As a writer, most of my engagement with readers has been conducted online and usually consists of nothing more than a couple of tweets, or the occasional brief Facebook message exchange. Outside of that, I might find myself floating around on Amazon, or Goodreads, to check if there are any new reviews. But most of the time, once you’ve published a book, you can only really wonder whether or not anyone liked it or is even reading it at all.
So with that in mind, when I agreed to take part in the 2016 Read Regional campaign, I was especially interested to actually meet some readers, in real life, and find out what they made of my novel. Sure enough, at a number of my events, whole reading groups came along – some were organised by the hosting libraries in advance of the events, and some smaller ones were arranged informally amongst themselves.
At all the events, I made it clear from the start that I wouldn’t be offended if anyone didn’t like the book and that I was happy to discuss anything at all to do with it, and I think this led us towards some interesting conversations, on such topics as whether characters need to be likeable in fiction, and whether or not books should transport you to more exotic settings, or aim to reflect modern life (even if it’s sometimes rather depressing and mundane).
As I’d hoped, I’ve found meeting and engaging with readers in person both interesting and satisfying – to actually have a thoughtful dialogue, especially with those who didn’t get on with it, has given me much more of an idea how my writing works (or doesn’t) with different types of readers. And of course, it was great to meet those who did enjoy the book, too – a pessimistic part of me suspected that perhaps its subject matter (the internet) and characters (in their 20’s and 30’s) might not be particularly engaging for an older audience – but in this I was proved wrong, as it turned out some older readers really responded well to the books themes and characters.
I’m nearing the end of my Read Regional experience now, and the whole thing has been a real pleasure: as well as engaging with readers, I’ve also enjoyed visiting various parts of the country I’d not been to before, and discovering that all across the North libraries are still providing an important, valuable function in their communities.