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Writers Need Readers – 11 Truths

Book Heart



Married Writer Female seeks readers of any height, weight, age, persuasion, or gender. I enjoy late nights spent staring at a screen searching for homophone typos, research that makes me feel like a freak, and waiting for a reader to say, “I read your book.” I’m willing to work nights, days, weekends, and holidays fueled by Mountain Dew and a strong desire to get a story out of my head. Dislikes: Daddy long-legs (THEY’RE SO CREEPY) and ALL flesh-eating bacterias. (True story. Call me anti-flesh-eating bacteria, but I won’t tolerate them.) Best hours to contact: if I’m not on Twitter, I’m asleep, but I’ll be awake in about three hours, so just @ me.

There seems to have been one brouhaha after another lately online in the publishing/reading community…and I think it’s strange writers and reviewers seem to find themselves in adversarial positions when our relationship is so codependent. Here are some truths that I’ve realized over the course of the last five years.

Truth #1 Writers need reviews to sell books. Obviously, we’d prefer positive reviews, but even negative reviews create word-of-mouth. I once heard from someone in the publishing community that in their experience a single review can equate to ten sales. If you love an author’s book, review their book–it’s like handing them a wad of cash and saying, “Hey, write another! I dug that!”

Truth #2 No book will be loved by all. So, you hated a book–that’s fair. All you have to do is go on Amazon and read some of the one star reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird to know that readers might hate a darn good book. (If you post a one star review on To Kill a Mockingbird–we still might have words, though.) (Because you’re wrong.) (Okay, I’m kidding.) (A little.) As authors, that is a bitter pill. Hopefully, most writers have a good support network–someone who can hug them in person and whisper in their ear, “That one star review–they’re freaking craaaaazy. They probably kicked a puppy right before posting it.” And then it ends. Because people have opinions, and they’re entitled to them.

Truth #3 A writer is not their book. Every time I send out a book to anyone, I feel like I’m standing there naked. I’ve lived inside the characters’ heads. Sometimes I’ve even picked up their accents. I’ve added little bits of me. I’ve taken little pieces of them. For days, I’ll quote from them like they’re real people before realizing who I’m quoting. Then a week goes by and I manage to get out of that world and see that it was just a coat I’d put on for a while, and it was just a place I’d visited. No one is going to accost me and say, “How dare you say that about pancakes!!!” And I won’t have to explain that it was a character not me. Well, unless someone goes all Misery…but I like to pretend that’s an unusual occurrence. The point is: it’s sometimes hard for us to realize that–it’s not us–it’s our book you’re judging.

Truth #4 A writer is not their book. (I know–it’s a repeat.) Several years ago, an author I know was slammed as a parent by reviewers who couldn’t separate what was in a book versus what the author believed. During my previous online life, I’d referred to my kids by name, but they suddenly became B and T because I knew that I didn’t want my pursuit of publication to negatively impact my kids. I’ve never experienced anything like that, but I’ve seen it happen to other authors–and while it’s rare–that leaves a mark. It’s a sad fact that some of us must protect our personal life from our public profile. Writers aren’t rock stars–we shouldn’t have to do that, but some do. Trolls are all over the internet, and it’s equal opportunity in that way, but we’re not our books. I think everyone deserves the right to have a private life that stays private. You. Me. Everyone.

Truth #5 A reviewer is not their review. I don’t want negative reviews and not just because I take it ridiculously personally, but because I want you to love my stories. I’m a reader too. I read a ton. I open up every book wanting to love it–like I want to hug it, smother it with affection, run out into the street screaming. (I’d have to compete in volume with my neighbor who throws her Chihuahua in the air while yelling, “Wahoo!” though.) (That’s what I want actually–not to throw a Chihuahua but to yell, “Wahoo!” after reading a book.) When I feel like a book failed me, it feels like a betrayal–which is ridiculous too. I’ve had close friends tell me they wouldn’t review my stuff…for whatever reason, and it stings, but we’re still friends because a reviewer is not their review.

Truth #6 Books make you feel feelings that feel strong. I belong to an amazing profession. I’m following in the footsteps of the storyteller of old who took a story from kingdom to kingdom hoping to entertain you–to make you feel. I get to use words to tell a story like Shakespeare, like Dickens, like J.K. Rowling. With the internet, I’m not limited to travelling from place to place–I can be everywhere. For a few hours, I can drag you somewhere too. I can take you to Denver to watch Jack Frost woo his wife. I can pull you with me to Washington State to see a substitute teacher fall for a hot veterinarian. Until you close my book, I have you. It’s awesome, and I can do that because reading can do that. I’m reminded of a line from Ghostbusters: “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!” It feels pretty powerful to command words…I’m just saying.

Truth #7 Books can make you want to throw them. Not a one of you will be able to throw Frosted or The Teacher’s Vet! Bwahahaha! Behold the power of the ebook! But, also, I’ve wanted to throw books. I’ve thrown books. This is more of an addendum to Truth #6. Books can make you feel that too. You feel awful. You feel angry, but you do feel. Books are powerful.

Truth #8 Writers are invested in their work. I’m going to do something nuts…I’m going to try to add up the hours I spent on one of my novellas in particular. Well, let’s see, it’s 36,000 words. I type about 1,000 to 3,000 words an hour–and when you count in revisions, you can probably double that 36 hours immediately, so 72 hours…which is very, very conservative because this story alone has been revised over five times. Let’s double that again. 144 hours. But then there’s research. Do you have any idea how little I started out knowing about anything in that book? I watched so many Youtube videos on puppies alone–which, you know, was a hardship. Let’s tack on 21 hours of research because I tend to vault down the rabbit hole with research. Then, I read and reread it at least a dozen times because I’m psychotic and have OCD. It took me about 2 hours each time. *does math* So, we’re at 189 hours…and then I turned it over to my publisher, and the work had just started because, well, promotions and prepping and editing.

