tense. It takes me out of the story.

    Title plays in too. I shy away from the too cutsie “chick lit” titles like plays on words with food or hair color, etc. That’s because I expect the book to be a little too too for my taste – a little too high maintenance.

    I don’t even bother to get past the cover or title of a lot of books which is probably cheating me of lots of good reads, but there is an expectation based on what lots of publishers are putting out there in brightly colored cutsie covers with clever titles. Young high maintenance twenty somethings in a big city with lots of money having mad-cap adventures.

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  49. The blurb and the title/jacket are very important to me, especially with unknown (to me) authors – I often pick things up based on the covers, and sometimes find that the contents don’t match at all to what I thought I was going to get, based on the outside, which is disconcerting.

    With authors I’ve read before, though, I tend to stick with them based on writing more than genre or anything like that, so if I like an author’s writing style, a switch in content isn’t going to surprise me all that much, at least not in a bad way.

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  50. Last week I purchased a book written by an author I enjoy after simply reading the bookjacket blurb; if it’s someone I read regularly I do not often bother with that formality. This time I was surprised because before the first chapter ended it was clear the book was futuristic. I was a bit irked this was not clear on the back cover. I put it aside for a couple of days before decided to give it a fair chances. It was not what I expected, but was enjoyable.

    Authors have to have a chance to break out of their genre if they so desire. I imagine it helps keep things fresh and new for themselves and the end result is good for me as a reader.

    When choosing a new author it’s usually something from a library so it is win-win for me. I usually read reviews (librarian, it happens) for new and favorite authors. If I’m in a bookstore (occupational hazard), the cover does not often interest me, but I read the back/flap and then open it to the middle and read several pages. If it holds my interest I am likely to purchase.

    I’d say yes to the author; a definite maybe to the title; not so much to the cover; and no to the advertising. The first page is one test, as is the middle of the book. Overall, I guess I do not expect a book to be something it’s not, but do expect it to be what it says it is (I hope that makes sense).

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  51. Well, you did say it’s not a romance (and are still saying that) yet it sounds like one of the main characters falls in love and, um, that’s kind of a romance. Or half a romance.

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  52. As a reader of Argh and Bob’s Blog I knew that “Wild Ride” will be different. I also read and re-read both of your books.
    So “Wild Ride” will be read with enjoyment and no HEA expections.

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  53. I pick for author’s voice. Then story (backcover blurb) Then cover art. But cover art and blurb are more important with new authors than with people I’ve read before.

    May I suggest that the back cover blurb says “BOLD DEPARTURE” wherever possible?

    What does Bob think? After all DLD was more of a departure for his fans than for the cherry crowd.

    As for the HEA, as long as you haven’t made me feel there’s a soul mate in the book who goes with someone else, I’m okay.

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  54. Definitely author, but also the feel of the beginning part of the book. This has tripped me up before; I began reading Connie Willis’ “Passage” getting the feeling that it was a light-hearted, intricately plotted romp like “To Say Nothing of the Dog”. You never really know what you’re getting with Connie Willis, but that’s what the beginning felt like, so when it turned into something completely different, it didn’t feel right. (To me – I know lots of people love “Passage”.)

    So I think that if I didn’t read this blog, I’d go into reading “Wild Ride” expecting a HEA, especially if the beginning of the book feels like the beginning of “Agnes and the Hitman”. And I don’t know how to work around that, because I doubt you and Bob will be changing your writing style much – and I don’t want you to! But I think the expectations will definitely be there.

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  55. First, since I’m always intrigued by what’s in other people’s carts, let me get past wanting to see Jenny’s grocery list. Thanks for that, Chelle.:)

    As to no joint HEA in Wild Ride, you forewarned the tribe. I’m thinking how the rest of your reading public will react is going to echo the beta readers’ response; about 25% will feel some level of disappointment. (I’m assuming 1 of 4 betas, here).

    I’m also thinking you’re more concerned with ‘cheating’ readers who honor you with their limited book bucks expecting the joint HEA than you are with whether no joint HEA disappoints them. So the problem is how to blurb the book so those readers for whom no joint HEA is a deal breaker get a reasonable ‘buyer beware’ without giving away too much of the plot or turning off new and returning readers for whom no joint HEA won’t stand in the way of enjoying the book. Is it time to start singing lions and tigers and bears yet?

    Joint HEAs are the dessert at the end of a book. Really nice, but not obligatory when the main course is good enough. And, book’s are like atlantic crossings. Some you travel by plane and while you enjoy it, the payoff comes at the end. Those books are all about the destination (i.e., joint HEA in Romance genre). Other books you travel on an ocean liner, having so much fun you don’t even care where you’re going. The destination, while important, is not all-important.

    With that in mind, of those expecting the joint HEA, I doubt many will be so disappointed they regret buying the book. A lot will probably think it would have been the icing on a damn fine cake. Deliberately misleading readers into believing in a joint HEA and not coming through would be different.

    I do use cover/inside blurbs together with cover art as clues to what’s inside a book. In fact, the only time I’ve ever been misled to the point of disgust might be relevant. When Linda Howard released “To Die For”, cover art and blurbs led me to expect a book along the lines of “Now You See Her”, “Mr. Perfect”, “Kill and Tell”, “Dream Man”, etc., as opposed to one of her westerns or contemporary romances. I happily bought the book and scurried home to read.

    I hated the book. It’s in first person, which threw me a little, and so poorly written compared to her other work, I still have trouble believing she wrote it. The main character had none, and was annoying to boot. Since first person makes that the only head you get to be in. it was torture.

