When Readers Meet Writers

Reading & Writing

Christopher Fowler #2 Kings Cross Station, 11.01.2013 (c) Stephen Jones

As our careers progress writers should stay in touch with readers more. It’s common sense to find out what people like or dislike. But what’s the best way? Well of course there’s social media, but you don’t really get beyond the formal politeness of writing a letter online (unless you’re on this site or you decide to have a go at a troll on Twitter, which I don’t recommend).

Face-to-face meetings are harder to organise. First off there’s the geographical distance. Second, launches, panels and literary events are usually arranged by our PR teams, so a lot of familiar faces are invited to appear at such events. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s harder to meet readers who are comfortable enough to simply sit and chat over a drink. How else, then, can you get honest opinions from readers?

National treasure Suggs from Madness says; ‘Playing eyeball to eyeball with a crowd is where you really learn how to entertain.’ Small rooms are fantastic for gauging what works. You certainly know when you’re boring!

I occasionally do one-to-one teaching for a university, but find the process frustrating because the courses are too long and the amount of work the students have to do is pitifully light, so there are huge gaps between sessions. It’s like trying to learn another language by studying for half an hour a week.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post. I’m planning to revive my old writers’ group ‘Big Words’. I ran it for a few happy years in the past, when we had everyone from Jake Arnott to Lionel Shriver appearing with small groups to talk about their work. I’ll set up a Twitter hashtag calling out for readers, hopefully not just in London, and let’s see if we can’t get some real dialogue going. It sometimes amazes me how little some publishers know about the people who buy their books.

Readers have much to teach writers if writers will just let them – the quality of the questions at Harrogate and other festivals far exceeds one’s expectations. And we’ve quite a bit to teach readers – but it would be good to conduct sessions in a pub or cafe once more rather than in more formal surroundings, so that readers can feel relaxed enough to be completely honest. (I’d like to meet some of my US readers this year, but with the number of stamps I have from Muslim countries in my passport I’m waiting to see what will happen with entry allowances.)

The Big Words idea is in early stages, but I know some other writers who would like to do this. Scheduling will be the hardest part, but let’s see what I can do.

My only fear about this is that when the public was asked what it most wanted in a car in 1958, Ford built the Edsel around their requests – and it was the greatest flop in automobile history!


11 comments on “When Readers Meet Writers”

  1. Anchovee says:

    Is that look on your face in reaction to the chap asking you to “Sign this for my mother, personally I can’t stand you but she absolutely adores you”.

  2. Vivienne says:

    Big Words sounds great, although I am a stranger to Twitter.
    I think I may now rename Brexit (horrible word anyway) Edsel.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Sitting around a table anywhere is good for discussion.
    By the way, Canada has no problem with Muslim passport stamps.
    Bet the CBC would host you here or in Toronto. If not, I could organise it through the Vancouver library. You like librarians and we have some very nice ones here.

  4. admin says:

    I’ve never been to Canada although my brother adores it. I must check and see how my books are doing there!

  5. mel says:

    Hope you manage to make it over.

  6. Brooke says:

    @Helen. I was going to suggest Toronto–easy to get to from US and many of us are trying to migrate there anyway.
    Alternately, is technology an option? If Big Words starts in UK and we on the other side of the pond see the tapes, it could promote discussion via a Citrex product which handles both communication and graphics. Not ideal but saves wear and tear on author.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    @ Brooke. Toronto would be good for anyone in southern Ontario & that whole area just south of the border. I have a horrible feeling that if the trip happens that’s where it will be, although here it would draw from the Seattle area where I know there are readers. Toronto is major for a Vancouver person. Still, I could use it as a major holiday if the house taxes aren’t too high.

  8. Brooke says:

    Whatever happens, I wish Big Words success.

  9. admin says:

    Thanks, both. My biggest readership in the USA apart from the coasts is in Austin, Texas. Publishers never give you enough information about your readership – I suspect they don’t actually know themselves!

  10. Bee Wyeth says:

    Big Words sounds brilliant – sign me up!

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Eastern USA would feed Toronto – it’s an easy jump. I refuse to consider Toronto the centre of the world, but unfortunately in many respects it is for Canada.

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