For the Want of a Good Reader

Readers. You are the best of us.

“Hands up if you read?”

I hear it at panels while invited speakers gauge their audience. I’ve asked it myself.

You’re the key to this whole book thing. We love you.

There isn’t an author out there that didn’t start out reading. Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry—admittedly scriptwriters may come at this via watching—but they still have to read their work out. Yes, even gaming scripts need a read-through.  

Paying readers make this industry. Without a reader, agents have nothing to sell to publishers, publishers have nothing to print, bookshops would cease to exist. Libraries have no one to loan to. (Libraries pay authors via our taxes.) Writers have no reason to write. Kindle, Kobo, and the self-publishing industry would not exist either.

Yet so many of us don’t have the time to pick up a book. Wait. NO TIME TO READ? Fret not. You can catch the essence of a story or play by going to a site that will bite-size it. The internet is home to plenty of reviewers, bloggers, vloggers, BookTokers influencers.

I didn’t like this book because: too long, didn’t read. This book isn’t for me because I didn’t like the ending.

Oh well, I won’t bother reading it then. Thanks for saving me the money, time and effort.

But the author, and the industry, needs a SALE.

If a reader buys, does it matter if the book doesn’t get read? Charity shops are full of unread, unloved books. Currently, the author doesn’t gain from that aspect of the industry. Recommendations (Hello BookTok! book clubs, bloggers) can and have impacted the backlist. For small independent presses, late discovery is often too late to save the business. For self-published authors, the backlist is part of the business plan.

Publishers are at war with social media streams to get a reader’s attention. Marketing gurus promise to create interest.

All an author wants is for someone to read their book.

When did it get so complicated?

If authors are to sell to readers, we need to know them.

Why do we read? I read to escape, to learn and marvel. Speculative Fiction is a great genre for that.

Non-fiction and educational categories fill our thirst for knowledge. Poetry encourages deeper observation and flirts with fun. Fiction merges knowledge with escapism and drama. Why do you read?

When delivering workshops in schools, the greatest joy is watching a child wander over a book display (yes, the COVERS are facing OUT!) and being drawn in by the vivid appeal. But wait. This happens with the ‘too busy’ adult workshop environments, too.

What hocus-pocus is this? It’s the curious reader taking control of their world. “Stop for a minute. I want to enjoy this.”

The cover, the blurb, that vital opening page, all worked their magic. Savouring a book is an exercise in mindfulness, a modern and over used phrase in the sales industry.

I encourage you to spend an hour or two people watching at your local book shop and then the library, too. Not just to explore comp titles and examine the recent cover trends, but to understand who might try your book.

Who is your target audience? What distracts them away from the shelf?

Perhaps you can’t find your type of book out there. Is there a secret cult book club you don’t know about?  

I’m not proposing you get out the spreadsheets and tally your local Waterstones footfall, yet camping out in their coffee shop while working on a first draft is a good way to spend an afternoon.

What was the last book you read?

If a writer knows their audience as well as they know their book, it will find a reader a lot easier.

Reading feeds back into writing.

Isn’t it time we allowed ourselves to READ as well as planning to hit that #5amwritingclub?

Not because an influencer says so, but because the little indie bookshop has it in the window.

Are you reading at the moment? What caused you, as a reader, to pick up that book?

The review? A social media, radio, or tv interview? The cover? The blurb? A book club suggestion? A comment you heard?

Add that information to your bookshop study and you’ll have the framework of your readership.

As an author, it’s important to remember to keep reading. Partly because the industry changes. Niches emerge. Also, because as a reader, it expands and improves your writing. Your mind will analyse a sentence or explore the structure on a subconscious level.

And finally, because as daft as it sounds, to sell books to others, you need to read them.