    We know Wild Ride won’t have quality issues because it’s Jenny and Bob. But, it’s possible my loathing was aggravated by feeling deceived. Well, no. I didn’t hate the book more because I felt deceived. I haven’t been tempted to buy another Howard, though, so doing everything you can to insure readers aren’t misled is good.

    A little encouragement:

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference

    …Robert Frost

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  56. I work in a bookstore so understandably enough, my only expectations come from the location that a book is shelved. If I pick up a mystery then I expect the plot to be centered around a mystery. If I pick up a book from the romance shelf I expect to find a love story. If I pick up a fiction book (where your newer books including Bet Me are shelved), I have no expectations but those that are given to me from the back of the book.

    Truthfully I love being pleasantly surprised when the back cover doesn’t say everything that a book is about. If I did why would I read the book when the back cover tells you the whole story? I think that people should read a book with the expactation that it will entertain them or make them think or teach them something or all of the above.

    The only exception is a case in which I have expectations come with a series in that I hope that the characters that I like come back or that the book is as good as the previous ones. For example Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum Series. I read those books for the characters. If one of my favorites got killed off or something like that I would be dissapointed because I would be loosing an element of the book that I really liked.

    Otherwise books should about enjoying the journey. Getting pissed off when the destination isn’t all that you thought it would be is the only thing that can make a trip a waste to the traveller.

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  57. I think the direction you’re taking to make sure your book is clear is the most logical step. It isn’t possible, or probably desirable, to make every book fit every expectation. Some readers will love everything. Some will love certain kinds of books from you. Others will love the other books. Some will be loud and cranky and upset. I guess one example I’m thinking of now is Karen Marie Moning who changed a lot from her Druid Highlander romances to the current “Fever” series. Some readers can’t stand the darkness, the first person, the entire concept. Others voraciously read every word and beg for more, faster. I bet she’s attracted new readers who didn’t previously know her earlier books.

    You love the book. It’s right for you. Go for it.

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  58. Keep growing and doing what you want as a writer. Although I think I always want to read more of the same, actually I enjoy best books that confound my expectations in some ways and are good. Your books deliver both. Just keep the blurb honest and I won’t mind.

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  59. I agree with the branding thing. Have you considered doing what a lot of other authors do: use a different pen name for different genres? Assuming your publisher would go along with that.

    It’s not that I only read romances, but I’ll admit that, at this point in my life, I really want those HEAs. I’ve read a few perfectly good books — by authors who were new to me, and therefore no expectations — but I still was a little disappointed.

    I know it’s a trend at the moment, but my personal taste does not run toward those stories that take a three book character arc for the heroine to go eenie-meenie-minie-moe and pick one of the several guys she has sampled throughout the series. I’ll read them, but they rarely end up on my “keeper” list.

    I know what I like best, and no matter what the genre is, it includes a happy ending.

    BUT I don’t think a book can ever succeed if it’s written to conform to the prevailing marketplace or to the preferences of readers/agents/editors. It’s YOUR book. There’s no way you’re going to be happy with it if you temper your ideas to make others happy.

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  60. Jenny – just for your FYI, your books (all of them) are shelved in the “Literature” section in the Borders closest to me.

    I believe that all authors grow and change. For instance, Iris Johansen, Tami Hoag, and a few others I can think of are now shelved in the “Mystery” section rather than the romance section (same store).

    I take issue with MIKKI as although I love Romantic Suspense with an HEA, I also like paranormal and mystery, and I think there are a lot of us like that out there. Tami Hoag doesn’t write HEA anymore – in fact, some of her newest books end with a certain melancoly feel – but I still read her because she writes really well.

    My only concern, as other people have stated, is having the male protag fall in love with someone else. Will that leave us thinking that he should have fallen in love with your girl? Or do we realize during the story that the two of them simply would not mix? Are we left with the feeling that she feels left out or that something is missing – or is she on to a new adventure?

    I wouldn’t want to see you rewrite the book as the entire flavor would change, which I have a feeling would not be good for the book. Maybe the cover copy could emphasize that it is a departure from the usual…

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  61. This is really interesting because I hardly ever base my expectations of a story on the author’s previous work. One of my favourite authors is Geraldine Brooks and her three novels to date are all very different. For me the most important thing is that the heroine grows and follows an end most consistant with her evolving character. I prefer to leave them in a place/time where/when they’re content with their life, but that’s it. I guess the title and the jacket are indicators to me of what kind of story it is, but more importantly the tone of the first page. I knew Bet Me was going to be a romance from the first line “Once upon a time…” but as someone else said, I love “Fast women” and I look at that as the character growth story of three women, and I didn’t need Nell to necessarily get together with Gabe for that. Another book I love is “The Bird in the Tree” by Elizabeth Goudge (whose books sometimes have a successful romance and sometimes not), and the couple in that don’t have their HEA, but it’s okay because you know they have been true to themselves and have grown throughout the book.

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  62. Make it clear from the outset that Bob’s Guy and Your Gal are first cousins. Anybody who is disappointed that they don’t get married probably can’t read anyway.

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  63. I think you should write whatever you want. You’ve earned the right to hope your readers will follow you. You’ve put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on our behalf.

    Do what makes you YOU, which in your case, is a fascinating, ever-evolving person (unlike many of us who let fear keep us static).

