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In November, I shared a bit about the truths of launching a book during a pandemic—specifically, the anticlimactic nature of doing book events via Zoom rather than in person.

Since that time, I’ve experienced other sides of this as well: The obsessive checking of online reviews, in the absence of in-person feedback from readers. The obsessive crafting of posts to social media, in the absence of being able to you, you know, actually talk to people about it—and my virtual interrogation of nearly everyone I know who’s read the book, so I can pass on their love and appreciation for particular stories to their authors.

None of these things correspond to the dream I had of what publishing this anthology would be like. But the truth is, publishing any book, at any time, is seldom the way we envision it beforehand.

I’ve found this to be true for authors at every level, working with every kind of publisher—from the debut author with a novella launching through a micro-press to the New York Times bestseller launching her fifth book through one of the Big Five. One way or another, we all tend to have expectations of publishing that wind up going unfulfilled.

And I think that’s understandable. We spend so long working on a book—alone, usually—carefully crafting every sentence, every passage, till it shines. It’s no wonder that we tend to imagine connecting with our readers on a grand scale, in proportion to our grand efforts.

But the truth is, the reception of a book tends to be just as personal as its creation. It occurs to the reader, alone, in her heart and mind, and seldom does that experience truly get shared, with the author of that book or anyone else. And this is true whenever and however you launch.

And yet, there are those moments of real connection, when the reader does reach out to share their experience with the work—and they mean so much.

For me, those have largely been moments over the past few months when people have either tagged me or reached out to me directly on Twitter.

There was Karen Einsbrey, who noted that she happened to be reading Dispatches from Anarres at lunch, and that she was “loving this anthology so much!” There was Borderland Books, who noted that the anthology was “fabulous.” And there was Asha Dornfest, who reached out to say, “Thank you for your gorgeous piece in the Fall/Winter @orhumanities. It felt like a breath of cool air.”

That comment in particular touched me—maybe because I wasn’t expecting it. It’s about an essay I recently had published in Oregon Humanities Magazine, “Not a Circle, Not a Line: Le Guin’s Long View of the West,” in which I explored the experience of reading Le Guin’s epic novel Always Coming Home, and how it changed the way I view the landscapes of the West.  

All of which is to say, you never know when your work is going to touch someone, and be meaningful to them—and I mean that both in the sense that these things are supremely unpredictable and in the sense that, you know, you probably won’t know when they actually occur.

But when readers reach out to share that experience? All the work and time it took to craft those words really is worth it.

You can read my latest published essay, on my year of reading all of Le Guin’s novels during the pandemic, up at LitHub today—and if you feel so moved, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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