GUEST POST: When Friends & Family Read Your Book: Survival Tips

Today, we have a guest post from debut author (and Entangled Publishing editor!) Kate Brauning.

My debut novel released in November, and while I was nervous about trade reviews and Goodreads reviews and sales numbers, the thing that made me most nervous was knowing my friends and family were going to be reading my book.

I’m proud of my writing, and what friends and family won’t override what I think is best for a story. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t hurt. When people who are close to us disapprove, or object, or think less of us, it’s usually going to hurt.  And they usually want to participate in what’s going on in our lives. While that can take a toll on us, it can also be encouraging and a positive experience. There are a few survival tips we can use to deal with it when it comes up.

1. Realize their reaction might have very little to do with your book. Especially with a debut, when friends and family pick up an author’s book, it’s usually because they have a connection to the author—not because they thought the story sounded interesting or because it was a genre they enjoyed. Most of my family that read How We Fall don’t read YA or don’t enjoy romance. Many of them weren’t familiar with the conventions and devices of the category or the genre, and that can make a big difference in the reader’s experience.

2. Recognize that friends and family aren’t your audience. This has never been so clear to me as when some of my grandparents read my debut. They just aren’t the readers I’m speaking to, and so the language I’m using isn’t going to communicate nearly so well to them. It’s not because of a flaw in me or my books. They’re simply not receiving what I’m sending, and that’s okay.

3. Don’t let them affect what you write in the next book, or regret the choices you made in the previous one. Don’t allow fear of disapproval to affect what you write. Be true to the story, or it won’t be a story you love. And without that, we lose a huge part of the reason that we write.

4. When someone says, “I read your book!” don’t say “what did you think of it?” That almost never turns out well. If they loved it, they will most likely tell you without you having to ask, and if they didn’t love it, you probably don’t want to know. Instead, say “thank you so much for reading!” and divert the discussion.

Great follow-ups can be asking them if they’ve read anything else lately, mentioning something you’ve read and loved, or talking about the publishing journey instead of the book. Friends and family are often curious about it, and talking about the story you wrote is just one way they might try to connect with you over that topic. If you’re getting the feeling they want to talk not just about books in general but about your writing, turn the discussion toward how exciting it was to get your author copies, or how long it’s been a dream of yours to be published, or any detail like that. And when you can, change the topic. Short and sweet is generally less likely to be awkward.

5. Avoid discussions of your choices—most of the time. The more common advice is just to not discuss them, but that can also mean you miss out. The best and worst moments involving friends and family dealing with my book were discussing those hot-button topics. For example, since I write YA, the things that people close to me were bringing up were questions and comments like “I didn’t think the swearing was necessary.” “There are some pretty high heat make-out scenes for a teen book. Do you think that’s appropriate?” or “I just can’t see why you would write a romance since it has all that angst.” “So you let them drink under age?”

Every one of those issues are things I’m passionate about, and they’re areas where I want the people close to me to understand what I’m doing and not think less of me for making choices I strongly believe are positive ones. And that makes any discussion of those things risky. I don’t want to always divert the conversation, because engaging in conversation about why swearing can belong in YA is a great topic and I want to share my beliefs with people who are close to me.

Some of the discussions I’ve had with family over those topics directly concerning my books have been wonderful. Some were incredibly frustrating and discouraging. If it’s not for you, then by all means avoid it, but if you want to bring your family in a little more, the best way I’ve found to deal with it is to be intentional about picking the place, the time, and the people. The family dinner table with a mixed group is likely not the time. A crowded room where people can mishear and others can jump in without having heard the context is likely not the best place. A special event like a signing or launch party is not the time. And there are some people who are more interested in hearing what you have to say in order to respond, not necessarily in order to understand—and that’s where I usually don’t want to discuss the issue. It won’t be productive. Some of my relatives have different beliefs and no matter what explanation I have, it won’t be a productive conversation there, either. If you have family and friends who are up for a genuine discussion, I think it can be great to go for it, in small pieces. It also may help to discuss those issues in general, and not as they relate to your particular book. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with some of my relatives came from that, and I’m closer to them and more open with them now because of it.

