What? Use a focus group for novels? Why not! Marketers use focus groups. So can authors, I say. And I did. Let’s back up a bit. We write for readers, right? And we write because we love it but we also want readers to enjoy our work. I’ve worked in marketing for 25 years in banking and healthcare and decided to take advantage of my marketing background before my debut novel, THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS, was published. Call me Nervous Nelly but I wanted feedback before submitting my novel to agents and editors.
First, I invited a group of ten girlfriends to my house. I ordered pizza and plastered (I mean served) them wine. Then, I explained the premise behind my women’s fiction laced with romance, humor, and suspense. I told them I valued their advice as readers and had sample chapters for them to read. They were excited. EXCITED.
I distributed typewritten chapters introducing my three main characters–Suzy, Alex, and Hope. I explained Suzy is a wedding planner who deals with neurotic brides but can’t find her own wedded bliss. Then, they “met” Alexandra (aka Alex) who is a career-driven bank marketer who gets involved quite by accident with a sexy, possibly bad-boy cop (who happens to be married). Finally, I introduced Hope, a high school counselor who hates her name, hair, and looks–and is driven nearly mad by her stuck-in-the seventies hippie parents. I also gave them another chapter including the hippies but made sure I didn’t have spoilers.
I paced the floor while they read the chapters and passed them to one another like good students. I agonized when it was too quiet and nearly jumped up and down every time one of them laughed. They like it, I thought. Every author is insecure and we crave feedback. After they were finished reading, we discussed my novel, then titled “THE GIRLS” and I asked them to fill out an anonymous survey asking everything from voting on the title (THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS won by a sliver, thank goodness!) and I also asked questions ranging from character likeability, if the hook made them want to keep reading, settings, and much more. It was a fun-filled evening and they took it seriously. We also had fun eating pizza, drinking wine, and talking about reading and writing.
As promised, I mentioned my focus group readers in the “Acknowledgements” section when THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS was published by Soul Mate Publishing less than a year ago. That was their payment other than the food and drink and they loved it! I encourage you to use a focus group. You’ll receive great feedback and your friends will be honored you asked for their advice. Try it!