Almost the first question an agent or publisher asks is who are your readers? I can’t be the only writer who fails to conjure up a collective market-speak noun for the person who has just turned the last page of my novel with (I hope) a sigh of satisfaction.
The people who read, and give me feedback, are people who know me. They have read my books because they are kind friends or relatives, fellow-writers or new online friends. They are male and female, aged 16 to 90, and include a wide spectrum of interests and incomes. As a writer I could not survive without these people, but they are not the distinct target group the agent or publisher is looking for. What is more, I really didn’t know who else in the world, would want to read my novels… but I got lucky.
In December I wrote about the moment when dreams and real life coincided (Writer (almost) faints). I met a reader totally unknown to me who loved my second novel, Unseen Unsung, and so, apparently, did her book group.
Last night I was the surprise guest, invited by this reader, to a birthday meal for a member of her book group. So I met Tracy, Susanne, Janet, Sarah, Marie, Tracey and Judy (who couldn’t stay to the meal). My presence was for the fun of it, I didn’t have to perform, or sell myself, I was able to eat, relax, and discover who my readers were as people. Tracy birthday girl Suzanne (Goldie) Janet (left to right) Tracey, Marie and Sarah
So what, if anything, makes Tracy, Susanne, Janet, Sarah, Marie, Tracey and Judy a group. They were vibrant, funny, unsentimental, open and tolerant people. Their energies and concerns were first for their family members, then for each other, and after that any individual in their orbit who was in need. In doing all this they also looked after themselves and made their own fun. They worked, played and read widely. In every other sense each was a distinct personality. We were in Tracy’s house, her mother was upstairs, recovering from an operation, her father appeared from time to time as did a fifteen-year-old son, an undergraduate son and her husband (and there was a daughter elsewhere). Apart from her own spaniel (?), she was temporarily caring for a couple of pugs to help a friend.
The Chinese proverb runs – Women hold up half the sky. These women were certainly holding up more than they share share of the sky and I feel all the better, as a writer, for being their choice.
That is really cool to be able to meet people who have read and discussed one of your books. Does it make it harder when you sit down to write knowing, in part, who your audience is? And what DO you tell an agent when he/she asks that pesky question?
For your first question, I think it has helped me to focus on what it really is that people care about in the way I write – not that we talked much about the writing, but the way they talked about what mattered to them. For the second… I ducked that in the post, but I guess it is multitasking mothers, with varied interests and a strong social consciences.
What a splendid occasion and such lovely people. The answer to the question: who reads your books is……. discerning people, people with a passion for reading, learning and sharing. Age is irrelevant. Adults, teenagers and possibly pre-teens read and enjoyed the Hari Potter series and why not? I reread Treasure Island recently. I am not convinced you can slice and dice the demographics so easily. As to the role of women, well Mrs. Ha holds up rather more than half our sky. I just pay for the foundations.
I think ALL my readers are amazing, but that doesn’t cut much ice with the agents etc. We have a similar role division in our household, I say I have an idea… and a year (and many plans and research) or so later, we start another extension.
Well if we buy the house we are looking at – 4,000 sq feet and an acre of rural Hampshire – I think there will be a full blown budgeting process and as CFO I will have a veto over the CEO.The stamp duty alone will be about £100k and that is outrageous. We are doing a walk with the builder tomorrow before we even have a deal!
A whole acre – envy. Think of the trees and the birds inside them, beautiful gardens and wildlife areas, spring in Hampshire… I hope the CFO and the CEO reach consensus.
You hve been very fortunate in this experience, which is great. I have a litle idea who my readers are and I could not begin to pigeon-hole them, so anyone asking me this question will just have to chew gravel.
I know how lucky – and it was totally serendipitous – I have been. I still can’t pigeon-hole my readers, but I now believe in them and can see what they have in common with the people I write about. I wish you the same luck.
That was a great opportunity and probably pretty rare to come by. Any spontanious invitation like that I would welcome too, but…it does’nt happen. I can’t wait forever either. I do like to sniff around hoping for people’s opinions and often peer over their fences to try and get a glimpse of what makes them tick. However, there is this thing they call ‘privacy’ which many hold onto for dear life. They are more than just curtains or blinds.
In Holland they have much less of those curtains. In fact the opposite, they blurb out about everything. Some say they can be self opinionated.
As for your experience Hilary. Women hold up half the sky indeed and men often pretend they do too. We all know they don’t.
Waiting wouldn’t have helped. I think what happened to me was rare as hen’s teeth, and so much due to a chance moment, and the kind of people my book fell among. I must get to Holland again. I think I last saw it from a canoe on the Maas, aged, perhaps, nine?
How absolutely delightful, Hilary ! 🙂
You deserve everything you get in terms of responses (NOT in terms of having to do your own publicity); and a group like this must have given you such a warm feeling …
I can see why Suzanne is called ‘Goldie’ !
Yup, the gods of luck smiled, in their utterly inconsistent way, on my endeavours. Rowen and Martin Laugh In! It took me back a long way.
Me too: I loved it. 🙂
What a terrific opportunity to talk to these wonderful young women. Beautifully described. 🙂
Thank you. I still can’t quite believe my luck – or how they fitted me in to their exhausting, but positive lives.
