Being Read by Total Strangers
Posted on September 21, 2009
by Catherine Austen
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I stumbled onto my first book review a week ago (in CM Magazine). What a strangely thrilling experience. It’s what prompted me to start a blog and web page (http://www.catherineausten.com/ — built from a template and about as gripping as this blog). It is just slightly possible that a total stranger might like my book and want to know more about my writing.
Right now, strangers do know more than friends about my first children’s novel, Walking Backward (to be released next month by Orca Book Publishers). My teenage son proofread the manuscript before I sent it to the publishing house. He is so far the only person I know personally who has read it. (My writing group heard the first chapter only; I usually bring picture book texts to our monthly meetings.)
I don’t share much unpublished work outside my writing group, and what I do share doesn’t get far beyond my husband and children. It’s not that I don’t feel supported by my friends and family — I do. They pick me up when I’m down. They tell me wonderful things about myself. And they always say it’s great that I’m writing. But they usually have no idea what exactly I am writing about. I don’t ask them to read 40,000-word manuscripts, or even 400-word manuscripts. Maybe that’s why they’re so supportive of me.
Many of my acquaintances don’t even know that I write fiction. This has made it awkward to build a guest list for my upcoming launch party. I’ve been approaching people I’ve known for years with a hesitant, “Um, so, I wrote this book….” They are always surprised to hear it, and they are without exception supportive. (Having a book published is undeniably cool. Sadly, so different from having a book unpublished.)
The best thing about friends, relations, and acquaintances reading a book only after it’s published is that it’s too late for their advice, and we both know it. Loved it? I’m so pleased. Hated it? Might as well keep it to yourself. Friends don’t have to drum up constructive criticism and I don’t have to pretend their suggestions help me with my craft. I like that give and take with writers and editors (or at least I like it after my hurt feelings subside and I think clearly about their suggestions) but friends don’t need that burden. Friends just need me to sign their copy with something heartfelt.
Fortunately, my first book review was awesome. It was thorough and praising, and ended with those beautiful words, “Highly recommended.”
So now that I’ve had that experience, I’m not going to read any more.