What it means to be with people who read your work

Earlier this week, I sat with more than a dozen women who have read my Nikki Nielsen books.

Book Club

We’re standing here, but the meeting was breaking up.

When I began to write about Nikki – and we’re talking 20 years ago – the mere idea of sharing my work made my hands shake. It took months to gather my courage and send query letters to agents.

What changed? Well, I’m 20 years older. Apparently, the closer you get to 60, the less you give a shit about what other people think. I mean… you care, but not so much that it cripples you.

The real turning point, I think, came when I decided to self-publish, which (contrary to popular belief) was not an easy decision.

Yes, Benjamin Franklin and William Blake wrote and designed their own books. But I come from a time when the dictionary definition of self-publishing was “failure”. It meant a traditional publisher didn’t consider your work good enough to share with the world.

Then Stephen King and E.L. James turned the industry on its head and showed that authors can control their own destinies, that high quality work will sell even without a publisher.

Key words there: “high quality”.

I believe in my work. I write carefully, I’ve made my living as an editor. I also know from highly embarrassing experience that I sometimes miss my own mistakes.

When I finished Above the Fold, I recruited readers from among my Facebook friends who were more than happy to give it a once-over. I sent out the manuscripts, then braced myself. I needn’t have worried. Their helpful, encouraging comments made the book better and built my confidence as a writer.

That’s exactly what happened during my book club visit. Members talked about the characters and their relationships, they told me who they liked and who they didn’t. They talked about what a hot mess Nikki was in Bury the Lede (truth) and discussed her romance with Dan Sullivan. Some read Above the Fold first, some read the prequel, and I learned the order made a difference in how readers see these people I’ve created.

Writing begins with an idea that we wrangle onto blank pages and tweak and massage and worry over. When it feels done, we release the pages into the world, hoping for the best.

I think, though, that a novel is not truly finished until a reader completes the circle. That’s been my closure and what helps me say, “Okay, next.

 

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