For the sake of this article, I’m going to forget about famous people. In these days when glamour and celebrity are so hyped up, they get enough publicity anyway. I am talking about ordinary writers who may or may not be hoping to become famous one day. Who are these writers’ readers?
Writing a novel is hard work, especially the first one and even more so if you doubt your ability because of a lack of experience. So when the novel is complete, most writers look to their friends and family for encouragement. When the book is finally finished, these trusted friends and family members are usually willing to read the story and even pay for the privilege.
It is very satisfying to sell twenty copies in the first week or so, and to hear the praise as it rolls in over the following few weeks.
Thus emboldened, the writer starts on another, perhaps a sequel and announces it to the same people who praised the first one, when it s for sale.
Half as many friends and family take up the offer, often making excuses such as: ‘I enjoyed the first one, but it’s not really my genre’, or, ‘I don’t really get much time to read these days’.
It hurts, believe me. It hurt me for years. A writer puts so much into a book that he or she expects loved ones to want to read it, especially in the early days, before reality kicks in. I have even written one of my brothers and his wife into one of my novels as a way of saying ‘Thank you’ and I sent them a paperback. That was a year ago, but they have never mentioned it. I didn’t tell them that they were in the book, so I must suppose either that they didn’t read it or that they didn’t like it.
It hurts to be ignored.
So, if friends and family are not writers’ readers, who are? A few friends and family may keep reading you, but most readers will be complete strangers – at least at first. I have met several of my most avid readers and correspond with several more. Some of these lovely people say that they have read every single one of my books, and that is over forty. I doubt that anyone in my family has read six (the first series).
Is this because my family doesn’t like my stories? Perhaps, but I think it’s more a question of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. I am not some mysterious person writing books in a small room to them, I’m just a brother they’ve known all their lives. All of a sudden, writing doesn’t seem so difficult any more.
But it still hurts that they don’t read my work and want to talk to me about it. You could say that that is arrogant and selfish, and you’re probably right, but it still hurts.
Anyway, over the years, I have listened to dozens of writers on BBC Radio Four talking about their experiences and it is not at all uncommon for family to be less than supportive to writers in the family.
I was listening to a female writer from Ghana or Nigeria saying that it used to hurt her that her mother had read only one of her novels, all of which have been best sellers. It helps to know that it is not only happening to me.
However, yesterday, I think I finally nailed this niggle that has been bothering me for years. I was listening to a three-hour tribute broadcast to Spike Milligan, and towards the end, Spike’s (eldest?) daughter said in an aside, ‘… I haven’t read all of Dad’s books…’
Spike Milligan, one of the most talented British comics of all time, yet his daughter hasn’t read all his work?!
I find that flabbergasting! It makes my ‘problem’ seem insignificant. If his family couldn’t get around to reading all his work, what chance have I got?
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Podcast: Writers’ Readers