Monday, July 14, 2008

If Authors could Interview Readers...

Interviews, as Rowena noted, can either be interesting or snoozers. Having spent several years as a news reporter, working in the print and electronic media, I've seen both kinds of interviews. The one that I would want the most today, though, would be the one where I get the scoop from my readers.

I think that's something all authors want. Sure, we get fan mail. Heaven knows, I adore fan mail and it honestly brightens my day, encouraging me when deadlines are howling, my brain has frozen and my muse has taken a hike. "I love your books, they're so much fun to read" are words that soothe my writerly soul.

But they don't tell me why you--the reader--feel that way.

There are times, many times, where I desperately wish I could interview my readers.

Why did that particular character tug at your heartstrings? I'd ask. Was it his appearance, his gestures, his expressions...what was the turning point where you really felt him to be the hero you wanted? And what was it about the heroine that made you cheer for her, root for her? Was it because she was somewhat similar to yourself, or because she was different?

The thing is, most of us--at least, the authors I know and reguarly drink with a cons and such--really have no idea of what we're doing right. We can study books on conflict and characterization. We play with the concept of rising action. But they're just that: concepts and theories. Each time we sit down to write a book, the situation is new. We've either never met the characters before or they've grown since the previous book. We throw them into situations and then pound our brains for exactly the right words in which to bring you, reader, into that same situation. With as much intensity and passion as we can.

And we hope, no, we PRAY you like it.

Because we really don't know. We're really not sure. As I was explaining to a trio of my delightful beta-readers this weekend, authors probably read each chapter over easily ten times as they progress through the book: we read it for continuity, we read it to make sure we're on track, we read it when we've made changes to it, we read it because we've been away from the computer for a day or three and can't remember where we left off. By the time a book is finished first draft (FIRST draft), it's not unusual for an author to have read the entire book twenty times. Fifty times. By the time the book is through second draft, one hundred times of reading those damned words is not at all unlikely.

You become numb to what you've written. You can no longer discern if the funny parts are funny, the scary parts, scary. You KNOW what's going to happen on the next page so you're no longer able to gauge the flow of tension.

You can damned near quote the damned book by heart.

Then the book comes out and you get a glowing fan mail: "I loved the book!"

And in your heart of hearts, you want to yell: "But WHY?"

And in your heart of heart of hearts, you fear that since you have no idea of what you did right to make the reader love the book, you'll never be able to duplicate it and do it again.

Honest, we really feel that.

So I think the next time a reporter or blogger asks me for an interview, I'm going to strike a deal. Sure, you can interview me. But then I get to interview you.

Happy reading! And don't forget SHADES OF DARK hits the shelves July 29th at a bookstore near you--IN the romance section!

SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to Gabriel’s Ghost, coming July 2008 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

I love you beyond all measure, Chasidah. Sully’s voice in my mind was a husky whisper. The tightness in my chest began to abate. But I am concerned when I no longer know who or what I’m asking you to love in return.


  1. You should pop over to the Galaxy Express at least once a week then. It's one-stop shopping for authors hunting down readers' opinions.

    Also, authors should check out Lisa's Shelfari for Science Fiction Romance, created just a couple of days ago.

  2. I guess it's because authors take readers out of their normal everyday and give them a taste of something new, maybe it's forbidden or totally different to what they live. They're given the opportunity to escape into your world.
    My favourite books in the universe were always Eddings Belgariad series, I would have to tear myself away from it to function. I love finding a new author who let's me immerse myself in their world. It's what I'm striving to achieve with my own writing. Ah, one day. Thanks for the post.

  3. Linnea:

    I'm about to post on a kind of related subject -- a foundation in Astrology that can shed light on the question "What is it about my book that tugs your heartstrings?"

    The thing is, READERS don't know -- and the truth is they shouldn't know.

    WRITERS on the other hand -- well, some like me, have to know, and others like Marion Zimmer Bradley have to not-know. Some writers connect to readers subconscious-subconscious. Others conscious-subconscious.

    I developed my theory of WHAT it is that "reaches" a particular readership by literally watching my fans read rough drafts of my latest material. I would watch their EYES while they read a particular scene -- and keep score of my hits.

    Now these were people I knew very well -- whose other reading tastes I knew very well -- and I knew I had constructed this or that scene or character precisely to "hit" that sort of reader.

    I knew when I scored -- and when I didn't.

    So I learned via a kind of "biofeedback" mechanism.

    But it wouldn't have done me any good had I not been studying astrology at the same time -- developing a model of the universe that includes the kind of connection between writers and readers.

    So I'm posting the first of a two-parter on Astrology for Writers this week. And there's more to my theory -- a lot more!

    Most writers shouldn't know too much about it, though. Remember not to ask a centipede how it manages to walk!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. If you stick to writing what excites you, then you can't go wrong. You will draw readers excited by the same thing. Yes, that simple. It's not about capturing lightening in a bottle twice or even three times.

    I agree with Jacqueline--often readers don't know what we want until we see it. And even in a book we generally like, there are other surprises we love and other things we nitpick about.

    But each of us will bring something unique to the story you wrote--that is the undefinable chemistry between author and reader. That is why some readers will have the heartstring tug or whatever.

    Go with whatever makes you happy to write, and the rest will follow.

  5. Linnea, you nailed it!