When my mom attends a book signing, book fair or convention with me, people will often ask her if she’s a writer too. She smiles and says, “Oh no. I’m just a reader. But you need us.” It always gets a big laugh and the other person, usually a writer, enthusiastically agrees.
Sometimes I hang out with writers so much, I forget there are other people out there who just read books because they enjoy them, not because they want to write them!
I have a fantastic speculative fiction book club** in which we read geeky science fiction and fantasy books and then gather to have passionate discussions about them. What I didn’t realize was going to happen, was that I was going to learn a lot about writing from them.
It’s been so valuable to me to listen to what they like or don’t like about characters and why, what plot points they didn’t buy into, what endings they couldn’t deal with and which ones they loved.
As a writer, I’m always reading books from that point of view, analyzing it for what you’re “supposed to do” or “not supposed to do.” What I’ve found, when I bring these points up to the rest of the club, a lot of the time it’s things that weren’t really that important to them.
What is important to them varies from person to person. Everyone likes a good story, some are fine with a light, fun read, while others prefer the plot to be more intelligent and the characters more complex. The greatest thing I’ve learned, is that no matter what book we choose, because they love reading, they’ll give it a chance.
I get so caught up in all the rules, what my writer friends will think, or what an agent or publisher wants, I forget about the reader. What do they want? They don’t care if the writer is ticking off all the boxes on the novel writing checklist. They care about a story that grips them and characters they can believe in and ride along with. The more I listen to our book club discussions, the more tips I pick up about what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve also learned that even when people seem to have the same tastes, they’ll vary greatly on what books they like or don’t like. The lesson? You can’t please everyone, so write the book you want to write and the people who like it will champion you with their passion for it, the ones who don’t like it will move on to something else.
When it comes to discussions of books, are you mostly surrounded by other writers? I highly recommend joining (or starting) a book club. Sit back and listen. You’ll learn from the perspective of readers and can then apply that to your own philosophies on writing your novel, a novel that may one day be the Book Club book of the month.
*Pictures included are of some of the books we have read
**Big shout out to my BC Geek Book Clubmates!