The on/off thing of book worlds

If I had a euro/dollar/pound for every time a review for one of my books has begun with ‘I don’t normally read this type of book, but…’ or ‘I only read this because a friend said I must read it…‘ and ended with a 5-star super-enthusiastic review, I’d be able to drink champagne every day.

Perhaps the sales info on the retailer pages is giving out the wrong message. Perhaps my covers aren’t conveying the story inside. No, I’m 100% sure it’s not that second one after Jessica Bell’s inspired new images for 2019!

Or perhaps it’s something else entirely…

Every book has its own world whether it’s outer space, inner space, a run-down housing estate, ancient Rome, eighteenth century high seas, a dilapidated Scottish castle or the local supermarket. Some of us even speculate in an alternative timeline. The author builds these worlds in her/his mind then opens the doors to that world and beckons the reader to enter.

But how attractive or repellent is that world to a reader?
I don’t mean whether it’s full of flowers, light and love or a gritty, dangerous and desperate place, but how much curiosity it arouses before the reader even turns the first page. Is its premise likely to stir something in a reader? Is it something they might well have been curious about? Does it resonate ages old mystery or a shared universal theme?

Same old, same old vs. something entirely different, possible scary or disturbing?
We all love comfort books, especially when we’re feeling down, the weather is atrocious or something upsetting in our lives has left us shattered. And comfort can be a Regency romance, a wartime saga or a bloody psychological thriller – everybody’s different. But sometimes we find ourselves reading the same type of book/same setting/same basic story. Quietly, very quietly dissatisfaction murmurs in the background, then grows into boredom.

How often have you heard or read, ‘I knew how it would end within the first twenty pages‘ or ‘Nobody seems to write good books now’? You know the feeling yourself that when you go back to read an old favourite, it isn’t as good as you remember…

Of course, nobody is asking readers to read what they dislike, but it’s worth reading something different, even a galaxy away from your reading comfort zone, to find out whether you might make a new and exciting discovery.

‘I don’t read scifi or funny futuristic stuff.’
Yet Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments are fascinating millions who are entranced by the dystopian world of Gilead at the hard end of speculative fiction. Her world is horrifying, yet so relatable and full of characters we know: vulnerable, determined, embarrassed, afraid, resistant, ideological, anxious, accommodating, surviving. Scifi is always a trip of the imagination, but the best stories explore the human dilemmas, the characters’ reactions to them and to that world, and their consequent actions.

Written to market
If a writer is under contract to write a book in a certain setting, then the publishing house has probably carried out intensive market research or has wide experience of what sells. That book world is set and is often a purely commercial choice. Second World War has been very popular recently; readers of one 1940s book will graduate easily to another. If written on a popular trend, then that book world is well-established but could be viewed as predictable.

Independent thought
But if you write in a niche or outside the standard environments of popular books, be prepared to work harder at projecting the attractiveness of your world. How is it different from the one in the average thriller or romance? Does it go beyond the usual alien/vampire/werewolf story? Is it set in a era not the Tudors nor the Second World War? Is it in a country not usually written about?

Good writing technique – a vivid narrative with a purposeful story, no info-dumping and above all well-formed multi-faceted characters – will carry a book world through to the reader hopefully to the extent they will be so absorbed by it that they will clamour for more.

But the key thing to remember is that just as writers are all different, readers are all different. Some will ‘get’ your world, others will walk away unmoved. We cannot all like all the same things – that would make us a very dull society. As writers, we should write to grab the reader by our scintillating and fascinating book worlds. As readers, we should venture out down new roads, even if there are hidden bends, We might end up somewhere truly wonderful.

Photo by Sara Hammarbäck

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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