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One Hundred Readers

July 1, 2012 5 Comments

Numbers these days have added zeros in incomprehensible fashion. What used to be a million now seems to be a billion or sometimes even a trillion. In the face of this, what can one hundred possibly mean?

If the one hundred is one hundred readers, it could mean a lot. Let me explain.

I’ve written many books, but I don’t believe that I’ve ever received a letter or an e-mail from a reader that simply responded to this writing.

What frequently happens is that a person will contact me for advice on some topic that I’ve written about and say how helpful my books have been. Often, if it’s a phone conversation, the person will say that one or more of my books are on his or her bookshelves.

I’m guilty of this too. Year after year I’ve read wonderful books, but how often have I reached out to tell an author that I enjoyed what he or she wrote? Recently, I wanted to praise a short story by an author who had written very little; his primary career had been in law as a judge. I confess that when I couldn’t find his e-mail with the story, I gave up. I could have written a letter to the journal where the story appeared, but that struck me as ever so slow and unreliable compared to an e-mail sent directly to the author.

A few years ago I had a realization that it wouldn’t take very much to create a response to my writing far greater than any I had received before. After all, I hardly had any feedback despite hundreds of thousands of my books going into the world.

What if a hundred friends read a short story or article? Even if only a small percentage responded, it would be like a tsunami. I would have the benefit of contrasting reactions and points of view, the pleasure of direct and immediate reactions. An audience of one hundred readers who might respond could create far more interaction than an audience of thousands who would never think of responding.

I created an e-mail group that included about one hundred people. When my short story titled “The Kindness of Strangers” was published in Forge Journal, I sent out a short message and a link to this group.

The response was wonderful. Roughly a third of the people read the story and wrote back their reactions. It was nice that the reactions were positive, but just to be responded to was great. The sense of publishing into a void was replaced by the knowledge that people read and enjoyed the story.

What if I hadn’t let my friends know about the publication? I received no response at all from the regular readers of Forge. This isn’t a failing on the part of the readers. Rather, it follows the norm. So, if I hadn’t created a group of my own, I would have been left without that direct response that I at least find so valuable.

I then repeated this outreach with a short story titled “On Becoming One of Us” that appeared in The Café Irreal. The response to this piece (actually a very short chapter from A Floating Life) was strong and, in many cases, as macabre and humorous as the story itself. Again, I didn’t hear from the regular readers of The Café Irreal, so I would have had no idea what people felt about the story without my own outreach.

When my article about going into Attica Prison with my National Guard unit—“A Memory of Attica on the Fortieth Anniversary of the Prison Revolt”—appeared in Guernica and I was featured in an online documentary titled “The Attica Prison Uprising: Forty Years Later” by The Nation, I also let my hundred readers know and thereafter received responses of heartfelt surprise that I had been there and anger about the violence that ended the revolt.

So what does one hundred mean?

If it’s one hundred readers, it means a lot to me. It’s on a human scale in which each reply can be taken in and valued. It’s rewarding in the way that a conversation with a friend can mean so much. So I hope this blog will build a bridge on which tolls are never charged and travelers love to chat regardless of their innumerable and far flung destinations.

  1. theo
    July 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    profound & true! i look forward to reading more!!

  2. brainard
    July 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I like the idea of a hundred readers and responders, that sounds so much better then everyone “liking” something and it’s all about a conversation. It’s true that the idea of thanking authors and making an interesting comment is worth a lot to both parties. I just read a really wonderful biography of Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. I keep thinking of writing to him and thanking him or at least post a comment on amazon of which there are very few. That biography by the way was incredible, it was called No Ordinary Man: The Life and Times of Miguel de Cervantes, and besides it being the true story of a writer I admire, it brought me into a world I knew very little about, 16th Century Spain. I kept thinking that an amazon review is not enough, and really that I would like to comment more and have a conversation, perhaps like the group you mentioned. Because as readers, we are all alone in many ways. How many people can I really talk to about Cervantes? How many will know of his book Exemplary Novels? I wish I could share that more, and as authors, it seems the idea of having a conversation about ideas surrounding a book is the most valuable thing of all in terms of real, human exchange. I look forward to more blogging from you Tad, it is a conversation I think I will enjoy.

  3. Sonya Shannon
    July 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Tad, thanks for this thought-provoking article. I have often wondered how to cope with the increasing number of humans on the planet, the surge in competition in creative fields, and the race to acquire “friends” in social media. I deeply appreciate the human scale message you convey. I will share your article with my Mum (almost 77!), who was brave enough to attempt her first website as an author.

  4. Laura Hafekorn
    July 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Tad, What a super idea! I’ve tried to encourage the people I know to read what I’ve posted on my website but never thought of forming a group. And a hundred readers would be a good round number to work with. After I posted my mystery novel, I was disappointed so few people took the time to look at it. That was a year ago. I have subsequenty begun to realize that short pieces are okay to read online, but a whole book is too much to look at on a monitor – so – I decided to self publish the book. Now I know a lot of writers who make their living from writing don’t relish the idea of self publishing as they feel we cut into their income, but I haven’t got the time or the inclination to make the rounds of regular publishers who keep the poor would-be author dangling for months, even years, before mailing the rejection letter. I’m too old for that now, a late bloomer you might say, so if I can see my book in print before I die, and know that a few people might be tempted to buy it, and read it, that’s all I want. Now let me see … who can I ask to join my group …..hmm. Thanks.

  5. Lana L. Tayse
    August 13, 2012 at 3:14 am

    Thank you for creating this easy venue, you have made reaching out to you as easy as a dream. I just finished Floating, both literally and figuratively. As so often happens a story comes into our hands at the very moment we need it. Your story buoyed me away, gently drifting on whimsy and wonder with a touch of awe thrown in to inspire. Crossover issues within your story, a heart wrenching letter to a lost love, a husband, wishing you could find the words on paper that the emotions of personal contact leave you with twisted words and a mental exhaustion whose weight drags thoughts and words away. Leaving such a sad desolate emptiness with the finality of the spoken word, “done”. Yes, you touched a harpists worth of strands within me, and like your bear I feel those vibrations continuing in the dark. At the moment, life’s logistics have painted me into a tiny corner. Though now your story has me questioning what I think and do I have it within me to think differently and then follow the courage different thinking would demand. You have gifted me with a story that urges me to find new questions as the old ones are used up and past their prime…and strangely enough, though I have lived in five different states and now reside in California, Lubbock, Texas is home. My mother and siblings still reside there and a lifetime ago my mother began her married life in Brownfield, Texas. Over the years, like you, I have wanted authors to know how their words have touched me and I have written hundreds of letters in appreciation of their words and yet, not once have I put those words on paper or email or into the hands of the authors because, again like you, I felt the mail to slow and insubstantial. And at heart felt they would not take the time to read or appreciate my words to them…but your site has extended an invitation I could not, this once, resist.


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