I was recently chatting to my accountant about my tax returns, as you do in January.
Actually, is there any writer out there who hasn't been frantically trying to locate old train tickets in coat pockets that just might tally to an entry in last year's diary, marked, unhelpfully, 'agent'?
If only I were the sort of gal who kept such things in orderly piles, clipped together in a box specifically meant for that purpose. If only I were the sort of gal who at least slung it all in a shoe box!
Anyhow, as the ever-patient Mohamed and I tried to make head or tail of my finances, he happened to mention that he'd read my latest book.
I gupled loudly.
There's something about reader feedback that makes me nervous. I'm happy to take all manner of rejection from agent/publisher/bookseller/editor/reviewer, business after all, is business. But readers...well they're different.
Real people who have actually taken the trouble to buy my book and plough their way through it, when they could have been watching Celebrity Big Brother or learning Mandarin, deserve my attention and respect. They matter.
Whenever I'm writing, I try to keep enough distance from my work so that I can still see it with a reader's eye. I want my work to give pleasure to others not just myself. Indeed, I never understand those writers who say they write for themselves. Why then go to the bother of seeking out a publisher?
I see myself as an entertainer and as such I have a duty to engage and thrill my audience. My worst sin would be to bore them. This is a two way street, not a cul-de-sac. And since writing is such an isolated career, one has to keep reminding oneself about those other folk and what they will think. Otherwise what's the point?
However, what this most definitely doesn't mean is that writers should try to second guess the market. I know it's tempting, particularly when the tax returns tell you that so far you haven't made a million, but trust me, it won't work.
For one thing you won't pull it off if you're heart won't be in it. Readers know a fraud when they see one.
For another, you'll probably miss the boat. One minute the public can't get enough of teenaged vampires, but by the time you've written 80,000 words, they've moved on to werewolves. Fads, trends, whatever you want to call 'em, leave it to the marketing bods.
My advice to any writer would be to stick to the plan. Tell the story you always wanted to tell. But tell it with your readers in mind. Ask yourself what you could do to make them want to listen. What more could you do to commune with them?
I try to remind myself that telling a story is a coversation not a lecture. That if I speak first and wait, my readers will tell me what they want to know next and how.
If only the Inland Revenue would be so understanding.