Test Readers

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

The great American author Norman Mailer confessed, in his excellent book on writing: The Spooky Art, that he hated reading his stuff to his college writing group. His fellow students never seemed to react the way he wanted, or expected. Which left him disspirited and full of self-doubt; even Pulitzer prize winners have to build up their confidence. It was only when he realised that readers naturally bring themselves to what they read that Mailer began to relax.

The diversity of opinion in a group of test readers can be enormously useful. It allows you to better understand what’s working and what’s not. It also throws up serendipitous discoveries which can nudge your writing in new and surprising directions.

Make no mistake. Most people will hate what you write, otherwise every novelist would sell billions of copies of everything they publish. Authors don’t sell billions, they sell thousands or millions (if they’re very lucky) the bestselling novelist’s audience represents a tiny percentage of the population. But a tiny percentage is enough.

Write for the select few who will love what you do, not for the billions; they are as fictitious as your half-formed characters.

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