You edit, proofread and spell-check. You mail postcards, blog and promote. You check your sales numbers and Amazon ranking regularly.
But one part of being a debut author took me a bit by surprise. While I had spent a lot of time getting my book ready to go, I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how others might respond to it.
But soon after SOPHIE’S SQUASH, my tale of a little girl who falls in love with a butternut squash named Bernice, was released in August, I started hearing from readers. They contacted me through Facebook or my website with stories. Among other things, I received:
- Video of a girl reading my book and saying how all she wanted was a squash for Christmas.
- Pictures of beaming children holding squash, pumpkins and watermelon with drawn-on faces. (The picture with this blog is just one example.)
- Stories from parents about how their now-grown children had fallen in love with apples, heads of garlic, bananas and other forms of produce.
- Mentions that the book was going to a real-life Sophie (usually a younger girl) or a real-life Bernice (usually an older woman).
- Hand-drawn cards.
- Photos of librarians who had created displays featuring Bernice and her friends.
- Wonderful blog reviews.
I was pleased to know that kids and their parents could find some truth in my book. And I am grateful for each and every story that was shared with me. But the one below might just be my favorite. It arrived in my inbox yesterday from a woman I went to high school with. I haven’t seen her in years, but here’s what she wrote:
A friend of mine has a 6-year-old boy who is on the autism spectrum. He fell in love with a small pumpkin around Halloween and was reading to it, sleeping with it and asking if he was being a good daddy to it. His mom started to get worried about what was inevitably going to happen. I gave her a copy of SOPHIE’S SQUASH, and it was perfect. He totally got it and was excited to plant his pumpkin. His mom bought copies of the book for his school and synagogue, too!
And that, I think, is why writers write. In the hopes that their story contains something universal that will help someone else understand something better, handle a difficult time more successfully or remember something they’ve always known, but have temporarily forgotten.
This isn’t something you can control as a writer. It’s hard to say, “Now is the time in my revising where I’m going to add the part that will strike a chord with like-minded readers.” But you can increase your odds of success by always being true to the story you want to tell and not shying away from feelings that are uncomfortable. Because, often, that’s where the common thread of humanity is — in the less-than-pretty parts.
And you may not know if you got it right until the cards and emails start arriving.
I’m saying goodbye to EMU’s Debuts with this post so other authors with bright-and-shiny new books can use the space. As I go, I thank every person who has read my posts, supported my efforts and been so very positive. Some of you I know well, while others I haven’t met. But you’ve all made being a first-time author even more fun than I always hoped it would be.
I have more picture books in the works — two will be published in 2015 and one at a yet-to-be-determined date. They’re all quite different than SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but I hope their readers find something in them to connect with as well.
And if they do, well, that will be better than any sales ranking could ever be.