Katie Forrest

Writing About Creativity, Special Needs Parenting, Time Management & Life Dispatches.

Underpromise and Overdeliver: A Writer’s Guide

I’ve long been quite fanatical about excellent client care.

I love experiencing it, providing it, and hearing stories about it. I collect these and they feed my soul.

One way of offering great client care?

Underpromise and overdeliver.

Don’t just do what you say you will, but do it better, or faster, or do more.

How does this apply to writers, though? We don’t have clients.

But we do have readers, and we expect them to part with their hard earned money or their valuable time in order to read our work.

It’s actually pretty similar to a client relationship.

A reader certainly makes an investment in each writer they read, whether that investment be money, time or both. And they make that investment because of an implicit (or explicit) promise we make.

Your book cover is an implicit promise that your book is the genre the reader expects it to be. As soon as you break that promise, you lose the reader’s trust. Why should they ever believe you again when you pop back up with another book?

You blurb will be an implicit or explicit promise. If the blurb makes your book sound like a lighthearted, fun read and is actually emotionally heavy? Implicit promise broken. But if your blurb specifically says, “if you love books by George R R Martin, you’ll love this!” and your book has nothing in common with Martin’s work? That’s an explicit promise broken.

Prepare yourself for bad reviews if you ever make that mistake.

(Why, yes, I speak from experience.)

The point of underpromising isn’t go out and get a rubbish cover or write an awful blurb so that your book is a pleasant surprise compared to those steaming heaps of trash.

It’s about being deliberate about what you say you will do, and actually doing more than you say you will.

Example 1:

You send out an email newsletter and ask readers a question, telling them you’ll personally read each response. That’s your underpromise. You overdeliver by not only reading every reply, but sending a personal response to each one.

But why not just say you’ll reply in the first place?

Well, lots of reasons:

  1. If you say that’s what you’ll do, it becomes the expectation and loses the ability to impress. Your reply will be expected, taken for granted, and perhaps grumbled about if it arrives too late.
  2. This is the kind of thing that can easily become overwhelming and unrealistic for you to maintain. You want your newsletter to continue growing, and while you may be able to reply to 20 messages a week, how will you respond to 200, 2000 or 20,000? The difficulty is that it’s very hard to switch your promise for something less. Quirky Tina who is one of your OG subscribers and who has replied to most questions you’ve asked will be a bit miffed when you announce you can no longer reply to messages if that’s the promise you’ve made to her.


Example 2:

You expect you can publish four books this year. For the love of smoked cheese, don’t tell people that (unless you’ve got a track record like Amanda M Lee, who releases her publishing schedule for the whole of the next year complete with release dates and titles and hits them all!). Because, well, life happens.

If you want to give your readers some expectations, tell them you’ll be publishing two books. Maybe three.

And then delight them with two (or three) if things don’t go as planned – and blow their minds with four if everything works out as you expect.


You can really apply this idea to most aspects of your business, and it transforms the relationship from one of you being expected to meet incredibly high standards, to you being expected to meet standards that are a little more realistic, with the aim being that you surpass them and delight your reader.

Have fun with this!



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