Most writers write because they have something to say they want others to hear. Something that the writer deems significant enough to sacrifice time doing other things—children and family and hobbies—to say. Writing requires sacrifice. That’s pretty common knowledge among writers, but I’m not sure if readers are aware of it. More importantly, and this is the focus of what I want to share here, is that readers touch writers and impact them in ways readers probably aren’t aware. Touched, these writers take the insights and wisdom shared with them by readers and incorporate that wisdom and insight into future stories the authors write—and the circle of interaction between readers and authors continues and the reader’s ripple of influence broadens.
Many readers never realize that they’re a significant part of the process, but they are. An extremely significant part of the process. Let’s look at how.
1. Publishers buy books readers want to read. If reader reaction to a book is good, then publishers want more books of that type. If reader reaction isn’t good, then no matter how much a publisher loves a book, the editor won’t buy it because the editor has to buy books s/he loves and books s/he can sell. That’s essential to the health of the publisher. So readers define the types of books made available to them by their reactions to the books they read and support.
2. Booksellers stock the books its customers want to buy. It’s simple supply and demand. If a bookseller doesn’t have the books readers want, then that bookseller won’t sell books, which it must do to stay in business. So readers tell the bookseller what they want, and the bookseller seeks out those books and makes sure they’re available in his/her store. Readers influence what books are in their bookstores and available to the readers.
3. Readers through word-of-mouth influence other readers. When a reader loves a book and speaks well of it to other readers, then other readers are more likely to develop interest in a book—whether or not the other readers are familiar with the author. There is nothing better for a book than a strong “buzz” among readers. “Buzz” is word-of-mouth, a personal recommendation, and a reader’s personal recommendation is the strongest recommendation. It’s personal, trusted, seated in the personal relationship between readers.
4. Readers have amazing influence over writers. This is largely under-reported and under-realized, but readers’ responses and reactions directly to authors are probably the most influential in directly impacting what authors write and why they write what they write.
As stated earlier, writers write because they have something to say they want others to hear. The vehicle for saying what they want to say is the story. So when a reader reacts to that story, the author’s desire is fulfilled and validated—provided the reader reacts in the way the author hoped. That’s a blessing to the author, who spends much time alone creating and hoping that exactly this will happen. Let me share a personal example.
When my dad died, my mom went into shock. She couldn’t stay alone and so came to live with my family. I focused on helping her cope, helping my three children cope with the loss of their grandfather and its impact on their grandmother. I really didn’t have the luxury of time to mourn. I wrote a book about this. The book was delayed in being made available to readers—for six years.
That was a long delay that I really didn’t understand at the time. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be shared? Maybe it had served its purpose in helping me get through grief? But it did sell and then publishing was delayed two years, making the total six years between writing and publication. Shortly after it was published, the reason for the delays became clear.
I received a note from a reader asking me to call her, and I did. I had no idea what to expect—but I couldn’t have imagined what she said.
The reader told me a story of death and loss in her own family and her utter desolation. She felt hopeless and despairing and couldn’t see a way forward; she too wanted to die. But when in a store with her young daughter, her daughter grabbed my book off the shelf and said, “Mom, you need to read this.” When asked why, the girl told her, “It will help you.”
And so the mom bought the book and then read it.
She wanted me to know that, grieving and mourning and lost, she read the book and found encouragement and hope and that it helped her see that a way beyond grief existed. The characters found it and she could, too. She wanted to say thank you—and to let me know that the book had made a difference in her life. Now she could see her way to keep living.
As you can imagine, I was in tears. At the affirmation and confirmation the reader had gifted me with as an author, but in sheer gratitude that this woman who was hopeless had found hope. The dark tunnel of grief had lost its death grip on her. God is so good!
It was in this reader’s feedback that I found my mission to write books with constructive solutions to difficult challenges many of us face. This reader influenced me and my work. She gave me insight to my personal purpose. She touched my life and all of my future works. She will continue to influence me forever.
My story isn’t unique. I spoke with Robin Lee Hatcher about this, which led to an interesting exchange that might surprise readers. Robin said, “It is so easy for a writer to get discouraged. We spend a great deal of time alone with our own thoughts and imaginations. A dangerous place. And the present turmoil in the publishing industry can make this discouragement even worse. But then a reader reaches out and tells you something like this message that I received this summer:
‘I am an avid reader and have been for many years, but I’ve never contacted an author before. But, I wanted to share how the book Beyond the Shadows changed my life … When I read your book in May, I did so with sobs. I didn’t quite realize why I could identify with the main character, her husband being an alcoholic, mine just angry. I felt hopeless and for the first time could relate to someone, even if it was just a fictional book … [description of a troubled marriage and the reconciliation and healing that has followed] … Throughout this process many people have asked me what made me seek change, and I say, God sent me a little fictional book that desperately made me want to get beyond the shadows of the emotional pain. So, I want to say how grateful I am. I’ll always remember your book and the pain I felt when reading it, but now it’s only a Remembrance. God has provided a miracle for us.’”
I listened with a knot in my throat. And Robin went on to add, “An email like this provides me with enormous encouragement. It reminds me that I am doing what God called me to do, and that I must look beyond the discouragement and persevere. I never know how God will use the words I write. My job is to be obedient. The end results are up to Him.”
Now not all reader feedback is positive or constructive. Some readers don’t like a book and feel compelled to say so. There’s no surprise in that; if we all liked the same type of book, we’d collectively need fewer books and fewer authors. But that doesn’t mean that the reader’s negative feedback is without value. Often readers see an author veering off-track, so to speak, and let him/her know. This can be a welcome wake-up call to the author.
Of course there is also feedback that isn’t constructive. But that is easy to spot and given the weight it is worth. It’s amazingly easy to discern constructive versus destructive feedback, and most authors don’t judge. They differentiate between constructive and destructive feedback. In all feedback, they seek the good. Rarely have I encountered an author who neglects the gems of wisdom and insight in constructive negative feedback.
My point is that readers touch lives. They touch authors, influence them, and their feedback is cherished. Let me share a bit of a discussion had with my fellow Christians Read author, Kathi Macias. (I feel a special affinity with Kathi since we both have written books warning about human-trafficking and its dangers.) When asked, Kathi recalled a specific reader and a specific event:
“I will never forget this one. I was sitting at a book-signing when a young man (about 17) came up to me and said, “Mrs. Macias, I just wanted to come here and tell you that I read all four books in your Extreme Devotion series, and they made me want to lead a noble life.” It really doesn’t get any better than that, does it?”
A noble life, I thought. Constructive. Solutions. Elevating and entertaining. Encouraging. Inspiring. No, it really doesn’t get any better than that. And it would be utterly impossible not to expect that this reader encounter wouldn’t influence future Kathi Macias’ works.
Readers are a treasured, significant part of the entire process. From preferences on what they want to read to supporting and purchasing the books they prefer, from sharing their opinions through word-of-mouth and in their feedback to authors on what they’ve read, readers influence . . . because readers touch lives.•
© 2012, Vicki Hinze
Vicki Hinze is the award-winning, bestselling author of 30 novels, 4 nonfiction books and hundreds of articles. She sponsors The Book Club Network and Christians Read. Her latest release is Christmas Countdown, the second book in her new Love Inspired Suspense, Lost, Inc. series, which follows Survive the Night www.vickihinze.com. Subscribe to her Newsletter here.