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Advice from readers - the double edged sword

August 15, 2005
Posted at 11:39 pm

I have a faithful and loyal reader we'll just call Troll. He writes every time he reads a story. He has a thing for cheerleaders, but that's not the point. It has gotten so that he, and a number of other frequent readers, after chapter one or two of a story, write to tell me exactly what's going to happen in the rest of the story. A number of other people write to me and tell me what SHOULD happen during the rest of the story.

Now I REALLY like reader feedback. I get good ideas from readers, and I've written a number of stories based on an email from some anonymous reader.

But it can be a problem too.

First, you have to understand that, before I post a story, I want to be sure that it meets my own standards. The only way I know to do that is to write it, then let it sit for a little while, and then re-read it, making changes I think need to be made. Then I do a final edit and make final changes. Then I break it up into chapters, if it's long enough to do that. Then I start posting chapters.

Now I know there are about eleventy people out there right now who are just horrified to know that. Because that means that, while they were waiting with drool running out of their mouths for the next chapter to be posted ... it was already written and just sitting there, invisible, unposted, where they couldn't see it. And I'm sure there are people out there who will call me bad names and say I should be flogged and stuff for teasing people and stringing them out. Some folks might even accuse me of trying to pad my stats by making people click on one of my stories multiple times as they read each "new" chapter.

I'm not rambling here. I'll get to my point in a minute. The fact is that, no matter how long I make a story, I get mail from a hundred people who think it should be longer. I get mail telling me I need to continue the story into the next generation. And, on some stories that might be a pretty good idea.

But, what I have discovered is that people love to be teased ... as long as it's not too much. They love a multi-part story. They love to look forward to the next chapter. They love to imagine what's going to happen. And they love to tell me what they think is going to happen, or what they think should happen.

So I indulge those people by posting my chapters, which were already written and finished before I ever posted chapter one, by releasing a new chapter every other day or so. That lets them be the masochists they seem to want to be, and gets the story posted in a reasonable period of time.

Here's where the double edge sword comes in. Say I get mail from someone who says this or that should happen. I don't want to burst his or her bubble, and I don't want to give away the ending, so I send back something noncommittal. But suppose what they suggest really IS what's going to happen. As soon as I post it they think I "took their advice" and wrote it that way because of their mail.

So, on the next story, they do the same thing, but this time the story goes in a whole other direction than what they thought should happen. Now they're all pissed off at me! Suddenly I'm ignoring their good advice. I could EVEN lose a reader! And that wouldn't be good, because there are only like ... eleventy of you!

So I am hereby busting myself right here in my blog. If you are reading chapter one of something I wrote, I hate to admit it, but the whole story is probably in the can and has been for several weeks. Once in a long long while I'll leave the ending until I've got it half posted, because reader feedback really IS important to me, and I like to give people the kinds of stories they like to read. On two stories I didn't have an ending because I couldn't think of one, and I relied on readers to help me find one.

But not often.

Maybe I'm just predictable or something, because a LOT of you are telling me what's going to happen and it ... really IS going to happen. I am a sort of niche writer, so maybe that's not too surprising.

But please ... if you give me a suggestion and it doesn't happen ... don't take it personally. I have like fifty emails in my "projects" folder for when I get writer's block, and I dip in there to get an idea to write a NEW story.

Just thought you might want to know.

As always, thanks for reading.