Readers are always talking about their favourite authors, but no one asks authors about their favoruite readers. Of course readers determine sales so their opinions count – they actually buy the book – but occasionally let’s think of the writers who are sitting in their pajamas, typing furiously at midnight not knowing if their work will ever get published, ever be read. What kind of readers do they want?
Once they get off their knees after begging that ‘someone, anyone, please read my book!’ and a respectable number of books get sold, maybe they can take a breath, forget statistics and lie back to idly think, ‘who, oh, who is reading me?’ If there was a prime audience member in mind while writing who would he be and what would he look like?
One author told me dreamily that she sees her ideal reader as a slightly graying single dad with glasses who carries her book in his back pocket. Difficult to track this man down, she admitted.
If fortunate enough to get reviewed then that’s one guaranteed reader. But here the writer is conflicted – is that a good review or a bad one? Most are passive-aggressive. Like the reviewer was woken up from his siesta with a dull and boring book; the review looks like a pay cheque, written only to meet a deadline.
Some reviews gush breathlessly, raising suspicions of ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ in the writer world where writers double up as reviewers. Or these are bloggers who at a price will see Nobel Prize potential in your book. Then there are the vicious and vile attacks disguised as reviews; the writer rues the day he first thought of becoming a writer.
Subtracting all these iffy examples, what if writers were asked to visualise their readers? Who is an ideal reader, whom are they writing for?
First off, he/she should have the patience to read till the end. Writers are okay to be dismissed by a well-read writer, but not someone who writes on Amazon/Flipkart, ‘Couldn’t get past the first page.’ You have all the time to come here and comment, but not to finish a book?
‘The typos in the comments alone make me glad they did not read my book,’ says a writer, who adds that he is his own best reader. He is tired of people telling him they loved his book, only to fall silent when he asks which one.
Attention spans are famously shrinking, but the ideal reader will stay with the book till the bitter end. Just like the writer did. He will read slowly, word by word, lovingly.
He will also quote from the book. If the book saved his life, changed his life or even mildly distracted him from a terminal illness, he will shout this from the rooftops even if he has to be helped up the stairs by nurses.
The tendency to flock to one particular book because everyone is talking about it is cute and touching, but Ideal Reader will be a trailblazer and not chase what’s trending.
He/she will not vulgarly ooh and aah over Rupi Kaur just because her book is everywhere. But quote copiously from your book and your book only because yours is the only book he has ever read.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. Read Shinie Antony's columns