I used to worry that when people read my writing, they would see right inside of me. It was a bit like standing naked in front of the mirror. I felt uncomfortably exposed. For too many years, this sense of vulnerability prevented me from doing it. But here’s what I’ve discovered this year. My readers are standing naked in the mirror right along with me. My words may reveal things about me, but the way that readers respond says everything about them.
Before I published Sterling Redmond, I asked a group of friends to read it as part of beta-test in the hopes that they would identify any areas where the book didn’t work. If two or more people brought up the same issue, I figured it merited fixing. Trusting them to give me honest but gentle feedback, I put it out to a dozen people. What I got back was interesting insight into their perspective. Each one brought their unique point of view to the story and responded based on that point of view. In other words, the things they focused on in my story were the same things they focus on in their own lives.
Everyone looks for the one who best reflects themselves. When you read a story, you look for the person you would be in that story, and you know it when you see it, sure as a mirror reflecting back at you. Identifying allows you to actively participate, and that’s why it’s important as a writer to know who your audience is. If they can’t find themselves in your story, they won’t go along on the journey with you. Simple as that.
This became even clearer to me when my novel started getting reviewed on Amazon and book blogs and Goodreads. I opened myself up to feedback from the world at large when I left my protected circle of friends and published my book. As you might expect, it has not been all wine and roses. Yet I am grateful to everyone who reads my work and takes the time to post a review of it. I’ve learned so much about my audience.
There are certain rules in fiction writing that I didn’t follow. Because I broke those rules, a small group of readers simply could not finish my book. My writing did not conform to the structure they prefer in a piece of fiction, and they stopped reading it. Point taken. It is my responsibility as a writer to not be confusing. Lesson learned. Thank you.
Aside from this small contingent of what I would call more literary readers, the response is very positive. Readers say that they can’t put it down. They can’t wait to see what happens. The broken literary rules don’t seem to slow these folks down at all. They read my book late into the night. They read it just for fun or escape, going along on the journey with me. I glow every time someone tells me how much they enjoyed it. Thank you.
Both of these points of view are equally valid – the critical literary critique and the wonderful positive reviews – because both are true. Art can be defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. But it’s not just the writer’s imagination at work in the process. Readers bring their own imagination and expectations to a story and either participate in it or judge it accordingly.
That is what art is – a shared experience.