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  64. I’ve been reading your blog since before Don’t Look Down, but have never commented. I’ve read almost every book you’ve written (many repeatedly), and I certainly like your writing style. I used to think that if you’re name was on the cover, I’d buy the book no questions asked, but then you wrote a book with heavy paranormal content, and I balked. *Maybe* I’ll read it someday, but “paranormal” trumped “Crusie”.

    It comes down to reader preference. No matter what, some readers will be disappointed/outraged. I’m sure you’ve seen reader reviews for books where an author kills a favourite series character. Comments can become very heated. Yikes.

    I don’t read just romance (I’m a huge mystery fan) and you are not classified in my mind as “just” a romance writer. I like your voice. I like the Crusie Mayer colloborations to date. Basically I will enjoy any book where the characters are interesting and the plot moves at a decent pace. A deal breaker for me occurs when a character says or does something that seems forced, not in keeping with their personality. I also have trouble if the story seems contrived, and if you add “romantic content” just to attempt to statisfy potentially crital fans, that will ruin the book.

    So I guess I look for authors that I know, respect, and who tell a good story, then where the book is shelved, the key word on the spine (for example paranormal and I drop it), and the blurb text. The cover art can make me buy a book, and based on some of your past choices, this may prevent wrong expectations.

    Long winded way of saying write it the way you want, and as readers of this blog we’ll know that either we want to rush right out and buy it, or it’s a book we should miss based on personal reading taste.

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  65. On what do you base your expectation of what a book will be?

    The author. Nowadays, it’s a rare author who doesn’t deviate from a tried and true formula or HEA. I guess that’s what branding does to an author’s creativity. Screw originality.

    I read mostly paranormal romance and I know which authors are going to write heavy on the romance and light on the paranormal and which will write heavy paranormal/romance light. Which means, there are no surprises.

    Please don’t go the way of the Branding of the Crusie novel. I think francois said it best: Keep Growing.

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  66. I agree with the folks that say they read a book because of it’s author. However, the fact that the book has Crusie as one of the authors is going to make me think “romance”. For this reason a lot of authors have started writing under different names (ie Jane Krentz/Amanda Quick, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Alesia Holliday/Alyssa Day) so that their readers aren’t confused when they pick up a book with their name on it. If I pick up a book by Nora, I know it is a romance–maybe a murder mystery type, but definitely a HEA. JD Robb tells me I am going to be moving into the future and it will always be about Eve Dallas and Roarke–lots of demons there, but a good relationship that has it’s ups and downs. But I am not confused about what I am reading. Alyssa Day writes paranormal books. Alesia Holliday writes funny romances. Different names, different readers.

    I noticed that Bob writes under different names. I’m assuming that is because he writes different genres under those names. So maybe you should think of a pen name to write under, for a book that isn’t necessarily a romantic HEA, if you think that it may be a problem for your readers.

    I don’t care myself. I know that if your name is on the cover I will love what is on the pages in between. I read your books for the characters, not the sex or the HEA. Those things have their place in a story, but in real life do we always get a HEA? Hardly. And your characters are much more real-to-life than most.

    It’s too bad that your beta readers were thrown off by the fact that this wasn’t a romance. I think I assumed it was also, but then again I haven’t been following along as well as I should have been these past few months so I am a little behind on stuff. Am I okay with it not being a romance? Absolutely. I like the idea that the heroine doesn’t need a man to fulfill her. That’s a strong woman and the kind we associate with the name Crusie.

    Anyway. JMHO, for what it is worth. I will buy it and read it because you (and Bob) wrote it. That’s all I need to know. *grin*

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  67. “As a reader of Argh and Bob’s Blog I knew that “Wild Ride” will be different.
    So “Wild Ride” will be read with enjoyment and no HEA expectations.”

    What Louis said. Except- I might have a few niggling HEA expectations even knowing the heroine’s is not with the hero. So–foreshadow for me please.

    With a reader not familiar with Argh the publishers review, the back cover, and the promotion are going to be key to the reader accepting a non-romance book with Jennifer Crusie’s name on the cover.

    There was a comment in a review of D&G-the reviewer panned the book only because she expected a Jennifer Crusie book and she did not get one. Huh ?

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  68. The “brand” effect is a tough problem, with Arthur Conan Doyle as a glaring case of an author whose reader expectations overpowered his career. For someone like Stephanie Laurens, who seems to like writing variations on a theme, maybe this isn’t a problem.

    For authors with a wider range, eventually a reader can grow a subtler set of expectations: a trust in a thoughtful and satisfying read, even if it won’t be the same exact thing as last time. I have just this reaction to writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lois M. Bujold, and you. Unfortunately, the free-range eclectic readers who *like* variety and just follow quality authors wherever they go may be a smaller audience than the more single-minded fans of specific genres.

    So there is a marketing challenge to present the book as what it truly is. You don’t want fans of the genres it isn’t to buy it by mistake just because they liked different books by that author; conversely you do want the fans of its actual genre to find it, even if they’ve never read the author before.

    I’m not an expert on marketing, but things to help its genre fans find it include cover quotes from prominent writers who specialize in that genre, if you can get them, plus a blurb and jacket copy that make it obvious what kind of plot to expect. In particular, be a slight spoiler and hint at what kind of ending it will have, while avoiding the details. For the non-fans of that genre, if the tag, back cover blurb, and jacket copy won’t be sufficiently off-putting, maybe you should get really blatant? Put in an actual disclaimer at the end of the jacket copy: “Warning: this is a great book, but it is not a romance”.