6. Keep in mind friends and family can be a fun and positive part of your career. Some of them dislike my book and disapprove of the content, but some of them love it, and have become wonderful fans. My uncle’s parents, even though I’ve only met them twice and they are definitely not the people I expected to enjoy the story, went out of their way to tell me how much they loved it and that they’re eagerly waiting for the next one—and they’re in their seventies. My brother, not at all the guy to read YA romance, not only read it but bought copies for all of his wife’s family for Christmas. Seeing the people close to me enjoy and participate in the process is encouraging and fulfilling and fun.

Especially with a debut, but also with an author’s following books, friends and family may want to be involved and share their opinions. Authors usually dread it. I still dread it. It’s nerve-wracking and stressful, because we care. Since discouragement from family can take a heavy toll on our creativity and energy, boundaries are important. Ultimately, it’s your career, and giving yourself the space to create freely is necessary. Limits, diverting the discussions when it’s not a good time for you, and taking them a small piece at a time can help manage participation from friends and family.

Kate headshot AKATE BRAUNING is an editor at Entangled Publishing and the author of How We Fall, a YA contemporary about a girl who falls in love with her cousin. She grew up in rural Missouri, lives in Iowa, and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. Visit her online at www.katebrauning.com or on Twitter at @KateBrauning.

17 Responses to GUEST POST: When Friends & Family Read Your Book: Survival Tips

  1. jeffo Jan 26 2015 at 6:50 am #

    The first time I handed my wife a manuscript, I effectively dropped it in her suitcase as she was about to leave for a week-long trip. I couldn’t be around her when she was reading it, but I wanted her give me feedback (and she wanted to read it). It is very stressful. On the flip side, I imagine it can be stressful for the family and friends who may feel obligated to buy, read and love our work, and while some will have no qualms about telling you exactly what they think, there are likely others who feel guilty about not liking it. I think the survival tips you’ve laid out here are good both ways. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck, Kate.

    • Kate Brauning Jan 26 2015 at 12:48 pm #

      Good point! It can be a pressure situation for family, too. 🙂 Thanks for reading, and thanks for the good wishes!

  2. Natalie Aguirre Jan 26 2015 at 7:16 am #

    I would never let my husband read my manuscripts because he didn’t read fiction and was so critical. And I agree with you that when friends and family or anyone reads a book that they generally don’t read that it affects their view of it. I don’t read steamy romances, for example. And I know if I read a friend’s book, I may not enjoy it as much because it’s not for me. But it has no bearing on how good the book is.

    Loved your advice on how to respond when someone says they read your book. Congrats on your new book and hope your debut is going well.

    • Kate Brauning Jan 26 2015 at 12:50 pm #

      Thank you, Natalie! Right, some books just aren’t what the family members would like, regardless of how good it is. 🙂

  3. Kimber Leigh Wheaton Jan 26 2015 at 7:36 am #

    Friends and family can be your most avid supporters or something from your darkest nightmares. My first instinct when someone tells me they read my book is to ask what they thought. I agree with you– don’t open that can of worms. One of my writing buddies has a very awkward encounter now whenever she runs into a certain friend who wasn’t overly enthused about her book. I share my WIPs with my husband which is a double-edged sword. He is an avid reader but not in YA (which I write). The man doesn’t seem to know the meaning of tact. His advice tends to be good, and so far it hasn’t destroyed our marriage 🙂 I’m going to use your strategies when dealing with my husband’s extended family. We’ll be seeing them soon…

    • Kate Brauning Jan 26 2015 at 12:51 pm #

      It’s usually my instinct, too! I have to catch myself more often than not. 🙂 Good luck with the extended family!

  4. Kim Graff Jan 26 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    I do not look forward to the day that all my relatives can buy and read my books—well, I mean, I do. I would love to have a book published, but my biggest fear isn’t of book reviews or anything like that buy family’s opinion. Grandma in particular would not like my dark, twisted novels 🙂

    I love this post, I’ll be bookmarking it to make sure that I have it for future references.

