When my book, Our Endless Numbered Days was published I didn’t think I was going to enjoy getting out there and talking to strangers. It was a frightening thought – having to answer questions, explain why I had made a character do something unpalatable, justify what I had written. The first event I attended as an author was a literature festival and I was terrified at the idea of even getting on stage. But when it was over I was pleased I had managed to talk about my book to an audience who stared back at me with what at least looked like interest. But it was the opportunity I was given to meet these people after the event that I discovered I enjoyed the most. They seemed so excited to be able to talk to an author and I too was excited to meet actual readers.
I’ve since realised that more than anything book related I’ve attended so far, I enjoy interacting with people who like reading. And the best events are book clubs.
As a writer it’s so energising to meet, talk, Skype or email with people who ‘get’ your book; to debate the real nitty-gritty detail, to discuss the breadcrumb trails I left and to hear who found them and who didn’t.
And for the readers, they get to hear the story behind the story, they get answers to all those questions that other book clubs wonder about: why did the author end it that way? Why did she include that character? Or even, I wonder what her writing process is?
“Having Claire’s answers to our questions was a real game changer,” says Dawn Landau, who is a member of a book club based in Bellingham, in the Pacific Northwest of America. “It was exciting to have concrete answers to things we had wondered about as we read the book. Claire gave us insights that really helped us flesh out questions we’d had when reading. Having Claire’s responses to our questions helped us all feel much more connected to the story and its characters. A few of us said we were tempted to read it again, now knowing some of these details.”
Of course, nothing beats going to a book club meeting in person, but since I live in England and many of my readers are in the US, Skype is a good alternative. And if the time difference is too much to deal with I’m happy to answer questions by email.
“Initially, when I contacted Claire, we discussed doing a Skype meet and greet with her,” says Dawn. “However, it quickly became clear that with the enormous time difference (we always meet in the evening, as several book club members work full time), this would be impossible, and Claire offered to answer questions by email instead. Admittedly, our group is not the most organised – our focus is on fun, with books as the thing that brings us together – so we didn’t get the questions to Claire until right before our meeting, but she still answered them all.”
Naturally, not everyone is going to like every book. And of course I’ve come across readers who didn’t get on with Our Endless Numbered Days, but if they can express in a constructive way what didn’t work for them, I’m still interested. It might even spark a bit of debate. Sylvia Conway-Jones is a member of a book club in Hampshire that I visited recently: “As a group we differed in which aspects touched us and Claire was extremely gracious in allowing us our individual interpretations and opinions.”
And it’s not just the story that can be a source of discussion: “Finding out about the writing and publishing process was fascinating and an added bonus,” says Syliva.
Whether the meeting happens face to face, via Skype or email, a little organisation will help it run smoothly: someone acting as the host (especially important if it is a Skype call or via email); some kind of structure to the evening rather than a free-for-all with questions; and since I won’t be expecting payment, it’s really appreciated if all the members leave a review on Amazon or another review site.
If you’re in a book club you’ve got nothing to lose by contacting an author and seeing whether they’ll be interested in answering some questions. Chances are they’ll be just as excited to meet you, as you will be to meet them.
(Originally posted on the Tin House blog.)