    Speaking as a voracious reader, the important thing is for you to write good books that you like and believe in. So don’t compromise the integrity of the book to bend it into a genre it isn’t. Writing bland or boring or incoherently themed books will lose me, e.g. I don’t read Lillian Jackson Braun or Janet Evanovich anymore. I almost gave up on Laurell Hamilton, too.

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  69. I’m not prolific enough to take another pen name, especially with Bob, since this will probably be our last book together. It’s a Crusie-Mayer, even though it doesn’t have an alligator in it.

    The genre/brand thing is interesting to me. I always thought that if I liked an author, I liked an author, but then I ran into the same thing that Susan did: there are just some genres I’m not interested in even if I love the author.

    The thing I keep getting over and over again from your comments is that “warn the reader” idea that’s all about expectation. Make sure the reader knows what to expect. And I really think that’s the cover and cover copy and the first chapter. None of the beta readers expected Bob’s hero and my heroine to end up together after the first couple of chapters, so that’s good. The rest of it . . . I’m rewriting now, trying to foreshadow. Just tweaks, but it’s the little things that count, I think, the sense of “uh oh” that isn’t loud or obvious, just a little discomfort to set the reader up for the fall to come.
    I think.
    This writing gig is not for wimps.

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  70. I buy your books for the voice. Getting from the beginning of the book to the ending is a wonderful adventure listening to your voice. See grocery lists above.

    In the books that I read, I don’t need a happily ever after, I look for Happy. Did this book make me happy to read it?

    And if you write characters who are a bit quirky, or snarky, or prone to whacking people with frying pans, I’m signed up.
    If you murder them ALL at the end, then I might wonder when Bob overtook the process!
    If the H/H fight like cats and dogs and the plot is successfully resolved at the end without a lot of squick, I’ve had a good day.
    I think many of us read and re-read Crusie for the escape and the smile we find on our faces.

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  71. Oh and thank you for telling us the PIG is still alive and well and just put off for a bit. I’ve been checking for updates.

    I’ll be patient. Right.

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  72. Well, I read books for a lot of reasons, and for a lot of moods. Author is a large part of my selection process and does set me up for certain expectations. But I like a few different authors who have written accross genres, so I’m not surprised when things aren’t the same. Warn me, though, if this is a big change. Otherwise, as long as a book comes to completion – even though the the characters and events obviously continue = I’m happy. A literal HEA is not required. Just finish the story so I can return to mine.

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  73. I buy and read a book with the expectation that I will spend a few hours spending my time experiencing that world for a while.

    I pick books based on authors I have read and enjoyed or been recommended by friends I share commonalities with.

    I do not expect the writer to worry about my reaction to the book, but to tell a story that is engrossing with characters that are true to themselves and the world they inhabit. Writing style is as important as anything to bring me back time and time again to the same authors. It is more important that the story and character are true than that every story have a HEA.

    I just hate it when the heroine is killed off, but I would rather she die if it is true to the story, than have a miracle cure or divine intervention out of nowhere save her so she can ride off into the sunset. Case in point is Kristen Hannah’s “Firefly Lane” was a marvelous book about friendships but it was not a HEA ending, but the story was fantastic. I purchased her new book “True Colors” about sisters with the expectation that the writing and story will be just a wonderful and I will throughly enjoy my time in that world too for a while.

    I buy and read a Jenny Curise novel knowing I will get a strong female lead with fantastic dialog filled with lines I wish I could come up with in real life. Beyond that I trust you will craft a world that will draw me in and captivate. If you are happy with the story and the integrity do not change anything just because you think some readers may be unhappy with how the story unfolds. Be true to the story and yourself! Looking forward to reading it sometime in 2010 I hope!!!

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  74. I would agree with Sheri, that a pen name would be helpful in branding this book if you think it’s significantly different. When I buy your new books, I buy them based on how much I liked your stand alones (Fast Women, Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me, especially.) I love your voice, the snappy dialogue, the great characters, the relationships and the happy ending.

    As soon as you started partnering up in your writing, I realized that those books would be different, especially with newer voices and styles being blended in. So I went into the story with my head in a different place which was fine too.

    If you are switching styles drastically, it would be helpful to significantly rebrand it.

    Like many of your other readers, I also read voraciously across subjects, but I also look for books in specific sections. (As in, “Hmmm. What kind of story would I like to read right now?”) Where would this book be placed in the bookstore? If it’s in the romance section because it has your name on it, could it be false advertising to your readers? I think J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) was in another section entirely when she first started writing the Dallas books. Mystery/suspense? Can’t remember now…I know it wasn’t in the romance section though. It got moved there later when it became clear that it was more profitable to capitalize on Nora’s name. “Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb” suddenly got plastered on the later releases.

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  75. I’d like to add I’d think that rebranding would give you the freedom to keep the story you love without having to sacrifice it to the perimeters of the genre…

    But what do I know? I’m not a publisher, or an editor. Good luck! Are you between Scylla and Charybdis?

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  76. Make it clear from the outset that Bob’s Guy and Your Gal are first cousins. Anybody who is disappointed that they don’t get married probably can’t read anyway.”

    Apart from those who don’t think of marriages between cousins as taboo. In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park the hero and heroine are cousins, and the same goes for Mary Stewart’s The Gabriel Hounds and Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy.

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  77. No alligator? I know it was only 2 books but it was kinda the Crusie/Mayer thing. Maybe you could just have your character say to his….”At least there aren’t any alligators” as a sly little wink to the Crusie/Mayer collaboration fans. Just spitballing. I’ll miss the alligator.

