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I listen to the Writing Excuses podcast (if you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should), and one of the things they (and many others) talk about a lot is keeping the promises you make to you readers. This can mean a lot of things in regards to your writing, but today I want to talk about literal false advertising.

I will use two books as examples. Both are debut novels. The first one was marketed as “The next (book that I like).” So, of course, I bought it. I went in excited to read a new story with the same writing quality as the other book I liked. 

The second was a re-release of a New York Times bestselling author and was marketed as such, just edited a little bit for issues she now knew how to fix after she got several novels under her belt. I went in excited to read the first novel of one of my favorite authors, expecting it to not really be that great, but to still be enjoyable.

I read the first one and absolutely hated it. Because it was marketed as being simular to this other book, I was able to predict the ending immediately. The writing quality was subpar. The character development was nonexistent. Ultimately, I was disappointed because the author did not keep her promise to me.

The second book, I have not finished yet, and there are obvious problems with it-certain cliches that are common among new writers-but I am impressed. The characters aren’t exactly new-female mercenary protag, her shapeshiftimg wolf-mage sidekick, a promising young king, a sadistic mage who wants to rule the world essentially. But I kind of expected that going in.

One of the episodes of Writing Excuses deals with the pet peeves of agents, and one of the things mentioned was that agents hate it when writers day in their query letters that their book is “the next Harry Potter” or whatever other book is big at the time. I think it does largely come down to originality and writing your own thing and not trying to ride on someone else’s coattails, but I think it also has to do with not setting yourself up for failure. And honestly, if you have to name drop Harry Potter to get people interested then maybe your story has bigger issues.

Writing prompt: I want you to take 5 common story ideas and use those as jumping off points for 5 new story ideas. Summarize each in one sentence that mentions character and conflict.