Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Quest for Readers

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Writing is meant to be read. Whether by one pair of eyes or millions, the sheer act of committing words to paper (or cyberspace) demands the existence of someone to read them. Perhaps the only reader will be the same person who wrote the words, but a reader exists all the same.

From an early age, I felt the compulsion to write, to give my thoughts form by transcribing them into words. To prove the existence of my thoughts by written expression was in fact, proving my own existence. I indulged in this private form of self-expression for years, and still do by keeping a journal. For now, it is enough that only I read the pages and pages of my thoughts, but maybe someday, long after I’m gone, some distant relative will read some of those pages. Or maybe not.

However, somewhere along the line (I think it was in my teen years), I discovered the unique and wonderful concept of writing for an audience. Writing to entertain gave a whole new purpose to expressing my thoughts, unleashing my creativity. Even if only a few close friends read my writing, I had an audience. My writing was read. I felt gratified.

When I made the conscious decision to write with the intent of publication, I began a whole new quest for readers. I was no longer satisfied with entertaining the select few. I decided to begin the pursuit of the nameless, faceless mass of readers out in the world. I suppose such a pursuit takes no small amount of ego. It certainly takes far more patience and bravery than I ever imagined I possessed, not to mention sheer stubborn perseverance.

Yet somehow, probably through dumb luck as much as anything, I made it over the great hurdle. On Oct. 1st a book written by me, the story and characters solely products of my thoughts, my imagination will sit on store shelves, will be in the hands of the nameless, faceless readers whom I will never know and will never know me. But they will read the words, give substance to my thoughts, be entertained by my creativity. They will provide my ultimate validation.

I am frightened! Exhilarated! My quest won’t be over. Far from it. But an important part of the journey will have begun.

We seem to be on a “readers” kick this week. First Michele, then Marie, and now me. If you are a writer, please give us some insight into your "reader connections." If you are a reader (and you can certainly be both), do you ever think about the writers of the stories you read? Ever written a fan letter/email? Made a reader/writer connection?

14 comments:

  1. Hi Aunty,
    I know just what you mean, of course! Like you, I've always been a writer, but mine was more focused on work--as a newspaper reporter, a publicist, a communications director for a national membership organization (the current job), etc. I remember writing a few short stories in the early 90s, one of which turned out to be the germ of an idea for a later MS. But the first time I truly got serious about creative writing was when I wrote my first book, Treading Water. The book of my heart.

    I've never written a fan letter to a writer. Isn't that awful? There are so many of them I'd like to write to. Maybe I will! I'm giddy about the prospect of meeting or even seeing Nora Roberts at RWA. Will you all hold me back if it looks like I might embarrass myself? Promise?

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  2. I'm a writer and a reader. To a large extent, I owe the former to the latter.

    I used to write fan mail to authors. Long, long letters that went on for pages, and then I'd realize that I was a touch arrogant for telling the author what I liked about the book and how it could have been improved. At which point I had the sense to file the letter, rather than mail it.

    So I never SENT fan mail until the internet. Email makes for brevity.

    One day I just had to praise a writer's brilliant handling of a difficult character. This romance writer had taken a heroine most women would find hard to like and made her loveable.

    Rather to my surprise, within twenty-four hours of sending my first fan I had a reply.

    I'll never forget how thrilled I was that she, a real writer, would even speak to me. I stared at her name on the address line for a long time--just taking in the moment.

    Then I read the email. She thanked me for my kind words, and remarked that few readers had understood the character as well as I had.

    The last line of her note asked, "Are you a writer?"

    I'd been fiddling with fiction for years, but it was at that moment that I knew for sure that I was.

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  3. I often visit author web sites when I'm bowled over by their work. I want to find out more about their history and just to praise them on a job well done. I love getting notes back from authors on how much they appreciate it. As an author myself, I know how much I enjoy getting feedback from readers.

    I first wrote for others to read in sixth grade when I passed around my first book I wrote, "How to be Popular" to my classmates. I asked them each to write a note in it for what they thought. Even the boys read it and everyone was kind. I sure wish I still had that book!