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  78. As most everyone else has said, I read for the author’s voice. And I’m happy enough to go with a different genre if that voice is still there. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes in trying to do something different (and I suppose writers get bored just like everyone else) they lose what I think of as their natural voice. Imagine if Terry Pratchett decided to write Serious Literature without any of the word play and tongue-in-cheek wit that is his genius.

    Not even a stuffed alligator? A little toy wind-up one sitting on a shelf in the midway?

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  79. Completely aside from this specific book, you asked on what I base my expectations of a book.

    In a very broad and generic sense, placement is a big one if I’m looking in the “stacks”. If it’s shelved in Romance, I expect a HEA. If it’s shelved in mystery, I expect justice to be served and relationships that will be secondary to plot. SF/F and Horror, I expect adventure or striving against evil or unusual twists and turns, and I’m never sure how it will turn out. I mostly avoid the general fiction/literature section because I have no clue what it will be and have had too many bad experiences in that section.

    If I look at the new release table where books from all genres are jumbled in together, title, author and cover art give me the clues to what I should expect the book to be. But again … those clues will fit the book into a distinct genre, and if it’s classified in a genre, then I have genre-defined expectations.

    Beyond the broad genre expectations, I use author, cover, synopsis, and sometimes title to more closely define my expectations. I also look for key words in the review pages at the front of the book and the cover review quotes … since I like humor, I look for “witty” and “romp” and “eccentric”, especially if it’s a new author (to me) and I can’t get a sense of the humor quotient from the synopsis, etc. But while cover, author & title will get me to pick up the book, the synopsis is usually what makes or breaks my decision to buy.

    Anytime an author is established in a genre, I think that readers will expect genre-related elements unless there is some kind of big warning flag on the cover indicating a departure. Likewise, within a genre an established author tends to have a certain amount of “branding”. I learned to expect somewhat abusive heros in Catherine Coulter’s historicals, which is why I don’t read them anymore. I expect humor and sass in your characters, which is a big reason why I’ll follow you through pretty much any genre you choose to write. An author’s fans may not even bother reading the cover synopsis. They often just see the author’s name and pick up the book with expectations based on prior experience with the author. Which of course explains why readers may feel betrayed when an author goes off on a tangent.

    Humans by nature classify and categorize things. Sometimes that comes back to bite us in the butt. Certainly in a quick trip to the bookstore, we want to be able to find stuff we like quickly & easily.

    I do wonder, though, if that isn’t in the process of changing to some extent with the increasing prevalence of author websites and blogs. I think I will still have genre-related expectations, but there will be some flexibility with individual author expectations as I spend more time reading their websites and blogs.

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  80. I think we all pull from your books what we want. I want the romantic tension, the witty banter, and the HEA. So I’d be disappointed if I opened a Crusie and it was missing one of these.

    That said, though, it’s YOUR story. And it has to be told the way you need to tell it, regardless of what Jane Reader wants to find when she pulls one of your books from the shelf.

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  81. I have to ask… Jeep Fairy fixes?!

    I base my expectations for a book on some combination of what the author has done in the past, the book description and cover and blurbs, and any reviews I’ve read. Sometimes I’m still surprised. For instance, it took me ages to get used to Lois McMaster Bujold’s fantasy writing after many many science fiction books following the same group of characters. At first I wasn’t whelmed, but now those books are some of my favourites of hers. She’s an author I love and trust — as are you — so I stuck with it. (Paladin of Souls getting the Hugo and the Nebula didn’t hurt either.)

    All of which is to say that I have no really useful insight here, except that if the book is good I think people should come round.

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  82. I tried to think back to the last book I bought that really disappointed – and it wasn’t because the author, who has mostly written fairly formulaic romances, switched to science fiction/romance. It was because it was such poorly done science fiction. The science fiction part was just gimmick – no reason for it to be in the story – no consistency – and while I’m willing to suspend disbelief up to a point – there was no even internal consistency. That was a long winded way of saying that I didn’t mind switching gears – but I want well-written, and not switching to take advantage of market forces. I wasn’t nearly as big a fan of Don’t Look Down as all of your other books – I never really felt like the heroine changed internally in that book, but I loved Agnes and the Hitman. I think I buy & re-read you as much as I do because you always make me laugh – and that’s because you write so wittily – so the topic isn’t as important to me as walking away with a smile – which is not dependent on a man/woman HEA, but is dependent on character growth, change (what you call arc, I believe), and progress toward their own personal HEA, whether that’s romance based or not. Final disclaimer – I do agree that some warning on jacket or blurb not to expect a typical Crusie/Meyer ending might avoid that “but that wasn’t what I was looking for,” reaction.

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  83. Oh wow. Am I glad I saw this! I just expect the main characters to end up with each other, I guess because that’s what your main characters always do. I haven’t read much about this book – and I made assumptions. I’m definately ok with them not ending up togther, but good gravy thanks for the warning. If it seemed obvious to you when you were writing it, it’s probably already obvious except to people like me who just assume based on your previous work. I guess I am getting enough unexpected surprises in real life – I don’t want them in my books too. I read to relax and have fun and, ok, right now, to escape some reality. A HEA is supremely important to me. That does not mean the H/H have to have that HEA together for me to be happy with an ending, but at least a glimmer of ‘good times ahead for all’ is important to me. That said, I’ll now go into this book with a ‘partners’ attitude rather than ‘love interest’ attitude, and all will be good.

