Time to read: 4 minutes
Adding discussion questions to the backs of books seems like a very traditionally-published thing to do. When I first started publishing in 2016 I never thought about it, mainly because up until that point, I don’t know if I read books that had discussion questions in the back. If I did, I skipped them entirely because after the last sentence, I set the book aside. It was only after I became an indie author and started devouring every book I read cover to cover (what people sneak into their copyright pages can be really hilarious) did I realize just how much I was missing not reading past The End.
Always Read the Acknowledgments Page by Grace Bialecki via Jane Friedman’s blog.
Why would an indie add discussion questions to the backs of their books? I asked that question on Twitter and I received varying responses. One said because she thought her book didn’t warrant them, another said if was an indie book, they would obviously be written by the author which seemed strange. (As opposed to them written by an editor, I guess.) One said he didn’t want to think too much about his own book to come up with the questions.
Those are valid reasons, I suppose, but I think any book has the content required to warrant discussion questions. Every character makes choices, and every one of those choices can be dissected and measured. That’s what I like about adding discussion questions to some of my books. I like puzzling out why a character did what he did and if there was a better way for the outcome he wanted. As an author who is “supposedly” in control, that’s not always the case. I’m not one of those authors who spends years editing her book because she thinks of something better. I write the damned book, and it’s done. What’s there is what will stay there and my stubbornness actually gives me room to explore why I wrote what I did. Characters’ choices aren’t always going to be ours–a nasty character doesn’t make us nasty because we created them.
I like the idea of discussion questions in the back of romance books. Considering what kind of a reputation romance books have, even if a reader glances briefly at the questions, it maybe give them the idea to explore the deeper meaning underneath the kisses. Of course, there may not be any deeper meaning, and that’s okay too. I think every character is flawed and will make poor choices at some point, and reaching to understand the answers to those questions help us grow as readers and our ability to understand other people.
I had a difficult time thinking of questions for the back of Rescue Me. I added them because Sam made a choice or two that may not have sat well with a reader. Lily understood the choices he made, and if there was anything to forgive, she did so with an open heart. Was she right to forgive him? We can’t control how other people behave, we can only control our reactions to what they do.
I admit that discussion questions probably work better with standalone novels, and I’ll add discussion questions to my next standalone coming out in May. That book also deals with some sensitive topics and behavior from both my male and female characters.
Characters are flawed, they’re human, and they’re not always going to do what we expect in the heat of the moment. It’s what they learn from their choices, if anything, that matter in the end.
Is it vain to add questions to the back of self-published novel? Not any more vain than thinking your own work is worthy of being published at all. When indies publish with no greenlight from a gatekeeper, you have to have faith in your work. Why not have faith that a reader will want to explore your book with questions you thought were a good complement?
You never know–maybe your book will fall into the hands of a book club and they’ll appreciate the built-in discussion help.
If you don’t like the idea of coming up with your own discussion questions, perhaps ask a fellow author to give you a few interview questions about your book. You can answer them and then offering extra content won’t feel like such a one-way street. There are always ways to reach your readers, and the more involved they are with you, your characters, and your books, the sooner they will turn into true fans.
Here are a few more resources on adding discussion questions to your own novel:
Creating Discussion Questions Using Your Book’s Themes by by Sara Letourneau via DIY MFA
How to Write Great Discussion Questions by Janet Kobobel Grant via Books & Such Literary Management
And a list of books that have discussion questions in the back: https://app.thestorygraph.com/reading_challenge_prompts/6e172dac-df93-425b-ae9e-702ebe940358
Thanks for reading and have a great week!