Kate Rothwell asks an interesting question in this post:
I wish there was a subjective method of measuring which aspects of a book—other than the story—hold the most power for reviewers.
Let’s say you don’t know the author, so you can’t really base future expectations on past performance. What do you go with instead?
We got the expectation based on the cover and the context. I suppose the reputation of the publisher goes with the expectation.
What else? Maybe how well the back cover and the contents match? Okay, yes, there’s a matter of the damn story.
Personally, for me? If starting out with a clean slate, i.e. I’m reading a book by a new-to-me author, my expectations are almost entirely based on the story. Specifically, within the first 50 pages of the book. God knows I have learned not to expect ANYTHING based on the cover or the blurb, especially for romance novels.
It doesn’t bother me to read novels that have been mis-categorized by publishers or bookstores. It doesn’t get my hackles up when I pick up a book marketed heavily as taut romantic suspense and find it to be a light-hearted romp that just happened to involve a murder investigation. I might put it down once I realized the mistake and seek another book if I was really, really in the mood for romantic suspense, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t hold this against the book because I wouldn’t have been invested enough in the book to care how it turned out one way or another.
What DOES bother me is a situation like this: the book sets itself up as taut romantic suspense. The first 50 pages involve a grisly murder, with the hard-nosed detective investigating the case and becoming sexually involved with a mysterious Eastern European secret agent who may or may not be the key to the killing. And then on page 51, dotty Aunt Mabel shows up with her yappy Pomeranian, Poopy-Pie, hilarious hijinks ensue, and the dog ends up solving the mystery.
Or, as in one Cassie Edwards novel reviewed by some poor schmuck on AAR, a novel that gave no indication that it was a paranormal of any sort had an eagle talking to one of the protagonists just to further the plot. What. The. Fuck.
Hype does play a small part in my expectations. They used to play a much bigger role, but after getting burned over and over by hyped-up books that turned out to be either mediocre or downright awful, I’ve learned to a) not buy books solely because of hype, and b) forget as much as I can about the hype and evaluate the book on its own merits. How successful I am in achieving b), I don’t know. Would I have hated, say, Liz Carlyle’s books less if everyone hadn’t been touting them as The Greatest Love Stories EVAR? I don’t know. Maybe, but it’s hard to tell. For what it’s worth, when I think a story sucketh the big hairy one, I have very concrete reasons, and “I was soooo disappointed that this book isn’t as good as what everyone says it is” isn’t usually one of them—not for new-to-me authors, anyway. It’s definitely a factor when reading a book by a favorite author; for instance, I’m not sure if my disgust with The Last Hellion is because it’s a genuinely bad book, or because I placed impossible expectations on Loretta Chase.
I may be full of shit, of course. I may be subconsciously applying different standards when reading different genres, have different expectations based on covers, blurbs, format (trade vs. mass market vs. hardcover vs. e-book), etc., expectations that DO affect how I perceive a story. But from what I can tell, I don’t think these different expectations affect my reading experience in any significant way.