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  84. I adored WELCOME TO TEMPTATION the very first time I read it. I was ravenous for FAST WOMEN and then really didn’t like it (I think I said something that went along the lines of “What’s with all the damn china, Crusie?!”) and I jumped on BET ME and hated it the first time I read it.

    That was all because I just didn’t Get It. Now, I have read both FW and BM so much I’ve broken the bindings. I adore them unequivocally. I think my initial disappointment was due to expectation – I wanted another TEMPTATION and it took a second or third pass at each of those novels to get past that and appreciate them for themselves. So my initial reader expectation was disappointed but my long term reader appreciation was more than fulfilled. Because you are awesome and a writing goddess (I’m kissing up here to make up for the FW and BM bad mojo above.)

    I prioritize a Crusie book for acquisition b/c I love the writing and the voice and the journey and the romance. I like the Crusie/Meyer books, but I don’t love ’em or re-read them a lot b/c it’s not all your voice and I want me a Crusie. I know now NOT to expect anything too specific from a Crusie book b/c I’ve been reading you long enough (since 1996) to know that’s the first step towards angst. I just now expect you. (Reading Argh Ink this past year and change has helped too.)

    An HEA without The Guy is not a deal breaker – but I’m not sure I’d feel as much satisfaction in the ending as I would w/a romance HEA. I’ve got the woman-doing-just-fine-without-a-guy thing in my own life; I’d prefer not to read a fiction version of it in my escape reading. I want ’em to be just fine without The Guy but get him anyways. Gives me hope. 🙂

    Definitely the cover and back cover copy have to do with expectations and even purchasing decisions, but I would say that as I write back cover copy. I will say that as such, I’ve definitely left out less marketable aspects of plots and have shaded things that work well in the novel, but perhaps would work against sell through. As a reader, I’ve bought books in the past based on appealing cover copy only to discover a very different novel inside. Sometimes it’s just a crap shoot.

    In the end, I do think you have to stay true to your vision of the book and set the reader’s expectation within that as a secondary consideration. Is there an author’s responsibility to the reader? I think so, but I think it comes after the writer’s responsibility to the work and to themselves.

    Bottom line, you got the Crusie name on a book, I’ll be picking it up.

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  85. Yeah, I think setting expectations is the big thing. And I think you can do that on the back cover (or cover flap) copy. I’d make it clear that your heroine’s issue is not “get a man,” it’s “get a family.” Like so many of your books, this is about connecting to a community.

    And there’s a little hope there – or “investment” – at the end of the book, right? It’s not like it’s all for naught.

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  86. I read the back cover. Personally I like a writer that tries something different. So I don’t expect the happily ever after. But I know I’m probably in the minority there.

    It helps if the back cover has a blurb something like “Cruisie departs from her normal romance novel . . . and why thats a really good thing. yada yada yada

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  87. I’ve stopped reading cover flap copy because, twice in the last year, a book’s flap copy gave away plot twists.

    I’ll look at the cover art and skim the back blurbs, just to get the essentials: mystery? humor? romance? Then I read a couple pages to get the voice.

    Heading into the book without having read a summary has changed the way I experience books. It feels riskier, and more exciting. But there’s also more of a chance I won’t finish a book, which a couple years ago would have been unthinkable.

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  88. Author/Title (same rank)
    cover blurb
    first chapter
    ——-
    As a reader of several genres I have to say, I look at the blurb first and then the first chapter before I buy. As a keeper of books, I only hold onto the authors I trust will give me a good story every time and can be re-read. As a lurker on a lot of author blogs and websites, I have also noticed other authors having the same problem when they leave their initial genre. The die hard fans protest the shelving change and/or the genre bending — sometimes vehemently.

    My expectations as a reader of romances is that there has to be a happily ever after. As a reader of women’s literature/chick lit/non-literary books, I’m looking for a positive ending in whatever form that takes. As a reader of men’s adventure fiction, I expect a lot of things to get blown up with some gratutitous sex on the side as the hero saves the day. As a reader of sf/f, I expect characters fighting for what they believe in — winning is not a 100% requirement, but the loosing has to be accompanied by a raised fist (middle finger extended is optional) instead of glum defeat.

    As a Crusie/Mayer fan, I’m still developing my expectations because while there are relationship things going on in every book, they’re not really romances. I’d say they’re Equal Opportunity Adventure Fiction — not that there’s a genre for that.

    I’d also say that Jennifer Cruise is more-or-less your brand name. That brand is strongly colored by your romance roots. However, it’s a brand I trust that will give me a quality story that I can re-read over the years.

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  89. Comment 79 (how much do I love it that the comments are numbered here?): Cat, there’s a dragon named Beemer. That’s as close as we can get.

    83: Jeep Fairy Fixes: E.L., when Bob and I were touring for DLD somebody asked where JT found the jeep he drives away in at the beginning of the book since he arrived on a helicopter. And we didn’t know, since we’d added the helicopter at the last minute and forgotten about the driving away part. So I said, “The Jeep Fairy brought it.” There are some Jeep Fairy problems in WR (“How did this happen? Where did this come from?”) so I’m doing Jeep Fairy Fixes.

    87: Brooke is one of my betas, so she knows about the end of the book. Lots of hope, and a different kind of HEA.

    88: Steph, I have several solos to write and Bob has non-fiction and a new series to write, so we just don’t have time to collaborate again. Three good books–well, one good book and two great books–are a good track record.

