I agree with… Tom Penn

Tom Penn “When someone picks up a book, they ask first, “why should I care? Why should I read it? Why should I stick with it, when there are so many other things to do and so many other things to read?” A biographer has to get into the mind of the subject, “has to find the subject so compelling you can’t push the subject away… you’re the person who has to bring this person, this subject to the reader – you’re the person who has to live with this subject for years, decades, as long as it takes to write.”
[Tom Penn, editorial director, Penguin Books, speaking to a meeting of the NUJ’s London Freelance Branch in February 2013]

Tom Penn

[photo: Tony Rizzo]

Tom Penn commissions biographies, but his words apply just as well to fiction. It reminds me of the airport test, which someone told me about years ago. Imagine you are at the airport, looking for a book to read on the plane, and you are faced with a selection of books by unfamiliar authors. Unable to choose a familiar name, you turn to page one and start reading.

It’s my job as author to bring the story to life, to draw the reader in from page one. Otherwise, why should they choose my book?

If you agree with Tom Penn, perhaps you will agree with:-
Hilary Mantel your characters are flickering constructs, they are always on the move
Vanessa Lafayeon weaving together historical fact with invented characters
Sarah Hilaryresearch can become an obsession – and a distraction

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Why should the reader care about your book: I agree with… Tom Penn http://wp.me/p5gEM4-ir via @SandraDanby #amwriting


  1. Nice article. I think it’s hard to stereotype readers. Most of the readers try to curve a niche for themselves: a particular genre, a handful of authors, a few subjects often done to death. Again there are academic readers who go by the standard the academia sets. Apart from these two types, I am sure there are others, but I hope they fall somewhere in between.