Why Writers Need Readers: Not for the Obvious Reason
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if I'd like to participate in his “Books, Authors, and Wine Tasting” event. I had just published my novel Sleeping Tigers, so I said yes. I wasn't expecting to sell any books, really—I hadn't started marketing the novel yet, and this was the kind of event where the authors sit at tables displaying their wares, like a craft fair, while potential readers wander around with glasses of wine.
As I lugged my box of books up the icy driveway that night, part of me was longing to be at home, sacked out on the couch and reading or watching TV. Imagine my surprise, then, when one woman, and then another, and then a third—twelve in all—found my table and excitedly said, “This is the book I was looking for!” as she picked up a copy of Sleeping Tigers and, miraculously, bought it.
“Really?” I asked in shock.
One of the women explained that there were two book clubs attending the event, and the members had all agreed to read my novel. Then she leaned forward and confided, “I've had breast cancer, too. That's why I want to read your book.”
She told me her story, then, of her diagnosis and surgery, of her recovery and good fortune to have survived the ordeal. Then she walked away, my book in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, held aloft like a torch.
The stories that many of the women told me as they stopped by my table lingered with me for a long time. We talked about breast cancer and motherhood, travel and books, husbands and jewelry, among other things. Afterward, as I toted my empty cardboard box back to the car, I was reminded again why being a writer is the most spectacular pursuit in the world: as you share your own stories with others, readers share their lives with you in return.
Of course there is a part of every writer that longs to be on the New York Times bestseller list. We would all love to make enough money from writing to put our kids through college, or even to put a dent in the grocery bill. More important than that, though, is our longing to connect with readers on an emotional level. Hearing someone say “I loved your book” is a great thing, but it's even better when a reader takes the time to say why: “My best friend is like your main character, only she's a tap dancer,” or, “You made me laugh because my mother used to cut my hair like that, too.”
After I wrote The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter, a memoir about growing up with a Navy father so obsessed with gerbils that he started raising them, I was stunned to discover how many readers had parents who were chain smokers. It was equally surprising to me how many people grew up with fathers who raised animals. I heard from one reader whose father hatched parrots in the basement, and another whose dad had tropical fish tanks in every single room of the house. Now, three years after that book was published, I still correspond with a thirteen year-old reader who is as passionate about horses and reading as I was at that age, as well as a woman in California who by now feels like a sister to me.
The point is that writers lead solitary lives. I work in a barn behind my house, usually in a flannel shirt and sweatpants. I finally get dressed and put on makeup (sometimes) when it's time to collect my son from school. Otherwise, I see few people and live inside my head, my fingers spinning stories on my laptop, never knowing if my plots and characters and settings will ever reach anyone beyond my best friends.
For most writers, every book takes months, even years, to write. We don't know how, or even if, that book will ever be published in the end, but something compels us to keep going. That “something” is the reader. In this age when so many bookstores have gone under and few books are reviewed in print, book bloggers and social media have become our lifelines. They let us reach readers, and we are forever grateful that they exist. Meanwhile, we'll keep seeking avenues to meet readers in person, especially the ones who aren't afraid to carry a glass of wine around as they shop for books.
We write, because we want to open our hearts and share our stories with you. We hope you'll do the same with us.