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Monday, October 7, 2013

Reaching One Reader at a Time

We talk a lot on this blog about having our work read and reviewed, and how to frame our thinking around negative feedback.

That's all part of the writer's life, and it's never going away.

But every once in awhile we're handed a counterexample which makes it all worthwhile.

At a conference last year, I heard YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith tell a story about an email she'd received from a teen-aged girl which began: "I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate your book." The young reader had objected to the way the story's heroine had set aside her abusive boyfriend to be alone again. The message was a bummer, but Smith is a pro, and takes reader feedback in stride. Imagine her surprise when she received yet another note from the same girl a couple of months later. "You probably don't remember me," it began. (Oh, but she did.) The young woman went on to recount how she'd been facing an analogous problem in her own life, and that she'd eventually come around to the same important decision as the character in the book.

So, while we're busy racking up the rejections, publicity snafus and writer's block, be sure to spare a few millimeters of your battered heart for the possibility that you might actually get through to someone who needs you.

And here's the crazy thing about being there for someone--you don't have to write a groundbreaking feminist take on Dracula to do it. Sometimes we reach readers in the most unexpected ways.

My first book, a cookbook, was published six years ago now. So I don't wander past its Amazon page very often. But I happened to stop by recently and found this review:
First Cookbook Replaced: I originally purchased this cookbook last winter after learning of it from a friend. Having prepared several recipes (the brownie recipe is my stand-by) it quickly became my favorite.
In August, our home burned to the ground as a result of a wildfire. This cookbook was the first one replaced. The process of starting over is challenging at best but having a familiar item and favorite recipes (the soups and brownies are the best) has helped established a new normal.
Just... wow.

So, if you can hark back to that moment in Julie and Julia when the blogger is ready to put her manuscript in the mail. She says something like (and I'm paraphrasing badly): at this moment anything could still happen.

And that moment in that film was meant to tease us with the possibility of success beyond our wildest dreams. You might end up with a quirky best seller on your hands, which is eventually made into a film by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep. Honestly, that probably won't happen.

But before you allow yourself to be beaten down by one more rejection of your work, stop for a moment to take a little hit off of someone who was or will be moved by your writing. The rags to riches stories are fun, but they're not everything. You're going to reach someone. Even if your book doesn't top the charts, and even if its intent was simply to provide awesome chili recipes. Your audience is out there, waiting for you. Don't let them down.

Sarah Pinneo
is a novelist, food writer and book publicity specialist. Her most recent book is Julia’s Child. Follow her on twitter at @SarahPinneo.


Huntress said...

Excellent. Now I must check out this cookbook too :)

Unknown said...

May I have permission to quote from this article in a blog post I'm writing about the meaning of success. My post will be about an email I received from a reviewer of my latest novel, On Higher Ground. She got an idea from the book that inspired her to start a new charity drive at her school.

Anonymous said...

I love this! Thanks for the perspective. And what an amazing comment to find on your cookbook!

Sarah P said...

Thanks everyone!

And Paula--feel free to excerpt. But please link back.

Mart Ramirez said...

Wow! What a touching review ytou received. LOVED this! And loved the story about the readers writing back. I always try to remind myself as long as I touch ONE person that is all that matters and this was a great reminder. LOVED it!

Sarah P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah P said...

Thank you, Martha! It was indeed touching.

Caroline Clemmons said...

What a great pep talk. I always hope my writing will touch someone positively, but I write at home in a vacuum and don't often hear from readers. When I do, it makes my day. Thanks for the reminder that we write to touch the heart of a reader.