    I think this is going to work. Based on the comments here, it’s about what I do in the first pages to confound the assumption that this will be a romance and then how I set up the expectations for what it will be.

    I hope.

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  90. How I choose the random books I pick up and browse before purchasing, like most customers, comes down to cover. Not so much the color or foil lettering, but the title itself needs to catch my eye. If it’s something that sounds like it might be the title of a Lifetime channel movie, I will probably pass it up.

    If the author is someone I’ve read or heard of, I will be more inclined to pick that book up off of the table/shelf because it is already more familiar to me than some random book by some new author.

    What really clinches my purchase is the synopsis or “blurb” on the jacket or back cover. In fact, I find it positively irritating if a book does not have some broken down description, and instead just a bunch of quotes about how great this writer/book are. I will never be as receptive to popular author/newspaper quotes as I am to a well written synopsis.

    If by chance there is no jacket description, I will be forced to look at the first and last pages. I read both pages, but I make a mental note as to how well the first and last sentences, whatever they may be, grab my attention. If you have a great first sentence, nine times out of ten I’m buying it. If I feel the urge to put the book back down, I do.

    Of course, none of this has anything to do with your books, as far as I’m concerned. I buy your books because the way you write often reflects the kind of silly, snarky humor I find in my own life. You write the way I think, whether it’s a blog, a solo project, or a collaborative effort. I don’t love everything you write the same, but I love the way you write. Period.

    What’s frustrating is that your writing is too hard to file into one set definition, and I can never find your books in the same section every time I go to a store. Sometimes I find them in the Romance department, sometimes in just plain Fiction, and sometimes you’re in neither and I have to ask somebody to look up what section you’re in. Life would be easier if you just had your own section, but alas, Barnes & Noble has not caught on to this yet.

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  91. I think expectations are massively important. One reason I like to watch movies before reading the book is because the movie doesn’t cause me to have expectations for the book but the book causes me to have expectations for the movie which may or may not be met.

    I think the back blurb/cover flap can be crucial to setting expectations. When Suz Brockmann’s cover flap (ITS) said “Then character X goes missing and the fun really starts” but character X went missing on page 276 of a 375 page book, the single most frequent negative comment was “the book really didn’t start until it was almost over”. You can’t tell me that wasn’t aided and abetted by the cover copy – they even changed the PB release version to not specify which character went missing. So that cover copy definitely sets expectations – unless your regular readers decline to read cover copy and be “surprised” and boy will they be surprised to not find a romance. Hrm.

    I’m not sure if I have any advice for you Jenny. Your name is pretty firmly established in romance. What genre do you think WR fits in? Sci-Fi/Fantasy-adventure? Paranormal-Chick/Lad-Lit? Maybe push for it to be shelved elsewhere, although IME all the new PBs of all genre are plopped on one big shelf/table at Borders. Also, run the cover copy by your beta readers. Make sure the cover art screams “mystery” or “journey” not “grrl’s gonna get some”. No lacey, fancy fonts. This could be a job for your super-star graphic artist, actually.

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  92. The thing that I can’t shake, even after reading all the comments, is your original mention of “whether foreshadowing the reversals takes some of the sting out of the disappointment or if that just skews the book more toward romance and increases the disappointment.” Is this one of those situations where you’ve been so technically brilliant that it screws with the the reader’s emotional reaction? Because your readers expect the HEA, even when you’re not writing classic romance?

    Honestly, I think it’s much bigger than covers, blurbs, fonts and store placement. It all comes down to what’s on the page, and (I think) you’re suggesting you maybe are leading people in a certain direction.

    I guess what I’m asking is whether there’s a different way to foreshadow the reversals so as not to lead your reader down the very natural path she’s expecting….

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  93. I’m afraid the author sets the expectations even before I know what the book is about; that is, I expect certain themes from certain people. Or, at the very least, I expect a certain level of writing by author, whether it’s their typical genre or not.
    That said, I look at the blurb on the back as an indication of what to expect. I expect the story to at least follow the outline of what is laid out for potential readers. If it doesn’t that’s not always bad, but it will tell me if I want to buy the book or not.
    With a Jennifer Crusie novel I’ve come to expect a woman’s journey, with a slight romance novel in the background. The hero may or may not be part of her resolution, and generally it’s the woman making the changes and becoming herself and deciding that the guy may be nice to have around after all. I think the romance genre has become so diverse that the formula really does not fit any longer (the formula of lonely girl meets hero and they live happily ever after, that is).

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  94. No, writing is no for wimps, but I know you can do it.

    I can’t remember what comment, but they mentioned hating “brand”. So do I, but when you write you have to look at what you sell. And, what you would want to sell more than once. ‘Cause not every reader will follow you to the end of the earth no matter how good the writing.

    The writer in me is squirming so I shall finish with…write what comes to you, fix what doesn’t work for the story and know you wrote a damn good book.

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  95. Author first. I think that’s a have. With authors I’m not familiar with, title, blurbs and then cover art.

    I was shopping in Target several years ago, stopped in the book section. Found a book by an author I’d never heard of. The title caught my attention. Very clean, simple cover art. The blurb on the back encouraged me to read the first couple of pages. Bought the book and haven’t missed any of the author’s books since. The book, “Welcome to Temptation”.

    The second “important” impulse buy was a book again with a catchy title. But the cover art really reeled my eye. Actually there were 2 versions of artwork. Placed side by side. Black with gold lettering and character. The other, white with black lettering and a different character. The blurb on the front was festive. The blurb on the back was hilarious. I think I read the first chapter standing there. It was a collaboration and I’d heard of one of the authors, but hadn’t read any of his books. My copy of “Good Omens” is a mess having been re-read so much.

