This week I went to a book group. I’ve been to a few recently, just when I thought STARLINGS had pretty much sold as much as it was going to people have been telling me they’re reading the book and would I like to go to their book group. I have been asked to several recently. I love a good book group. I went to a few before Starlings even had a publisher, emailing them extracts beforehand and asking for their likes and dislikes. This was extremely helpful to me in completing the final drafts of the book, people at books groups gave me confidence in my writing but also told me how it could be improved and what didn’t quite work. I would recommend doing this to any author, your writing group will read like writers but a book group is usually made up of readers so it’s them who will be your key customers. The book groups always said how vital the book seemed when read in draft form, fresh off the printer.
The thing about book groups is you get to spend a couple of hours talking to readers about your work, you get to know them a bit, they usually give you wine and nibbles! It’s a very relaxed environment and literally anything can come up in the discussion. People will ask questions you’ve never thought of, people will make connections that are there but weren’t in your head when you wrote it. Because Starlings is such a local book, I have met people at book groups with strong connections to it. When I wrote it I wanted the people reading it to think it was about people like them. At the most recent book group I was asked why I had used a particular address as the home of one of the characters? It wasn’t random, my grandfather lived there briefly in the 1960s, it turned out that the house was first house her husband had owned. At another group, a man asked me why I had changed the name of what was obviously The Booth’s Museum in the book. I replied that I didn’t want the curator to think that the curator in the book was based on him (he was very gracious in showing me around the museum at the research stage) and it turned out that the man was his nephew. This is what Starlings is about; the little connections between people in a city, and I have come across many like this in my visits to Brighton’s book groups. I even went to one in Hurstpierpoint. I was a little nervous since one of the chapters in the book is called The Vaginas of Hurstpierpoint, and is less than complementary about the place (this is the character’s view I hasten to add). They couldn’t have been nicer and, as it turned out, they relished having their home used as a location.
It might be scary, handing yourself over to the mercy of readers you’ve never met but almost always you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how nice they are. The most overt criticism I have come across has been silence, one or two people at groups who just didn’t speak, either they didn’t like the book or they were unbelievably shy but one of the things you have to learn when you write is that not everyone is going to like it.
So if you are a writer, if you have just had a book published or you have just written one, try and get it out there to book groups, it is a rewarding and confidence boosting experience.