Your Ideal Reader: the Ultimate Test

10 Sep

You’ve spent years writing a book.  And now, at last, it’s finished.  But how do you know if it’s any good?  You’re far too close to the work yourself to tell whether it is or not.  If like most writers, you ride that manic seesaw, believing at one moment that you’ve delivered a masterpiece, at the next that you’ve spent years polishing a turd, you’re singularly misplaced to judge.  You could part with your precious cash and send it to a professional reader for their comments but there’s no guarantee that they’ll share your tastes or that they’ll ‘get it’.

The ultimate test of what you’ve written, it seems to me, is to find your ideal reader.  Since most writers presumably set out to write the book that they themselves would like to read, they ought to be their own ideal readers.  This isn’t so, of course.  There are the small matters of objectivity and distance to consider.  So instead, the writer needs to find someone else whose literary tastes very nearly match his or her own.

I found mine by pure chance.  He was standing at the bus stop.  In fact, he was already known to me, just not as my ideal reader.  He lives above a shop across the way from me and we’d participated in sport together.  I knew little more about him.  I had no idea that since taking redundancy he’d dedicated most of his time to reading books and that he liked many of the same authors as me.  A chance comment led to the discovery.  And at that moment, I realised that the man standing next to me in the bus queue would be the ideal reader of my soon to be finished vast work with a World War Two setting.

It’s a frightening prospect handing over that manuscript to your ideal reader, especially after quaffing a quantity of ale in a dockside Polish-themed pub.  You can no longer delude yourself.  If your perfect reader doesn’t like what you’ve written, then what next?  It is, as I say, the ultimate test.  Others might see getting into print as the be-all-and-end-all.  I disagree.  That’s simply a matter of taste.  If my work is presented to someone freshly out of university with a liking for nineteenth century English classics then we may be fairly certain of the outcome.  If, on the other hand, I know that I’m submitting my work to a reader who admires, say, Bolaño and Murakami, Perec and Calvino, and still he or she doesn’t like it, then what could be more damning?

I recommend it, though, particularly if like me, you’ve just had a publisher’s rejection advising you to send your manuscript to a publisher that specialises in the war story genre.  It’s a vast work with a World War Two setting, not a WW2 story.   Never mind…  The doorbell rang on the Sunday afternoon as I was dozing on the bed.  My ideal reader was at the door.  I was heartened to hear that he’d been genuinely moved and entertained by what I’d written.  In the end, though, I need to connect with that wider audience of ideal readers and that involves using an intermediary, in other words finding a sympathetic publisher.  Ah well, onward and upward…


A dockside Polish-themed pub

Image © PSR


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