I’ve learned a lot in the last ten months since I published my debut novel, The Scourge. But the biggest revelation is that I’m not just writing for myself. I’m writing for readers.
Um, obvious, right? Not always. Many people start off writing for themselves. Then, by necessity, they write for friends, family, critique partners, or for an agent, a publisher, and an editor. THEN they write for readers. My path took me straight from writing for myself and the few people I showed my work to before publishing it, to my readers. It has been a profound learning experience.
Connecting with readers has been one of the unexpected joys of this year. I’ve been genuinely surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed conversing with the people who write to me through my blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, or who find me on Twitter. I always love hearing from you, even if it’s just a simple, “Hey, your book wasn’t bad” tweet.
The first person to contact me after I published The Scourge was Jenna. This was way back in early March 2012 when the book had sold a mere few hundred copies. Until then, the only readers I had heard from were the brave family and friends who took a chance on it, full-well knowing they may have to lie like politicians and say they liked it : ) So I was over the moon to hear from a “stranger.” Jenna asked if I was planning to write a sequel (my answer at the time: I don’t know). She told me what she liked most about the book was that it was hopeful compared to many dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels. I love that. As a psychologist, I’m all about giving people hope that things can change for the better. I didn’t expect to be all about that in my writing, too.
Emily, a teen reader, wrote soon after to ask me specific questions about the first book and to request a second book in the series. It was fun to correspond with her, and her questions guided the early chapters of the sequel. Another reader that made an impression was Michelle, who contacted me through Goodreads. Her comment prompted this blog post. Several Indie authors also got in touch. It’s been amazing to connect with other talented, funny, and hard-working writers across the country.
Every author should be so lucky to have a few readers who love their book enough to shout it to the blogosphere (not to mention book bloggers/reviewers – you guys rock!) I’ve had at least two such devoted readers: Terri and Colleen. They both wrote to me directly, then proceeded to tweet about The Scourge, and to leave comments on other reading/writing blogs about how much they enjoyed the book. It means so much to me that they took the time out of their busy lives to spread the word.
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to Skype with two groups of middle school readers from Macon, Georgia. They asked wonderful questions about the book and about my influences, inspirations, and writing process. I had no idea going into it how much fun it was going to be to talk to groups of young readers. Definitely a highlight of the year.
Of all the people I’ve heard from, Monica might have the best story. Here’s what she had to say:
So your book was so good it saved my life…literally! I am currently a student studying in the Middle East. I’d somehow left my gas stove on a little so it was slowly filling my apartment with gas. I had meant to go to bed early, but I got started on your book earlier, and could not put it down. By 2 am, I was done, but had a killer headache. I went out to the kitchen and hadn’t noticed the gas until it about knocked me over. Had I just been able to sleep, I might not have woke up this morning. So, your awesome story kept me awake, and alive. I have three kids and a husband back home that I need to get home to. Can’t wait to read the next book (without the life threatening circumstance; the story was exciting enough.)
I’m very glad my book didn’t put Monica to sleep! I know that adding conflict and drama to a story are of utmost importance, but I never thought the consequences of not adding them would be so high. Monica and I have been emailing, and she shared the blog she is writing about her time studying in Jordan. I’m fascinated by her description of daily life in the Middle East, and awed by her honesty as she talks about the emotional roller coaster that her time there has become.
I haven’t had the chance to meet many readers in person, but I hope I will at some point. I want to shake your hands and tell you how grateful I am for your support. Until then, please keep emailing, tweeting, and commenting. You keep me going when I’m too tired, lazy, or uninspired to write. I am still writing for myself, but now I’m writing for you, too.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope your blessings are many, as mine are.