Thursday, August 16, 2012

How your First Readers Help Establish your Brand

When we debut authors finally see our books in print, on the shelves, and in readers' hands, we find out important things about our stories. They no longer belong to us. They belong to our readers.

Now that I’m into editing the third novel in my series, I have become quite careful about giving my readers what they have stated that they loved the most about my books. It helps me determine what content I should cut out and what type of content I should give more of, and most importantly what I need to do to keep them wanting more books.

Today on The Thrill Begins, multi-award winning suspense author Lynn Emery shares how the reaction from her first novel changed the direction of how she wrote. Her quick discovery and acknowledgment that her readers had tapped into something important about her books, something that neither she nor her publisher had realized, made her a success once she adjusted her stories to satisfy her readers.

Setting as Character for my Books

 by Lynn Emery

My first book, Night Magic, was published in 1995. The book grew out of a writing exercise we did at my local RWA chapter meeting. The topic was description. The objective was to write a scene showing a character arriving or leaving somewhere. Our assignment was to bring the setting alive. We were to set the mood by describing the surroundings and the character’s reaction to that setting. I wrote a short scene showing Karen, my main character returning to her small hometown. I described her driving past Louisiana bayous and the lush green growth of the countryside. between_dusk_and_dawn600x900

After the book was published more than a few readers wrote to me and mentioned Louisiana as though my home state was a major secondary character. As a new writer I realized they were right. From then on I made sure that Louisiana became a leading character in the next eleven books I sold. It paid off.

Here are a few things to consider if you plan to make setting a character in your next novel:
  1. A distinctive setting becomes a character when the culture, landscape and even climate contribute to the story so strongly. In other words, the reader becomes just as interested in the setting as the people and the plot within it. 
  2. A setting can be a culture, sub-culture, or a profession. It’s not just limited to geography.
  3. Bring your setting alive so much so that your readers experience it as a living thing. Take the exercise I had to do in RWA. Describe where you are as if it was a person or a pet.
  4. Use settings to deepen the characterization of the story people. When we think of character development the region where the main character lives helps to shape the way that person thinks, the choices that person makes, their dialogue, and the way they react.
BETWEEN DUSK and DAWN: LaShaun Rousselle is as famous, and infamous, as her ancestors for being a psychic and voodoo expert. After a bad girl life she’s finally settled down in her small hometown of Beau Chene, Louisiana. She’s content to have a few true friends, and a new love with Deputy Chase Broussard,the chief criminal investigator with the Vermillion Parish Sheriff Department.LaShaun is determined to live simply and quietly, no more trouble. But trouble arrives on her doorstep in the unlikely form of two middle-aged ladies bearing unsettling suspicions about weird happenings in the parish.. Are the legends about loup garou real? LaShaun and Chase are going to find out and stop a serial killer, human or not.

Image of Lynn EmeryLynn is the author of fifteen romantic suspense and mystery novels. A native of Louisiana, most of her books are set in her home state. NIGHT MAGIC was recognized for Excellence in Romance Fiction by Romantic Times Magazine. Her novel AFTER ALL was adapted for a television movie by Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 2000. Lynn has been nominated several times for awards, and in 2006 won three Emma Awards for Kiss Lonely Goodbye as part of the Romance Slam Jam conference. Her latest novels is BETWEEN DUSK and DAWN. For more information visit


Unknown said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. Most of my favorite suspense novels are the ones where setting is a character.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thank you for the thought-provoking post. I'm working on publishing my third book, and I'm learning that I have a certain brand to live up to now. I'm working on putting that "chill factor" people have come to expect from me (even though I write romantic suspense) into each book. Thanks for the reminder! :)

Lynn Emery said...

Thanks for inviting me to The Thrill Begins, Miranda.

Hi Anne Marie! Glad you got some mileage out of the article. Like you said, give the people what they want! Congrats on your books.

jenny milchman said...

Wonderful topic! I particularly love when the weather becomes a character, for instance in William Kent Krueger's work, and two of my favorite Reacher novels: 61 HOURS and ECHO BURNING.

Lynn Emery said...

Thanks, Jenny. The weather, you're so right. One Reacher novel I read the heat of summer added a lot to sense of danger building.

makenwords said...

Great post. I remember returning to Craig Johnson's Longmire series because Wyoming was a character in his books - I just never thought about it in my own writing.