How To Write a Novel — Reader Experience

Day 2 of writing my novel in public

Photo by gazali marimbo on Unsplash

Yesterday I started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

Day 2 — Reader Experience

Readers will stay with an author, no matter what the variations in style and genre, as long as they get that sense of story, of character, of empathetic involvement.

— Dean Koontz

Okay Dean, great, I’ll work on that empathetic involvement then.

For that, I need to understand my reader. What are they looking for? If they pick up a thriller, then they won’t be expecting the same story as a romance. The primary emotions they feel reading a thriller — excitement, fear, mystery — won’t be the same if they are reading a romance with connection, comfort, and love.

If my novel is going to be successful in pleasing the reader, then I need to know what I’m aiming for in terms of emotional response. For that I need to know the genre of book that I am writing.


There are various ways I could go about looking for genre. I could go to Amazon, for example, and explore the categories there. Or I could go down to my local bookshop and look at how they have shelved the books into different genres. Both approaches, however, are looking at genre from the seller’s perspective. A publisher or author determines where to categorise the book on Amazon and in the bookshop.

I want to look at the reader’s perspective. Where do the readers of the book think it belongs? For this I am going to use Goodreads. They generate the genre tags on Goodreads from the shelves that the readers place the book on. So I can get a good idea of how readers view the book.

Guidebook Genres

Yesterday I chose two books to be the parents of the book I am going to write.

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  • Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

In Goodreads, when I search for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there are multiple listings, but I’m going to click on the one with the greatest number of ratings.

Captured from Goodreads

Just under the description is a list of genres:

Fantasy, Classics, Fiction, Young Adult, Children’s, Middle Grade, Adventure, Christian, Magic

Doing the same for Gangsta Granny:

Children’s, Fiction, Middle Grade, Humor, Adventure, Novels, Audiobook, Young Adult, Comedy, Family

The first thing I’m going to do is strip out genres that I don’t feel are useful in helping me understand the book I am trying to write. For example, Classics is not something I can control, it is more a product of time and the readers love of the book. Similarly Audiobook, Fiction and Novel don’t feel useful at the moment.

After I have taken these out of the lists, I am left with:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Fantasy, Young Adult, Children’s, Middle Grade, Adventure, Christian, Magic

Gangsta Granny

Children’s, Middle Grade, Humour, Adventure, Young Adult, Comedy, Family

Looking at these two lists, I can see that they share some common genres, and this is a good thing. When I chose these two books, I wanted to make sure that they were sufficiently similar that they won’t be in constant disagreement.

Here are the genres that they share:

Common: Children’s, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adventure

Looking at this list, we have three designators for the age of the readership: Children’s, Middle Grade and Young Adult. The first of these — Children’s — is the most generic and least useful. Between Middle Grade and Young Adult I think both books are aimed at the younger audience of Middle Grade, so I’m going to take that one and ignore Young Adult.

So now we have:

Common: Middle Grade, Adventure

There are also some genres that are specific to each one. Again, this is a good thing. When I chose them, I didn’t want the two books to be so similar that any relationship would be incestuous. I want my book-child to have a sufficiently wide gene-pool to draw from.

These are the genres that are specific to each one:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — Fantasy, Christian, Magic

Gangsta Granny — Humour, Comedy, Family

Selective Breeding

The fantastic part about my breeding these two books to create my book-baby is that I can choose which characteristics my book inherits.

I have the common traits — Middle Grade, Adventure — and I can choose which of the traits unique to each of my guidebooks that I want to bring out in the book I write.

I am drawn to Humour and Fantasy

So I now have the genres for the book-child I am writing.

My book — Middle Grade, Adventure, Humour, Fantasy.

Reader reviews

Yesterday I did some freewriting on what I loved about these two books. Whilst I’m on Goodreads, I want to get a better sense of what others thought about them. In particular, I want to get a sense of the emotions that these books brought out in the readers who loved them.

Scrolling down to the community reviews section for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there are over a million 5 star reviews.

Captured from Goodreads

In order to get a sense of the emotions the books evoked for those readers who loved it, I’m going to sample the 5 star reviews. I’ll read the first ten and pick out the emotive words that they use.

Brave, Magical, Adventure, Hope, Companionship, Sacrifice, Dream, Nostalgic, Wonder, Secret, Mystery

Doing the same for the first ten 5 star reviews of Gangsta Granny gave me the following emotions.

Fairness, Wonder, Happiness, Hilarious, Mind-scrambler, Beautiful, Funny, Sad, Heart-breaking, Heart-warming

From these two lists, I am going to pick out the top three emotions that I want to focus on when writing my novel.

I have chosen MagicalHilarious and Heart-warming.

Note the 1-stars

Whilst I’m here, I’m also going to note the 1-star reviews that these books that I loved received. Out of all the people who bothered to leave a review on these books, 1% on each of them only gave the book 1-star. These are books I loved, but there is no objective measure of a novel. A book will have its fans and its haters.

I see this as a comfort when writing my novel. There is no need to please everyone. I never will. And if I try to please everyone, then I will end up with something that has nothing to spark with the people who would have loved it if I had focussed on pleasing them.

So I want to think about my ideal reader. I’m going to focus in on someone who I think will love the book that I am going to write. In my mind’s eye, I’m picturing them enjoying my book and finding it magical, hilarious, and heart-warming.

My ideal reader is my niece. She has a quirky sense of humour and an active imagination. She enjoys cooking.


End of Day 2 and I feel I am on the right track. Continuing on from discovering my two guidebooks yesterday, today I have used them to decide that I am going to write a middle grade humorous adventure fantasy. Looking at what readers enjoyed in the guidebooks, I am going to aim to make my novel magical, hilarious and heart-warming. Finally, I have picked out my ideal reader, my niece.

Tomorrow, I will explore the main characters in the guidebooks in more depth and determine the mission for the main character in my book.

Please subscribe to get the full series as I write it.

If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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