When Readers Meet Writers
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!