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  4. I am frightened! Exhilarated! I don't think it gets any easier with time, since a writer puts so much of herself out there, exposed for all to see.
    I have received several letters from readers and always reply and am always totally blown away by their kindness.
    I usually try to speak to authors I admire at the various conferences I attend.
    You are going to be so thrilled the first time you see someone buy your book. I am so excited for you.

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  5. LOL! No worries Marie, there will be such a crowd around Nora, many making fools of themselves, that you probably won't get close enough to do any dammage. ;-) But I promise to hold you back should the need arise.

    ONE WEEK til the RWA Literacy signing! Wish I had a book this year, but I will be popping by to say HI! to all my Sourcebook sisters who are signing.

    AC

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  6. Mary Margret said: I'd been fiddling with fiction for years, but it was at that moment that I knew for sure that I was.

    WOW! LOVE that story MM! What a great inspiration. Who was the author? Enquiring minds wanna know!

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  7. Malena, I wish you still had "How to be Popular" too! What a kick it would be to read what 11 and 12 year olds saw as popular then.

    I do visit author websites a lot, but I'm ashamed to say that I don't send "fan mail" to anyone I don't already "know" either from face-to-face of online. :-( I really need to mend my ways.

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  8. Michele said: I don't think it gets any easier with time, since a writer puts so much of herself out there, exposed for all to see.

    Thank you for confirming what I already suspected, Michele. :-)I'm quite sure it won't get much easier for me...ANY of it! The waiting, the reviews, all those chills and thrills. LOL! And thanx for sharing the excitement. Only 69 more days! GAH!!!!!!!!

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  9. The author was Suzanne Brockmann and the book I was praising was Into the Night.

    I thought then, and think now, it's her best book.

    As a romance writer I appreciate how nothing will sink a book faster than a heroine who isn't likeable by women. And her main character wasn't.

    But by the middle of the book I could see she hadn't ever had much of a chance in this world, but the chances she did have, she'd made the most of. She was always true to the best light she had.

    By the end of the book I was totally willing to wade into her battles beside her, and cheer every gain she made.

    A tour de force of character development.

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  10. I have had close relationships with a few authors I considered my dear friends, looking forward to each new time they would tell me a story. Though I have never met them, I wouldn't say it's a one-sided relationship, because they are talking to me through their books. Hope this doesn't make me sound like a stalker. And I hope this doesn't make me sound like an egomaniac, but the reader I write for first is myself. If I go back to read what I've written and find myself skipping parts, I know that there's a problem. If I don't like a character or can't believe the plot, I know something's wrong. I am a picky, picky reader and subsequently very hard on myself. Thanks for this thought-provoking blog!

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  11. Thanks for sharing, Mary Margret!

    I have a ton of respect for Suzanne Brockmann since hearing her speak in Reno in 2005, now I have even more. I haven't read "Into the Night" but it sounds fantastic. I'll have to add it to my towering pile of "books to be read."

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  12. Stalker? Egomaniac? LOL, Christina! You sound like a normal reader/writer to me. ;-)

    I think we are our own harshest critics most of the time. I KNOW I am, and most every writer I know tells me the same thing. But like you, I am not about to write a book that I wouldn't want to read, even if on any given day I look at my WIP and scream "This sux ditchwater!" It's all part of my wonderful and mysterious process.

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  13. Aunt Cindy and all,
    You all are so right about it taking courage to put your deepest thoughts out there for the public to read. I read a review of Slave where the comment was made that erotic romance written in first person was too intimate, which is true in some ways. You can write gore and no one cares, but your sexual preferences tend to come through when writing erotica and it lays your soul pretty well bare.
    Not everyone likes the same things, or the same people. Over the next few months you will find that people love and hate your book for the very same reason. You can't please them all. Just hope that the ones you please outnumber the ones you don't.
    BTW, I don't think Nora Roberts is a real, single person--she must be a conglomerate of some kind. It would take a phalanx of writers to write so many books!

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  14. Hey AC--

    I always wonder about the author of what I'm reading! It is so interesting to me that an actual person wrote what I'm reading (even though that sounds funny). I've never written fan mail, but the book club I belong to has contacted authors and they are always so nice about telling us more or writing discussion questions. It makes the whole experience more meaningful when you meet the "stranger" who wrote a book.

    I can only imagine that it's exhilirating to think that a ton of people that you might never meet are reading your work!

    Danielle

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