Recently, two of my colleagues at work, Merryn and Kirsten, read Unpacking Harper Holt. They each got their own copy, read it at the same time and as our paths crossed in the mornings, they told me where they were up to and shared their thoughts about what was happening with the characters.
They told me that they were 'invested' in Harper, frustrated with her dad, surprised at the twist, moved by her plight, and relieved when they reached the end and knew she was going to be fine.
It's not very often that I get to talk to a reader about their reactions to the story as they are reading the book.
There have been all sorts of reactions to my first novel.
For instance, I met a reader, in Melbourne, who told me she could picture exactly where Harper was riding her bike, as she walked that track every day. Then the was a parent who shared that she had lost her mother at a similar age and the emotions still sat just under the surface.
Another sent me a message on my social media, a mother who gave it to her daughter to read on a road trip and when they stopped for a break, she wouldn't get out of the car - 'I just have to read the next bit.' Music to my ears!
And there have been many who have cried - and from my perspective - that's good to hear.
But not all readers react in the way you, as the writer, may want.
I had one person tell me that she doesn't like reading contemporary, middle grade novels with a female protagonist but read it anyway and well... meh. Another said that it was 'Okay - I guess, nothing special.' And of course, there's rating websites like Goodreads - which can have a five star sitting under a two star.
It would be really easy to take the negatives personally, to stew on them but - wait - I'm a reader and I don't necessarily enjoy everything I read.
I've reached the end of a novel and thought - meh. I've put down a book at the third chapter after deciding I just don't get it, and I've read plenty that I just wished would never end.
If that is my experience as a writer and a reader, wouldn't it be exactly the same for publishers?
Manuscripts, like a published book, don't always get the reaction from publishers the writer is looking for. There are so many variables - just like when I am ready to pick up a book.
As a reader I have a lot of questions: Is it an author I know? What genre do I feel like reading? How much time do I have? Am I ready to try something new? Will I continue with a series?
Publishers, I imagine, also have their questions: Is it an author our readers know? Are we looking for someone new? What fits with our direction? Do we already have books about this topic? Will this take a lot of work to get in into shape?
What I've learnt from being a beginner in the world of writing and publishing is that if I want to have reactions to the books I read - from tears to meh - then I have to accept that readers of my books will be same, as will publishers reading my manuscripts.
After all, some of the best book discussions I have listened to and been involved in have been when readers have different reactions - to the story, the characters - when the conversation has been lively.
I've read countless books based solely on the recommendation of friends who passionately tell me how good a book is, and I just can't resist. Sometimes I agree wholeheartedly and other times, well to be honest, I just can't work out what they saw in the book.
In a few weeks Everything We Keep will be released. I'm nervous and excited. And if you have have the chance to read it, firstly thank you and, secondly, let me know what you think - from the tears to the mehs, I'm open to all responses. (BTW - if you just aren't into contemporary, middle grade fiction with a female protagonist - who knows - this one might just change or mind... or not... let me know.)