    I’d suggest getting arcs to some of the more popular romance reviewing sites. I suggest the romance sites, as they may draw your loyal romance readers. That will help get the word out.

    I firmly believe that even if you titled the book “This is not a Romance”, took out a full page ad in the NY Times, or have a 30 min. infomercial in your office with your dogs preparing your audience, someone will still claim, “I didn’t know, I feel cheated.”. I think there are plenty of people who simply like to whine.

    I’m saddened to hear your news of the Crusie/Mayer “breakup”. I loved both “Don’t Look Down” and “Agnes and the Hitman”. Those 2 books are among my favorites and have been re-read many times. Great Books. Well done!

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  96. Jenny said:
    I think this is going to work. Based on the comments here, it’s about what I do in the first pages to confound the assumption that this will be a romance and then how I set up the expectations for what it will be.

    As an avid Crusie, Crusie-Mayer, and Dougherty reader, I agree. Yes, I instinctively expect romantic adventure from Crusie-Mayer, but I’m a fan and good writing and storytelling will always pull me in. If you set up the expectation of something different, I’m more than happy to go along for the (wild) ride.

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  97. I’ve been trying to think of an example of a book in which the hero and heroin ride happily off into the sunset in different directions (SW and NW for the literal minded), but memory fails.

    There’s “Anna and the King of Siam”, but that’s an example of what would be detrimentally misleading. Expectations are raised throughout, but squashed at the end.

    Then it occurred to me that the Crusie/Mayer collaboration itself is a great example. The male/female relationship we’ve been privileged to witness has been outrageously entertaining without a speck of expectation of joint HEA. Someone should write a book . . . 🙂

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  98. “Then it occurred to me that the Crusie/Mayer collaboration itself is a great example. The male/female relationship we’ve been privileged to witness has been outrageously entertaining without a speck of expectation of joint HEA.

    There were definitely expectations. I can’t remember exactly where they were expressed, but towards the beginning of the collaboration there was speculation about Jenny and Bob’s relationship. As far as I recall, Jenny and Bob repeatedly had to squash the rumours by pointing out that Bob was already in a relationship with someone else. You can read one of Jenny’s attempts to quash the rumours here.

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  99. Laura;

    Yes, I know there was some speculation. I don’t think, though, that it ever grew to the point of expectation, particularly amongst the Cherries.

    It was pretty darned entertaining, though!

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  100. Coming rather late to this – and I haven’t read all 102 comments! If I know and like an author’s work, I’ll give a book a fair chance on that basis alone.
    Otherwise: jacket blurb (for the general subject) and ‘tasting’ the text – that is, reading several passages of a couple of paragraphs at different places in the book – beginning, middle and end – to see whether I like the flavour. For non-fiction books, I have different criteria, but that’s not the question here.
    I never, never take ANY notice of titles (not necessarily chosen by the author) or cover art (often chosen by raving lunatics).

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  101. I think it’s like telling your friends you’re going to a spa for a “total makeover”. Fundamentally you are the same person when you come out as when you went in, but the new you might take a little getting used to.

    The wonderful stories and characters, filled with laughter and humor,aren’t going to change no matter if you write a romance or sci-fi fantasy. The things that make your books worth reading aren’t going to change.

    It may however take a little getting used to!

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  102. What builds my expectation:
    (1) for an authors whose work I’ve read, it’s my experience with everything of theirs I’ve read, with more recent works being more heavily weighted (in your case, for instance, I wouldn’t expect you to suddenly revert to Harlequin)

    (2) for an author I haven’t read, then it’s
    (a) title & cover design
    (b) back cover copy
    (c ) first page –>scene–>chapter.
    I’m looking forward to it, wherever it’s shelved and whatever genre may be printed on the spine (which I don’t think I’ve ever looked at).

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  103. Having only read the question and not all 105 comments, here’s my personal answer:

    If I have previously read the author, that is the primary set up for my expectation. Similar to a musical recording artist. They are allowed to grow and change as they go, but it is disconcerting if they suddenly are in a different genre.

    If I don’t know the author, my primary expectations will come from the back cover/advertising if there is any. I often try new authors via my public library. Less to lose. Libraries don’t have a ton of advertising, but they will also classify a book into a section. So, if I find it in the romance section vs. fiction, that sets up an expectation or the little stickers on the spine – mystery, sci fi, etc.

    Titles are often clever and rarely really tell me what is in the book.

    Cover art – well, let’s say Bet Me contained a bit more of a story than just shoes. So, it isn’t a complete indicator but might be helpful or relative.

    If I start to read the book before obtaining it, often on Amazon, then I’m more looking at the author’s writing style – humorous, deep, drama, lots of dialogue, out of my vocabulary range, etc. but I’m not certain if it sets up much expectation about the story.

    With you, I expect fun and witty and laugh out loud dialogue or character thoughts. I guess I do expect a sex scene or two and a romance to be full-filled. I expect to feel happy while reading and even after although it will be another year or so before you publish another book that will again make me laugh and feel good about life.

    With Bob, I expect something to explode and someone to die and a tough guy to get somewhat hurt but survive. I read your collaborative works because you’re a part of it, not because of Bob’s input.

    Does this mean that Bet Me will be your last romance? (holding back tears here it that’s true)

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