Years ago when I had just begun up the trail to my first published novel, I often heard something like this from agent and editor Gatekeepers, “Is your work good enough for someone to plunk down twenty bucks? Is it good enough for them to pay good money to buy it for someone else?”
Seemed like a sensible question then. Seemed like a useful litmus test.
Not any longer. In today’s world it’s the wrong question. There are now so many books to choose from in free e-book downloads, or for 99 cents. A solitary dollar bill allows readers to choose from many best-sellers in hard covers at our local library annual fund raiser.
My first novel came out late last year. It’s about a distant time, in a place not known to many, and about Iberian Celts. Like any writer of things long ago, I had no sense for whether anyone would care, would upload it to an e-reader or pay a few dollars more for the book version.
Held my breath and was pleased to sell a few here and there and more. Then I heard that some early buyers had not yet gotten to it. They smiled when they told me they had indeed paid a few dollars to download it, or a few more for a real book. They must have wondered why I did not smile back when I thanked them. That they had not opened it, had not started reading, removed the magic, broke my connection to them. Quite apparently they had better uses for their time than to give it to me and my writing. And I knew instantly that my real readers would become my dearest friends–though I might never, ever meet them.
Word from actual readers started to trickle in. One reader who got it for Christmas finished it before December ended and made his daughter read it next; another said she stayed up until two in the morning to find out what happens. The greatest compliment of all came from an avid football fan. He wrote that he skipped the NFL Conference Championship games–he needed to get to the end first. Imagine that, turn off the set on that pen-ultimate NFL Sunday to finish my creation about ancient history and Celtic fighting women!
I now know that the real question for any novel or non-fiction book writer is, “Will readers put aside all else and give the writer twenty hours, or more, of their precious time?” Precious are the readers who give us chunks of their time. Precious is the work that’s good enough for readers to do that.