Monday, May 21, 2012

Writing the Reader's Guide

by Priscille Sibley

I’m still in the pre-publication phase of this amazing endeavor. My substantive edits are done and accepted. As I write this, my copy edits are due to arrive within the next week. And I’m doing all the little last doodads: writing the dedication, acknowledgements, author picture – and my wonderful editor asked if I wanted to include a Reader’s Guide.

Yes, I said immediately because everyone is saying my novel is book club fiction. It stands to reason that a reader’s guide should accompany it to foster discussion.

My book has a few divisive issues floating around in it. (Isn’t there supposed to be conflict?) So I want  readers to question what is the right thing to do. I want them to wonder what they would do if they were in my protagonist’s situation.

And frankly, although my protagonist has a definite position, he struggles with his choice. And honestly I don’t know if he makes the “right” one.  Hardly any of his friends or family agree with him. I do hope though that he will make a solid enough case that a reader will go along with him on the ride.

So yes, I wanted to write a reader’s guide.

What to include? Let me preface this answer by saying it is not yet done. 
  • Questions. Right now I have fourteen. One of my questions is: Elle says women are stronger because they can discuss their sadness and men have to mask their pain and insecurities. Do you think that’s true?
  •  A paragraph or two about what prompted me to write about this topic.
  • Supplemental material. There’s the adage about writing what you know. But there is also research. I had to learn things about law, medicine, the Perseid meteor showers, gardening, etc. As of now, I have included a few internet links if anyone wanted to learn more.
  • Photographs from archives. I did not do this but I just picked up The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen. It is a historical novel based on the true story of a Civil War era woman who was born into slavery freed. She worked as a spy in the Confederate White House. Leveen includes pictures of some of the real people and places.
  • Recipes. In some novels, food takes a place in the story and what the characters eat whet the appetites of readers. After all, we’re supposed to put all the senses on the page, right? How about putting some of those into the reader’s guide?
  • Someone this weekend was telling me the version of The Da Vinci Code she read included photographs of the artwork mentioned.  
  • Maps.
  • Diagrams.
  • Timelines. 
  • Bibliographies. Yes, this is fiction but there may be a reader who wants to learn more.

I don’t know exactly what will end up in my reader’s guide.

What else have you seen that worked in a reader’s guide? 


  1. Ooh I wish I would have read this post before I wrote my reader's guide! I would have loved to include pictures. You have some great ideas!

  2. I would love to see bibliographies included in fiction! I think that's a great idea. Because something tangential might lead to another book... and who better to know which books to bounce to from this one than the author! I think these are all great ideas. :)

  3. What terrific ideas you list here! I wrote a reader's guide for my first book, and now I have to create another one for my new novel. While I was visiting book clubs for my first book tour, I realized that book club members often love to talk about what is NOT in the story, and why--i.e., why do writers leave out certain scenes and/or character backgrounds? They also love to ponder alternative endings. Questions about either of those things might work. Good luck! Can't wait to read your novel.

    1. Good ideas, Holly! Maybe we should talk about the things that we ourselves, as the writers of the books, hope people WON'T ask about. Those are the hard questions and are probably the ones we should think about the most!

  4. I lost sleep over my reader's guide. Honest to God. I put all the really good stuff into the author Q & A--the story behind the story, which was my favorite scene, etc. In then end, I asked my early readers for help and they came up with some brilliant questions. My favorite, which is still knocking around in my head: What do you think the future holds for your hero and heroine? Not necessarily an easy question, since my hero has OCD. I would like to think my readers still care about my characters even after they've read the last page.

    1. I like this question! It could seriously go anywhere.

  5. I also vote for pictures. Some kind of visual medium. Reader's guides are all about questions, usually, about the story. Maybe a picture that represents a scene from your story--a scene that was your favorite as the author. Hopefully that would spark discussion. Good luck with your book.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience with this Priscille. Lots to ponder. (And thanks for pinch hitting for me, too! Face palm … :)) I owe you one!

  7. These are fabulous ideas! I will be bookmarking this list for future ideas. Thanks!!! Excellent post.

  8. Great post. I've done one and you covered all the stuff in mine. They are not easy.
    W.S. Gager on Writing

  9. All fantastic ideas. I always like to see something about how the author came up with the story and what kinds of research. I love bibliographies, also, and though I don't think I've ever read a book that included pictures in the readers' guide, I would love to see that, too. My book club recently read Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. He included a guide to the history - what really happened and what he made up - that I thought was really cool, especially for a YA book that could be used in school. I've also seen genealogy charts in a lot of epic fantasy and historical novels where multiple generations are important to the story. Sounds like you've got a great start!