Preconceptions can be very good or very dangerous things in the world of fiction. When a reader jumps into a book they've never read, their thoughts are likely to color their entire view of the story. For example: if the reader hears rave reviews of that book, then they may begin their journey full of excitement, ready to be entertained just as much as the woman in the newspaper who, "...couldn't put the book down all night!" If the book is great, they walk away pleased, but if it falls short in any way, there's the danger that, not only will the reader feel disappointed, but they may never read anything else by that author ever again.
On the other hand, and I'll give an example from my own experience, I grew up in the culture that declared before the world that "Harry Potter is evil!" And while I never agreed with those people, (and my opinion of their deplorable treatment of the world-at-large is a looooonnnnnggg topic for another day...maybe), those thoughts still danced around the back of my mind as I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time. I LOVED the book. And as soon as I finished reading it, I picked up book two...followed by book three, and as soon as four came out, I got THAT one.
When preconceptions are blown away in a proper manner, it can do great things for a writer. When I read a debut author, or a well-known author's first book, I go in expecting it to be only barely publishable. After all, they've never had anything else published. They're new at this, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt, but I expect the writing to be raw and devoid of a unique voice. When the books are as astounding as Storm Front, Dead Until Dark, or Soulless, then I can't help but look for more books by those authors. The proved to me that they are great at what they do, and even though the writing isn't "perfect", it's a lot better than I expected!
On the other hand, my because of my preconceptions, I'll probably never read The DaVinci Code. Not because of the "controversy" (which was only a controversy for Americans who don't study DaVinci...they already knew that stuff in Europe). I know what I believe, and a FICTION BOOK (Brown makes a point of telling the reader it's only fiction) won't change my beliefs. The reason I won't read it is because so many people who read it and could step back from the religion stuff all insisted that (and these are their words) it was one of the worst books they'd ever read. "The writing is atrocious," they told me. "He doesn't know his way around Paris, the plot is predictable, and the characters don't seem real. Even the scenery descriptions are bland." For a book that stayed on the bestseller lists for so long, that's not something you expect to hear.
Is this fair? Probably not. But it's still something we as writers need to consider. Regardless of the genre you write, it's important to know what the popular preconceptions are. Are you writing about werewolves? What's the theory on how a werewolf comes into existence? Will you stick to ancient legends (like the legend that only men can become werewolves, they can only be killed by silver, a female descendant of a werewolf might, just MIGHT, carry a cure to lycanthropy...and so on), or will you stray from tradition and create a new mythology? And will it be so different from what people are used to that it will only make them mad? That's only one example, and every genre, from mystery, to horror, to science fiction, has their own set of rules that, when broken, make readers angry unless they're done well.
Whew! That's a lot going through my brain this morning! What preconceptions have you had about books that turned out to be wrong? Was that a good or bad thing?