"The biggest surprise for me came when I was meeting with a book club. They were discussing my novel Rooster Street and one person said she found a ribbon running through the entire book of mother-daughter relationships. Other readers then agreed. I had not intended that and had not even realized it was so. But I then realized this was the case in my two novels The Long Way Home and Singer Lane also.
Now as I'm drafting novel number 4, I'm very much aware that it's happening again. As in the first three books, this is not the main thrust of the story, but now I see it forms a web that supports everything else that is going on. As a writer, it's very helpful to me to have had this pointed out because, knowing it, I can be sure to keep it as a subtle support and not have it become so prominent it will distract from the major story line."
This type of discussion can be very useful to the author. Valerie Poore has also learned what readers have enjoyed through online real time discussions she has had during guest days in the spotlight on the Facebook group We Love Memoirs.
"I've learned that memoir readers love a series, and what they have enjoyed about my books is the ongoing story of my watery life. It also seems my readers have felt they were with me on my travels and during the early days of my barging experiences, and that they now associate me with this lifestyle. When I asked what it was that made them feel this, part of it was explained by my use of the present tense in my books even when writing about events that took place 15 years ago, so that was a useful tip for me. Many of them said it helped them feel as if they were standing next to me on my barge.
On the negative side, others said they didn't like too much detail about the mechanics of the boat and the locks through which we travelled as they were more interested in reading about the environs of the canals and impressions I gained of the people and places I encountered. This is all great feedback for me when I write my next boating travel memoir.
I find that this type of interactive discussion with readers is very honest and I can ask questions myself too. In many ways, it is even more useful than a written review, which can only ever be one-sided."
Many thanks to both Janet and Val for these contributions. It's always good to know how readers help writers and vice versa. Next week, we will look at book blog reviews as the last in this series of posts on reviews and what they can do for authors and readers.
For those interested in Janet and Valerie's books, the links to their Amazon author pages are below.