I’ve caught a couple articles via Twitter links advising writers of the need to cultivate readers in our genre, or be active on venues that are heavily used by readers alone. And hey, of course I understand the reasoning behind this instruction: Readers buy books.
I hadn’t intended for it to be so, but it turns out my blog is mainly targeted to my fellow writers. Probably because I haunt the Twitter halls and follower mostly authors who are also active on that social media platform. But I’m a bit confused. My new family of writers, can I get a witness here? Aren’t we readers, as well?
I don’t know about you, but as a kid I hid under the covers with a book and a flashlight after lights out. I built a secret sheet-shrouded room in the attic where I could be alone to read. Every Friday, my mother ferried us to the College Avenue library, and as soon as I was able, I rode my bike the 10 blocks up on my own. My library card was a key that helped me access more than a card catalogue file. It opened my eyes and my heart.
Over the years, I’ve cried over Charlotte’s Web, sleuthed with Nancy Drew, was a hobbit thanks to Tolkien. I was in awe of Ayn Rand. I remember the day I turned the last page of Conroy’s Prince of Tides, the afternoon I finished Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. Every completion was bittersweet. I knew the outcome but would miss the beloved characters I’d embraced through every magnificent story.
The truth is, I don’t remember ever wanting to be like them, those spinners of tales that moved the world. I only ever remember wanting to be the main character, the heroine – the wise one, the gal who saved the day. Well, my life didn’t turn out that way, but I still have my books.
Nowadays, my reads are mainly Kindle version e-books self-pubbed by my fellow writers. Books I’ve come across on Twitter. Releases from people I don’t know in person but have come to admire. They’re part of my exciting new tribe. My goal is to discover more about these authors by reading what they write, hearing what they have to share via the written word. Yes, it’s support, but it’s also research. I want to be familiar with what’s working in the self-publishing field. It’s like happy homework, don’t you agree?
The summer before last I attended a local event featuring San Diego literary agent Taylor Martindale. The venue was small, and we were able to ply her with questions throughout the hour. One attendee stood and spoke with excitement about a Twilight-style novel he was co-writing with his wife. He seemed proud to share the fact he’d never read the series. In fact, he hadn’t read any YA fiction. He hadn’t read a single book of any kind in years.
Taylor was clearly nonplussed, but quickly regained her poise and replied, “You must read. Read in your genre, read the great books. If you don’t, how will you recognize good writing? How will you understand the subtleties of language that move people, that make them think and feel?” Bravo, Ms. Martindale. How will we, indeed?
My life-long friend Lu Anne Kirst passed away in 2009. She was a reader, and she knew my taste in stories. Lu and I shared an affinity for books by author Barbara Kingsolver, and I depended on her for recommendations about what to read next. The last years of her life she set a goal to complete every one of the Top 100 Best Books Of All Time. I didn’t save the link to the list she followed, but here are a couple of places you can review similar lists if you’ve a mind to. I miss you, Lu.
• The top 100 novels of all time. TIME critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo pick the 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to the present.
• Random House hosts two lists here, one the “Board’s List” and another list chosen by readers.
In closing, I’d like to say that I feel my fellow writers are the perfect group to cultivate now that I’ve self-published my own first novel. Not that I’m going to beg you to buy it. You’ll do as you wish. But I do know that among you I’ve found beta readers and truthful feedback. I’ve received peer-generated critiques that helped me improve. I have cheerleaders who shout their support and hand me a hanky when things don’t progress as I’d hoped. Thanks to you all, I’m in the perfect place, and I know good things are on their way regardless of my future book sales.
Read on, writers. Read on!
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