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The Tie Between Writers and Readers

Sharon Michalove is the author the Global Security Unlimited series of romantic suspense. You can find out more about her on her webesite, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

On the one hand, every writer wants reviews. On the other, every writer dreads reviews. We hope for rapturous acclaim. We fear the one-star, snarky review that proclaims the plot is bad, the ending too predictable, the characters unrelatable, the settings insipid or inaccurate, or all of the above.

As a newer author still building a reputation, I am hungry for reviews and yet I don’t want to read them. My skin is not that thick. I tell myself that if someone doesn’t like my work, it’s because we didn’t mesh, writer and reader. Not everyone likes everything. Sometimes I even believe it. And sometimes, like humans generally, I just want to be liked.

But is that all there is between authors and audience? Is that the whole transaction? Can readers influence what an author writes? Not in the sense of telling the author that they should write in a certain genre because the reader prefers it—that’s not helpful. Or telling the writer that the reader would have taken the piece in another direction.  As an academic writer, I had that happen and all I could do was tell myself that the critic should write his or her own book.

On the other hand, I know series writers who ask their readers if they want to nominate a secondary character to be promoted in a future book. And that’s where this blog post takes me today. I have not asked my readers for suggestions about other characters I should feature. And yet, when I read a review of my latest book (the audio version), I got that just that.

“I’ve enjoyed all the books in the trilogy and I’m really hoping there are more to come. Like maybe a certain character moving from Vancouver to Chicago? Please?”

The character is Yannick Moreau, friend and colleague of JL Martin, my male protagonist. He really wants to move to the head office in Chicago. I conceived of him as a continuing side character, but my mind started whirling with ideas. The fourth book is already in the planning stage, but I can still set up Yannick in that book to be the hero in the fifth book.

Every writer has a different process. Some of us plan, others plunge in and start writing with maybe a glimmer of an idea. This is an idea of how I start a new project.

First: is this for a series or a standalone? If a series—which one or am I starting a new one.

Second: who are the main characters? What are their strengths, weaknesses, emotional wounds? (Not too much detail at this point.)

Third: Where is it set? Unfortunately, this is a place where my characters can get pushy. That’s how I ended up writing about Northern Michigan. Or, in the case of Vancouver, because I cavalierly gave JL (then a secondary character) Vancouver as his hometown, two books later I was stuck with it. Fun to write but a huge amount of research too.

Fourth: Tropes (not a bad word). Is it second-chance? Is there a stalker? There are innumerable tropes and the idea is to pick a few and then figure out ways to subvert the obvious. This gives me a direction.

Fifth: Title and book jacket blurb. These can easily be modified as I go along.

Sixth: back to the characters, what do they like and dislike? I usually set up a chart and see where they are compatible or where not. Food, travel, music, leisure activities, all kind of things.

Seventh: who are the other characters? Friends and family, and most important, the antagonist. Is it an envious rival? A former lover? Someone trying to destroy the firm? Or is it nature—caught in a storm, lost in an inhospitable place? Myriads of choices, and every time I make a choice, the book turns in that direction.

Then I start to plot—Goals, Motivation, and Conflict, a tentative synopsis of the story. I have to know the end. If it’s a murder mystery, not only do I need to know the victim, I need to know the suspects, what motives they have, and whodunit. This helps me with the clues, twists, and red herrings.

Does this mean I have a rigid structure? Not really. The structure I have is loose enough that if a better idea or a better scene comes to me, I’m flexible enough to change things. But I don’t get off track and go down rabbit holes. I’m mostly a linear writer, but I have been known to write an ending when I am first starting as a goal post.

Finally, as an author of romantic suspense, I need to make sure I have a balance of both in the work. Usually 50-50 or 60-40 depending on the plot. And my suspense plots alway wind up before the romantic plots. Not all authors do it that way, but it works for me.

And where does all this start? In the case of my new idea—At the Beat—with a whisper of desire from a reader who loves a character and suggests that I toy with the idea of making him more. Don’t hold your breath. I still have to write book four—At the Breach. But it will have scenes that move Yannick to Chicago and let readers know that the next book will be his as well as introduce the woman he tangles with.

The message to you, as a reader, is, let the authors you love know that you are a fan, what you like and want to see more of. Reviews are good. So are contacts through an author’s web page. You never know, your suggestions may bear fruit.

Sharon Michalove

Sharon Michalove is the author of Dead in the Alley and other romantic suspense novels, and a native of suburban Chicago. You can find out more about about her on her website, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Sharon, I enjoyed reading about your process. And I love your spot-on message to the reader at the end. Great post!

  2. Joy Ann Ribar
    Joy Ann Ribar

    Thanks for sharing your process. The way you combine methodology with flexibility is admirable. I feel like we’re constantly walking a tightrope to get the stories and characters right, plus deliver the goods to our readers.

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    Beautiful explanation. I like to compare writing-to-reading to teaching-to-learning. You really can’t have one without the other, and reader feedback to the writer is essential.

  4. Valerie Biel
    Valerie Biel

    What a fun suggestion from a reader/listener. Your description of authors’ trepidation when reading reviews felt very familiar to me!!

  5. John DeDakis
    John DeDakis

    I definitely agree with you about reviews. If your book has passed muster with an editor, then I chalk the rest up to subjectivity–you can’t please everyone. I like your idea of getting more specific feedback and suggestions from readers. My only concern there is alienating them if I don’t use their ideas. ~JD

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    Margaret Mizushima

    I enjoyed reading about your process, Sharon, and love your advice at the end for reviewers. I think taking suggestions from readers can be tricky–some resonate and lead me in a good direction and some are good but don’t fit the dynamics of my series or take me down a pathway that just doesn’t fit my characters. In the end, it’s always up to the writer to decide. Thanks for a great post!

  7. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    A fun post, Sharon. I enjoy hearing how other writers find their creativity sparks that start their fire.

  8. Carl Vonderau
    Carl Vonderau

    Great post, Sharon. I will be using your advice on my next book.

  9. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    I love to read about your process, Sharon! Mine is similar, although I always start with a body and then go through the other steps.

  10. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    I enjoyed your thorough explanation of your writing process. Like Saralyn, as a former educator, I can’t help but view my writing through the lenses of teaching and learning in the areas of literacy. Thanks, Sharon M.!

  11. Colleen Winter
    Colleen Winter

    The relationship between reader and writer is so complex and can be so rewarding. Once you establish trust, it’s so important not to break it. Thanks for this post, I love the idea of using feedback to choose which character’s story to follow next. Thank you!

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    Sharon, this was such an encouraging post for me as both a writer and a reader. We move each other. I love that. Writer and reader, eternally and essentially related to each other, stuck with each other, like two sides of the same coin.

    Pamela Ruth Meyer

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    Avanit Centrae

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I love to hear from my fans, and technology makes it so easy!

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    Marie Sutro

    Great post! Managing feedback is always a process.

  15. Avatar

    It’s easy to fear reviews but when you get a good one —it’s a high! Thanks for the good post!

  16. Tracey S. Phillips
    Tracey S. Phillips

    Thanks Sharon. Reiterate: don’t fear the reviews, they may even toughen your armor. The insights into your writing process are great tips for any struggling author.

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