    • Kate Brauning Jan 26 2015 at 1:23 pm #

      It’s so true. When family reads my books, I feel like they’re learning a bit more about me than is safe for them to know! 🙂 Thanks for reading, and best of luck to you!

  5. Court Ellyn Jan 26 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    I needed to read #4. And the rest happens all the time. I want support from family, but sometimes it’s a relief when they forget I write. Yeah, Mom, the f-word is in my novel. Again. Yes, Papa, that really does say #$%#! And, yes, my chosen genre involves … dragons. I happen to like dragons. Point is, thanks for this post! Loved it. Very edifying.

    • Kate Brauning Jan 26 2015 at 5:16 pm #

      You’re so welcome! I’m glad it was helpful. Hey, dragons are awesome 🙂

  6. Maria Alexander Jan 26 2015 at 11:02 pm #

    Kate,

    Thanks so much for this. My own debut came out last September and, boy, this is all right on. My friends and family have been super supportive for the most part, and the book even snagged a starred review from one of the big hitters. But one friend had a bizarre, somewhat insulting take on the book that she posted online. I didn’t respond. I didn’t know what to say! But you’re right. Her feedback might have had nothing to do with the book. Even if it did, she isn’t my audience.

    Thanks again. Best of luck with your book!

    All the best,

    Maria

    • Kate Brauning Jan 29 2015 at 4:15 pm #

      I’m glad it’s advice you can relate to! Getting feedback can be a fun and difficult experience, especially when it comes from people you know. It’s great that you got a starred review, keep up the good work!

  7. Anne Brooke Jan 27 2015 at 1:36 am #

    Goodness, you’re very lucky indeed! My family never read my books, and my friends rarely do. In the past, some of my family have even written to me to ask me to stop writing fiction as they thought the inclusion of gay sex in some (not all) of my books was wrong. It’s all been rather hurtful really, so these days – on those rare occasions I actually see family! – we avoid the topic altogether.

    Thankfully, my small but perfectly formed readership (Gawd bless ’em!) lies elsewhere …

    Anne

    • Kate Brauning Jan 29 2015 at 4:29 pm #

      Thank you Anne! Glad to hear that you have a good readership, despite what your family thinks. Keep up the good work!

  8. Bess Jan 27 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    I had to do a reading for graduate school, and the person I was most scared to read in front of was my husband. We can’t help but care what the people who know and love of best think about us. You give great advice for dealing with those sometimes awkward conversations, and I like the focus on writing the story you need to write. I think I might be most embarrassed to have friends and family read something I didn’t believe in 100 percent.

    • Kate Brauning Jan 29 2015 at 4:25 pm #

      It’s so true that reading in front of people can be a bit nerve wracking, especially when you care about them and when they care about you. Thanks so much for reading!

  9. j. May 22 2016 at 11:17 pm #

    For me it was a mistake asking my mother and sister to read it. They don’t like the oace, the sttle and want it to be done in the style they like. I’ve worked so hard on learning close third oerson. It was the only one that fits. I don’t know how to slow down the pace any further. (A complaint from my sister.)

    From the critiques I’ve gotten online I added in more description and had my pov start the story in a city as she goes throuh it to get to what she’s after. Orginaly I had her running for her life.

    She compared it against an auther she liked to read and that mine was nothing like it. Then wrnt on to say that it didn’t read like a book. More lke notes. Huh?

    Please tell me is this that bad?

    Merryn found the city, elegant by human standards, though this did nothing, but remind her how she did not belong.

    This truth became magnified from the disdainful looks as she passed through. Every haughty face and glare, as subtle as a kick in the gut.

    Nearing it, she clutched the pilfered pouch that bulged with gold coins. The bag stretched and slimmed back down, its magic compressing the coins for lighter travel.

    She frowned to herself, she had no intention to become a thief, but for now simply had no choice. A hundred more gold should be enough to pay for the ships passage. Luck of the gods willing.

    I don’t know what to do to make it better. I thought I had gotten better at this. ;_;

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