I shudder when I think of that question about readership, along with the thorny issue of ‘genre’ which often baffles me. I’m sure I read books that, from a publisher’s point of view, are not aimed at me. Likewise, I expect I don’t read books they might assume someone like me would read. I can see why they want to get an idea of who might read a book but in many cases they won’t have a clue until the book’s out there being read.
It was a great opportunity you got with the book group. Were you at all nervous about meeting them? I don’t know if it’s just me, but when people say nice things to me about my writing, particularly if it’s in person and I’m put on the spot, I generally have no idea what to say to them. I suppose I find it hard to believe that they’re interested in discussing it at all. It’s a very personal thing, writing, perhaps particularly fiction where you might put bits of yourself into your characters. I think you were brave to go along, but it obviously paid off as it’s been such a positive experience for you.
I sympathise, readership and genre have been my bêtes noirs since 2002. Literary consultants, if they advise, say either that genre shouldn’t (not doesn’t) matter or that I write on across the border between literary and genre and should veer towards the former. However, I too, read a mixed bag of books.
It’s all about marketing. Once a publisher has decided who is going to buy the book, the cover, the blurb and all the promotion is very specifically directed. We, the public, fall in line (even though we think we don’t).
I was exceptionally lucky to meet this group and they made it very easy for me. I am easily embarrassed by people I know being nice about my books, as I never know if they are simply being kind. If strangers ask what kind of book I write, I am often unable to produce a coherent sentence. Book groups are better, they have read the book and are curious about specific things, so I enjoy that.
I don’t like to think I’m being reeled in by calculating marketers but I expect I am, all the time. I’ve noticed that certain cover design styles appeal to me and others don’t, and it’s the same with the wording on the back of the book and even the title in many cases. I like to think I have broad tastes, but in fact there are many things that put me off and stop me from reading a book before I’ve got beyond a glimpse of the cover.
I see what you mean about book groups, they’ve connected with your book in a way an individual reader probably hasn’t, through discussing it with each other and perhaps challenging themselves to think about issues from different perspectives. I think I’d be worried that they might seem to know more about my characters than I do, but then that can be instructive for a writer.
I have to believe the cover stuff from my work in Psychology, I guess advertising wouldn’t work if we weren’t complicit in having our mind’s trained along certain lines. Book groups DO know more about your characters, they have remade them in the images of the people they know. It is both disconcerting and immensely informative.
A rewarding experience. I am glad for you Hilary 🙂
Thank you, I feel I learnt a lot and I had a lovely time.
So happy for you 😊.
Thanks. Luck flies everyone’s way occasionally.
And rare. It’ll keep me warm for a long time.
A very powerful post, Hilary, and what a pick-me-up for an author! Even as the introvert I perceive myself to be (part of the time anyway), I can imagine this would be such a life-changing event. It brought tears to my eye to read this. Here’s to the sublimity of “ordinary” people and your willingness, Hilary, to engage with them on a direct level!
Thank you. I am so aware that a couple of minutes either way, and I might not have met Tracy and never have known that she and her friends had read my book. It has made a difference to my confidence, because when I look at my writing, I mostly see what I have not succeeded in doing. I must have got something right for these lovely, warm people to enjoy the books.
Good for you! As a poet, I know from the start that my work is not very marketable. I do have an ever growing audience in blogsville, but even those people just don’t buy poetry books…except through longtime friendship. I have self-published and sold on my own website with satisfaction, given the givens. I enjoy reading about your own publishing experience. Thank you for visiting my blog today!
Funnily enough I buy poetry books! My first (out of print) novel centred on the role of poetry and music in grief. Are we on the same continent? UK in my case.
I live among the rural mountains of western Maine, USA—a childhood home to which I returned recently, having spent the greater part of adulthood in cities, chiefly Boston. My domestic partner and soul mate of 43 years died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2010 and every day thereafter for a year I wrote what might loosely be called a poem about what I experienced—a sort of year’s poetic journal of the grieving process. I’m thinking one of these days to winnow and maybe publish it. When I passed the idea by an “independent” publisher recently, she immediately got excited and gave the work a projected title! This turned me off, of course. I’m happy to hear you buy poetry books. That makes you a rara avis, I think!
Poetry has a potency that prose never quite achieves. I turn to it for understanding and solace, but I have never managed to write any satisfactorily. I do love that it can be three-dimensional, like sculpture. I look forward to this book when you do publish it.
Ah nice. This makes me smile.
I wish you, and all fellow authors, a piece of this luck.
It must have been an odd sensation… A mixture of fear and a desire to find out? But it is a congratulatory event to know you truly have readers!
I get nervous if I have t perform, but I was just a guest. It was such fun, and they were lovely people.
How lovely for them and for you. It really is great to be the guest of a book club. They’re my favorite groups to read to and visit with.
Yes, I agree, it is pure luxury to be able to talk to people who have immersed themselves in your writing and have lots of questions.
What a lovely experience, Hilary 🙂
It was, the wheels of chance roll everyone’s way occasionally, that was my turn.