At least 200 hours have been put into this novella…so far.

How cool would it be if I made minimum wage on that!!!???

How sad that I think that….

Writers invest hour upon hour, and we may never see a return for that. Some will invest less than me–I am a bit psycho about typos and so on. Some will invest more…years. We invest because writing is in our souls. Cut me, and I bleed words.

Truth #9 Writers invest their heart. If you’ve read The Teacher’s Vet, I’m going to tell you something silly…I cry every time after the scene with the puppies where Nora is driving away, feeling like a sneak, and crying. I bawl my eyes out. Every time. After a dozen reads. I cry at some point in all my books. I cried while writing a summary last night. It’s pathetic, but true. Sometimes I write or revise after everyone is in bed because I know I’ll just sit here crying and crying.

Truth #10 We are not who we seem. Most of you following my blog know a few of my issues. In addition to OCD and agoraphobia, I have a real problem with telephones. I’m not inept, they just make me itchy to be in my skin…for a long, long time. My agent and I have only talked on the phone once. I’ve never talked to any of my editors. I’ve talked to two of my betas over the years…and only one of them was by choice. (Sorry, Jay. You’re awesome, but I’m me.)  Now, look at my number of tweets: nearly 110K. How can someone so chatty on Twitter be so social malfunctioning in other ways? Being outgoing must be easy for writers…because we do it…because we go to conventions, chat with agents and other writers–we’re out there, talking about our book, yammering about it like we believe we really are Dickens.

We’re not insecure.

Truth #10 1/2 Many of us are painfully insecure. Sending out a story might cripple us. We require liquid fortification (in my case Mountain Dew) just to open a critique. After posting this, I’ll want to hurl. I may even need to hold my stomach and breathe through it. Remember Truth #6? For the few minutes we feel like we’ve mastered those words and made them behave, there are hours of gut-wrenching worry that we’re writing crap or that we’ve published crap. I can have so many tweets because Twitter isn’t any pressure–I can be me and still wrap some anonymity around me–until it comes time for promotions. When it comes time for promotions, I’d prefer to pull my fingernails off with tweezers than promote, but this brings us to Truth #11.

Truth #11 Writers need readers. In my acknowledgements for one of my books, I ended with this:

Finally, thank you, readers. A story doesn’t feel like a story unless it’s read. It’s a “if a tree falls in the forest” situation. If a story is written, but not shared, is it still a story? Once a story is told, the reader or listener fills in the spaces and adds on to the ending. The story lives and breathes and becomes theirs. Thank you for adopting this story…hopefully it’s house-trained and doesn’t chew on your shoes.

I’m not in it for literary awards. I obviously am not in it for the monetary return. I’m a writer because I like to tell stories, and unless someone spreads the word about my stories, I’m just placing words in front of each other. So, I promote and I get help from other readers. One of my best experiences thus far with the publishing world was with a blog hop. I had bloggers willing to help me promote. It felt like being part of a village. I almost felt like a real writer and not like I was playing at it. It helped. A lot.

There will always be standouts in these relationships that seem to taint the above truths. I’m a funny sort of realist–I’m a skeptic, a pessimist–except when it comes to people. Good people don’t always finish last, and good things come to people who treat others with the respect that they deserve.

I appreciate everyone who continues to help writers because they love reading. Readers provide a way for us to keep writing.

The truth is that you can’t judge a book by its cover, an author by their book, or a reviewer by their review…wait, I take that back, I judge books by their covers all the time. In fact, every time I look at one of my books, I smile a little bit because that’s my book. I wrote that, and I’m proud to be a writer.

11 Responses so far.

  1. Jami Gold says:

    Beautiful post, Wendy. Yes, most of the time when I see two sides sniping, I wish I could make everyone be nicer. 🙂

    I can relate to every point you make here. 🙂

    • I swear that Goodreads has become a battleground the last several years…and it just makes me so sad. On the other hand, if anything is going to make someone impassioned–I applaud that it’s books, but I wish it began and ended there.

  2. I find it funny that not a one of you has commented that there are really 12 truths and I cheated to keep it to an odd and prime number. Also, this comment is to keep it to an odd number….

  3. Jane Kindred says:

    Great post, Wendy. (Sorry I’m ruining the number equilibrium.) Yeesh, you write fast. Your hourly is my daily. I’d say I put in about 1K hours per book; thus, my rate of pay is…oh, dear God. Never mind! 😉

  4. K. Andrew says:

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s a really honest opening of dialogue between readers and writers. Let’s get this codependent thing right (and not creepy). 😀

    • We definitely don’t want creepy. 😉 I hope, at the very least, my own relationship with bloggers never gets as dramatic as some I’ve seen. I genuinely love all the book bloggers I’ve “met” online. *shrugs*

  5. Lance says:

    Awesome post. Not sure how I’m just seeing this now…no, that’s not true. My own insecurities and crises push me to turn off the world sometimes to try to find some silence. Never works though. Thanks for being open and talkative enough for both of us. 🙂

  6. chromeprincess says:

    10.5 … that’s why I never submit my stuff. I just can’t handle it. In my head, everything I write is bad. I don’t want anyone else to justify that, and dig the knife in deeper.

    • It’s really hard to get past that honestly and I don’t think I would without readers telling me that what I write is worth the risk. Because it hasn’t actually gotten easier. I thought it would but it hasn’t.

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