May 8, 2012

I Wish Someone Had Told Me!: Reader Expectations and Surprise Content



Surprise content and mislabeled books can ruin a perfectly good story. I’m talking about books that have some content (type of hero, trope, etc.) that one may find unsavory when caught by surprise, but when read willingly and knowingly they end up being great, even if they aren't the easiest reads.

This is a real book.
You can't make this shit up.
And you wonder why I like them!
I like Harlequin Presents books. They are old-school romances with alpha heroes that behave like cavemen, and dormant heroines who say they don’t want a domineering man but they really, really do. However, if I were to read a single title contemporary romance with characters like those, I would hate it. When it comes to alphaholes and the women who love them, forewarning and context is everything.

Last week there was a lot of buzz surrounding The Siren by Tiffany Reisz. I haven’t read the book but everyone who has, agrees that it’s not a regular romance and that the ending, though satisfactory, is not traditional. This book was originally recommended as a romance, but then, readers where quick to point out that it was not, at least not the type of romance we are used to reading. So this is a book that may not be for everyone and that romance fans should treat carefully. Now that I know what I’m getting into, I’ll read this one with different expectations, because there’s nothing on the blurb that hints towards what type of book this is. 

This brings me to another issue: when bad blurbs happen to good books. Take a look at The Siren’s synopsis and then read this review, and tell me what went wrong. Because judging by the description, it sounds like a cute contemporary romance. But what you see is not what you get. And that is a recipe for disaster. I think book synopsis are important, they are one of the book’s biggest selling points, is what catches the reader’s attention and helps them decide if they want to read what’s inside. So why do I keep seeing misleading and spoilerific book descriptions out there?

Get more Historic LOL's here.
And this is why reviews are important (and I mean reviews in general, not the ones I write, I'm not that conceited). Good reviews let you know what you’re getting without spoiling the book. Obviously, sometimes spoilers are inevitable and necessary, if the hero dies at the end you bet I want someone to tell me. But they also help you prepare for what is to come so that unpleasant surprises don’t ruin the book for you. When I review Chick-Lit stories, I always say that the romance is scarce and the hero plays a minor role and is more of a love interest than a main character. Is the best way to make sure that romance readers won’t be disappointed when they don’t get the romance they were expecting from a book reviewed on a romance blog.

How about you? Are there any topics, tropes or themes that you enjoy as long as someone warns you beforehand? Have you ever bought a book based on the blurb just to get something completely different than expected and promised?

17 comments:

  1. Yes, yes, absolutely yes. Look, I like surprises as much as the next reader. But there are certain things that I want to know going in. Like the "dubious consent/forced seduction" plot in romance. It's fine by me, if I see it coming. Blind side me with that, and I get cranky. The other big one is cliffhangers. I want to know that I'm going to be cliffhanged (cliffhung?) before I even start the book. It helps me cope.

    Great post!

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    1. What bugs me most often are books that are mid series but are sold as stand-alones with nothing on the cover, the blurb or the inside panel telling me it's book #15 or so and is midseries and does not stand alone. I shouldn't have to do internet research before I buy a book. This trend has tamed my impulse buying considerably. I also hate the cliffhangers too which brings me back to series books again ;)

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  2. @TheReadingPenguin: I hate, HATE! Cliffhangers. It's one of the reasons I don't like series with recurrent main characters. I don't mind them as much if it's something related to the plot, but if the relationship ends on a cliffhanger I probably won't keep reading it.

    @barklesswagmore: I hate that too, especially when it makes it hard for me to figure out the series' reading order. If I can't tell which one is book 2 or 3, it makes me angry. And as I said to ReadingPenguin, I don't mind cliffhangers as long as the involve the worldbuilding or the story-arc, but if it's about the couple I plain hate it. That's one of the reasons I don't like Urban Fantasy and prefer series with stand-alone couples.

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  3. I am always interested in book blurbs and how sometimes they provide virtually no real information about a book and other times they give away way too much. So often they are so vague as to be totally unable to tell what it is about. And other times I am shocked by things I would consider major plot developments (to the point of spoilers) that are just laid out there. Things I wouldn't even put in a review, but the publisher gives away.

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    1. Some blurbs give away aspects of the plot that happen near the end! I don't get it at all.

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  4. Really interesting post! I think mine is love triangles. I hate love triangles, but if I'm warned I don't mind it as much. However, what really annoys me is when I get into a series where there isn't a love triangle in the beginning but then one suddenly pops-up in later books.

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    1. Love triangles are right there next to cliffhangers one my black list. But I can read them, especially is someone tells me who she ends up with (it's always one girl two guys, right? Someone should do the other way around and see how it goes).

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  5. Hello Everyone!

    I hate love triangles so I'm with some of you in that. But worst than triangles are the stupid bittersweet endings (usually when the hero dies), I think is one of the reasons that made me start reading reviews before buying a novel, I have to be absolutely sure that the hero doesn't die. Sure, I learnt to deal with that when reading a series, but I usually made sure that is not one of those angsty series beforehand. But I guess I'm a masochist because I keep reading YA.

    Great post Brie!

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    1. Oh, you love angsty YA stories, you know you do! Before reading reviews I made you read the book first to tell if I should read it. You're like my own personal spoiler assistant...

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    2. I don't love them I just can't help it! I'm addicted!

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  6. Actually I think that most book blurbs don't even touch what the heart of the story is about so I can't say I'm surprised all that much if a book turns out to be totally different than the story I was anticipating.

    And as I think about it I don't think there is too much that bothers me about a books story as long as it's written well. I am however, becoming more and more annoyed with the insta-love and love triangle bit.

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    1. I'll make sure to let you know if the books have insta-love and/or love triangles!!

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  7. I saw If I Am Missing or Dead (you can see my review here), read the blurb and thought oooh, this sounds really interesting. I read the book and wanted to through it against the wall. I was tricked! The blurb was hardly anything found in the book. I was majorly PO'd.

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    1. This happens to me all the time. It makes you wonder if the person who wrote the blurb actually read the book...

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  8. I absolutely agree with your post, Brie. I find it even more critical when it's people who read a lot... because for us, reading becomes a matter of expectations. You choose a book based on your mood and it sucks when it turns out not be what you expect, because then it doesn't suit your mood anymore. Or when the story takes an expected turn and it totally turns you off.

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  9. You make some awesome points. Expectations are everything. I choose books based on book descriptions so I'm boiling mad when the description and the book don't add up quite right.

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