When Your Story Gets a Lackluster Response from Readers

Today’s post comes from a subscriber’s question: “When I published the first chapters of my story online, everyone loved it. But since updating a chapter containing delicate matters, I feel like I lost my readers even though the story moved forward. I’m worried that I’ve messed up irremediably. What should I do? Thanks!”

This is a tough one. But keep in mind that having a problem with your story’s reception isn’t the same thing as having a problem with your story. There may be nothing wrong with your story.

I honestly think one of the hardest things as a writer is figuring out the difference between an actual problem with your story and your story not getting a good reception. Stories meet lackluster responses for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s not the right audience. Or not the right time. Or your perception is skewed. Or you’re experiencing a natural reader drop off (even the most popular stories on Wattpad have way more reads for the first few chapters, with numbers dropping exponentially as the story goes on.)

Consider this: I once sat in a workshop with twelve other people where a fellow writer shared one of the most brilliant short stories I had read in that group to date. Only two people–me and the workshop leader–liked and understood it. Everyone else was confused. That writer’s story was later published verbatim in a well-known literary magazine. I’ve had the same experience myself, winning prizes with stories that left my test readers annoyed or scratching their heads. It’s really hard to know.

Side note: I’ve noticed there are some drawbacks to publishing as you write. Personally I always finish my stories completely before sharing them. On the downside, you don’t get the instant feedback and encouragement of sharing-as-you-write. But on the upside, you can protect and mold your story as a whole entity without outside influence.

Overall, if you’re nervous about your readers’ reactions, I’d encourage you to follow your gut as best you can. Do you have a weird feeling about the direction you went in with your story? Is your readers’ response confirming a suspicion you already had? Or does it seem off-base to you?

Deciding when, and how, to change your story based on reader feedback is a skill that takes writers years to learn, and it’s completely individual to each writer. Consider this incident just one of many opportunities you’ll have to practice (yay?!).

Hope this helps <3