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Six Lessons The Casual Vacancy Teaches Authors

by Jordyn Redwood

If you are reading this post and unaware, the novel The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s foray into the realm outside of Harry Potter-the YA series that made her a billionaire-literally. First of all, I did read all of the Harry Potter books. I didn’t enjoy the last few as much as I enjoyed the first few. If you line up all of the Potter books, the first thing you notice is each volume gets progressively longer. For me as a reader, it felt like editing lacked in the follow-up books because they knew it would sell once the first few took off.

Lesson #1: Editing matters.
Regardless of your personal opinion of the Harry Potter series, it continues to sell well. The lowest average review of all seven books was 4.3.

From what I can see, four years have passed since Rowling published The Tales of Beedle the Bard in 2008.
The Casual Vacancy was born in September, 2012. Second confession-I have not read this book, nor do I plan to, even though I was a fan of the Harry Potter series.

The Casual Vacancy
is an adult dystopian novel-clearly outside her lucrative money-making Harry Potter series. Outside her genre. Outside her brand.

Lesson #2: Going off brand will disappoint your readers.
What I noticed first was the price of the e-book on pre-orders. It was expensive. Don’t quote me but the price was $17.99 or more which shocked me. Since then, the price has been dropped to $14.99 which is more in-line with other general market heavy hitters like King, Koontz, Coben, and Slaughter.

Lesson #3:
If going off brand, offer your new product for a very reasonable price so readers will take a chance and buy your book considering Lesson #2.

Lesson #4: There is a price point for e-books, even if you’re a bestselling mega-hitter and it is between $9.99-$14.99 at most. It is lower in the CBA-somewhere between $7.99-$11.99.

Once the book was published, I began to read the reviews. The winning overall category was sadly one star reviews numbering 242. WOW. That hurts. The overall rating for the book was 2.8.

Interestingly, of the ten or so one star reviews that I read, most gave her latitude for ignoring my lesson #2-maybe. They were interested in seeing if she could do something different than Harry Potter but just as good as Harry Potter.

What was repeated over and over was that the characters were not likeable. Everyone is miserable. Too much foul language. Too much badness-several reviewers mentioning you don’t need every single miserable condition mentioned in one book-maybe one or two will suffice.

Lesson #5:
Regardless of everything-you must have likeable (not perfect) characters the readers can emotionally connect to. This may be the biggest downfall of the book.

Lesson #6: If you’re a billionaire-you can probably take the risk of writing outside your genre to see what happens.

Sadly, most authors are not billionaires or even millionaires so think smartly about writing outside your genre and brand. If so, it may be best to go with a pen name-as countless authors have done before.

Any thoughts on The Casual Vacancy and what it can teach us about writing?


Jordyn Redwood is a pediatric ER nurse and suspense novelist. She hosts Redwood’s Medical Edge, a blog that helps authors write medically accurate fiction. Her debut novel, Proof, garnered a starred review from Library Journal. The second book in the Bloodline Trilogy, Poison, releases Feb, 2013. Connect with Jordyn via her website at www.jordynredwood.net.

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8 Responses to Six Lessons The Casual Vacancy Teaches Authors

  1. Interesting thoughts, Jordyn. Thanks for sharing. I believe you just saved me some money, too!

    I have seen the same with the lack of editing on subsequent books within the CBA market, also, for one author whose work I recently began going through one book at a time. The further you go on the larger the books and the more evidence that the person was allowed to have more free rein–which isn’t always a good thing. There is a very good reason why why need editors. And even billionaire writers need them, too, obviously–and ones who aren’t afraid to shut down a bad book even if there will be a bunch of money made. Wonder what this will do to the editor’s career?

  2. I have not read the book, but I have read the interesting bad reviews. I noticed the same themes as well: too long, too depressing, too much money.

    I shy away from books that will take hours and hours to finish; I just don’t have the time (or eye strength)anymore. I tried reading “It” by Stephen King again and found myself skipping lots and lots of pages. I can’t believe I read it in one whole day as a teen! Talk about editing–that book could have used it big time and would have still told a great story.

    I still like to read and am enjoying short stories immensely.

  3. Carrie– I wonder if it will do anything to an editor’s career. Book sales are book sales and maybe they think the editing was fine if the book sells. Curious thought though– be interesting to hear what other’s think.

    I’m with you on King. My husband is an avid fan and he must be doing something right but I tried The Stand and never made it through the first 100 pages that everyone says you need to make it through before the story gets interesting. Hello, what editor would say that now. It’s okay to take 100 pages for readers to be interested. However, my personal taste doesn’t take away from his glorious writing career– that’s for sure. Strong work, Mr. King.

  4. Interesting observations, Jordyn. I too, haven’t read the book. Not sure if I will … There are so many waiting!

    It is a bit disheartening that we writers seem to be branded for life, although I do see why it helps with sales and readership. But it just makes me think, if J.K. Rowlings can’t even play in different genres, I better know beyond a shadow of a doubt how I want to be branded going into the first book.

    Oh, the pressure!

  5. Ahh…here’s hoping we all earn the right ro play the way Rowling is
    It’s exciting to see someone still love writing enough to risk the criticism involved in publishing. Three cheers for JK…even if I never read this book, I hope she keeps the stories coming. And…i hope Jordyn does too!

  6. Gillian,

    It is interesting which is why I think there is liberal use of pen names for authors who foray into other genres.

    Julie– thanks for your comment and same for you– I want to see LOTS of your stories.

  7. Iola says:

    Carrie raises an interesting point – I too can think of one big-name Christian writer whose recent books needed severe editing to cut the bloated backstory. Of course, then she would have actually have to have written more – without the backstory, the most recent novel was probably only 40,000 words.

    On price – The Kindle version of The Casual Vacancy was $9.99 until the day of release, then the price went up to $17.99. (I bought it for $9.99 a couple of days before the release). But price might vary by geography – even though I shop at Amazon.com, I live in New Zealand.

  8. Maribeth says:

    I’m totally confused why you are authoring a post titled “Six Lessons The Casual Vacancy Teaches Authors” if you haven’t read the book? After reading your post, it seems to be the title would be more accurate if it was “Six Lessons that Bad Reviews of The Casual Vacancy Teaches Authors.” As an author, I wonder how you would feel if some blogger posted a handful of criticisms of your book that they hadn’t read?