‘Choose an author as you would a friend.’ So wrote English poet Wentworth Dillon, 4th Earl of Roscommon (circa 1633–1685), in his ‘Essay on Translated Verse’:
Examine how your Humour is inclin’d,
And which the Ruling Passion of your Mind;
Then, seek a Poet who your way does bend,
and choose an Author as you choose a Friend.
(Spellings adapted from medieval English.)
This quotation sprang to mind recently when I was discussing with a friend who loves reading what makes her choose to read a book. Together we came up with this list:
1. Recommendation from a trusted source, whether someone you know or a review on Goodreads
2. The appeal of the ‘package’ – the cover, the strapline, the blurb
We discussed other factors, like pricing and discovering the book through a news story or advert, but ultimately we agreed that our list should be this short.
It struck me that what we are really looking for as readers is to find affinity with the writer of the work – their style, outlook and subject matter; we want to connect with the writer, so that we know that we will enjoy this book, and possibly their other titles too. The package conveys crucial information that the reader uses to judge – often quickly – whether they will ‘get on’ with this writer. And the recommendations? They help the reader get a clear sense of who this writer is, and whether the author’s work is a good fit for their tastes.
In seeking a new book to read, the reader has something very valuable to consider: trust. When they begin a new book, they need to be able to trust that the promise of the package will be delivered; that the writer will take them on an interesting and engaging journey and leave them satisfied when they read the final words. It is very difficult for a reader to give that trust, to try a new author, because too often their trust has been broken: a book has not delivered and has been disappointing. (I am reminded of a novel I read recently that was packaged as beautiful romance, but ended with the death of the hero – I was heartbroken!)
How much easier it is to read the new book from an author whose work you know and love than to try a book from an undiscovered writer. And yet if you only ever stick with tried-and-tested authors, reading becomes boring – you miss the thrill of discovering a new book that you just adore. It is necessary then, sometimes at least, to be brave and try new authors, and then you’ll do well to follow Wentworth Dillon’s advice: Choose an author as you would a friend.
So far I have considered the reader’s point of view. But of course I am not only a reader; I am a writer, which means it is my job to be a friend to my readers.
Surely the most fundamental quality one looks for in a friend is that they are trustworthy. That, then, in essence is what an author must be, I believe. An author must give the reader what they except to read based on the package and the genre conventions. That is not to say we writers may not employ plot twists – we must; but there is a strong need to keep the reader secure as they read. Reading is an escape within safe confines.
Publishing my novel, Burning Embers, was a wonderful adventure. But because it was my debut novel, every reader had to take something of a leap of faith with me as the author. Now, with each book I publish, I am so happy to be building a little library of my own. With each additional book I release, new readers can more easily get a feel for who I am as a writer and whether they may find a friend in me; but also, I am giving those readers who have already found affinity with me more pleasure, I hope.
My little library, pictured below, is five-strong, and will continue to grow as I take the readers who trust in me on new adventures in beautiful settings. I hope, if you have not already chosen me as an author, you may have found some reason to do so through this blog post. As the 13th-centry Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas put it, ‘There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.’