Sunday, January 19, 2014

The “I” of the Beholder

Since its inception, fiction has invited readers to see more deeply and differently. In Don Quixote, Cervantes gently asked what we mean by “romance,” while Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones questioned class and education.  Still, not all readers want their eyes opened, and even if they do, the same approach won’t work for every pair of eyes. No problem.

Tip: Not every novel will reach every novel reader.

This seems absurdly obvious. It’s not. We expect our loved ones to love the novels we love. If our friends dislike not just the great read we recently finished but our very own novel, it can feel considerably more depressing. That’s understandable. Also ever so slightly irrational. Here’s why.

Readers have diverse expectations.

 * Don't assume that all smart or sophisticated or educated people prefer “x” over “y.”
 * Do accept that  “Different strokes for different folks” isn’t just an idiom. It’s a reality.

Writers have diverse goals.

 * Don't presume that your novel will “work” for every single reader.
 * Do know your audience. Expand it without alienating your genuine audience.

Critique group members, like any group of readers, have diverse skills and tastes.

 * Don't quit your group or ignore the advice of those outside your “real” audience, or keep repeating, “I
    never read this genre, but your book seems to be…”
 * Do believe that every reader can be useful. Sift feedback rather than blindly obeying or wildly discarding.
    Critique objectively. Your group deserves that.

However diverse, all those different beholders share some things in common:

            All novel readers like suspense—motivation to keep turning pages.
            All novel readers like credible, intriguing characters.
            All novel readers like good writing.
            All novel readers like writers who consider audience and revise accordingly.
            All novel readers like the sensation that someone wrote this just for them.

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