Just one reader (the right one)

Susan DeFUncategorizedLeave a Comment

When many of us start out as writers, our goal with publishing is to have our work read (and loved) by lots of people—the more the better.

And certainly, that’s the dream. But lately, I’ve been struck by the power of having your work read and appreciated by just one person—the right one.

I’m sending this your way as I’m celebrating another short story acceptance, this one from Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, one of my favorite publications.

Lady Churchill’s isn’t necessarily one of the big markets for speculative fiction (like, say, Uncanny, or Asimov’s). But it publishes exactly the sort of thing I like best: stories that riff on speculative themes in surprising ways, often with strong literary sensibilities and/or sense of place.

Also: The editors of Lady Churchill’s are Gavin Grant and Kelly Link, the folks behind Small Beer Press, which has published so many of my favorite speculative novels, which share those sensibilities. 

And of course there’s the fact that Kelly Link’s work is a chief inspiration for the collection this short story is a part of.

Sure, it would be a thrill to have tons of people read this story, the way maybe they would if it were being published in one of those bigger publications.

But to me, it’s a bigger deal that these particular people—the editors of this particular publication—read and loved it. 

Really, what I’m coming to understand is that literature is a conversation, and conversation is a two-way street. Book reviews and star ratings are one way that readers “talk back,” but the deeper level of dialogue tends to occur between authors and editors. 

Working with one of my heroes on this collection, Lidia Yuknavitch, is a good example of this. I hired her to evaluate of the manuscript ostensibly to prepare it for publication, and her feedback was definitely helpful in that regard.

But really, just the sense that this one person, whose work had made me feel so seen and understood, had see and understand my work…really, it felt like the whole thing.

Meaning, it felt like I’d already succeeded, even without having actually published the thing.

It brings me back to the mystery at the heart of our work, which I think Lidia put as clearly as anyone has. “People think I’m weird when I say this,” she told me, the last time we talked, “but when I’m deep in a work of art, that’s as close as I ever get with anyone.”

And when the feeling is mutual? It’s powerful. In a way that I think can actually change your life.

I share all this because so many writers seem to feel that if their work doesn’t reach a wide audience, they will have failed—that all of their hard work will have been for nothing. 

But really, it might take just one person to make you feel like you’ve succeeded, and that all your time and effort with your story has been worthwhile. Simply because it has allowed you to connect with someone, at one of the deepest levels we can in this life.

Here’s to better stories for a better world.


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