Thursday, May 3, 2012

Amazing Experience!

I don’t have any illusions (delusions) about my skills as a writer…no one will ever mention my name in the same breath as F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, or William Faulkner. My books are fast reads that (hopefully) entertain their readers for a few hours. I do strive to make each manuscript better than the last, but my approach is best described by a quote of Debbie Macomber’s that I read when I first started writing. Paraphrased it went something like this:

“I’m not out to change the world with my writing, I just want to give someone a good weekend.”

And that’s what I try to do, but to be honest, I can get lost in all the details…approaching deadlines, marketing and promotions, tracking sales of the last book, all the things that are involved with the “job” side of this business. I can fall into the trap of measuring the success of a book by the number of units sold instead of thinking of each individual reader who might have enjoyed them. And if the numbers don’t stack up like I think they should, I let it discourage me.

Big mistake…not that the numbers aren’t important…publishing contracts are based on how marketable an author happens to be, but I recently had an extremely humbling experience that brought home once again the importance of each individual reader.

A couple of months ago I was contacted via email by a woman from Japan. She talked about how much she’s enjoyed Ophelia and Abby and mentioned that she was planning on a visit to Summerset, Iowa in April. Since the town of Summerset really isn’t in existence any more, I blew it off as some type of scam…until I was contacted by Summerset Winery (the inspiration for the setting in THE WITCH’S GRAVE). Yes, indeedy, there was a fan from Japan visiting Iowa and she’d stopped by the winery, with a copy of one of the books. They suggested that I contact Esther Hoffa, the owner of the bed and breakfast where this woman was staying and maybe try and meet with her.

I did and we did. Esther, Atsuko (our Japanese visitor), and I had a lovely time, meeting and chatting for about an hour and a half. As I said, it was humbling and I was deeply honored. You see the only reason Atsuko came to the United States was to see where Ophelia and Abby had been created. She toured Madison County, looking at places that reminded her of settings in the books. (Thank goodness she said she wasn’t disappointed!! I know ‘cause I asked! Wouldn’t that have been terrible if she’d journeyed all that way only to find that the locations were nothing like they are in the books!!!)

Bottom line to this story—as writers we send the stories we’ve created out into the world. We hope they do well, we hope people enjoy them, but often, we really don’t know the impact that our stories might have on just one person’s life. It’s not just about the numbers; it’s not about whether or not your work will be read a hundred years from now. It’s about giving someone a good weekend like Debbie Macomber does. It’s about that one reader like Atsuko. That’s the real pay-off to being a writer!

That’s it for this week!

Best, Shirley

3 comments:

Casey said...

That's a great story, Shirley! How wonderful. And PS, many people at Oakmont asked about you!

Sharon Stogner said...

wow, I am so glad you were able to meet with her. I know your A&O series made me happier after reading them :)

Shirley Damsgaard said...

I'm glad you both liked my story! It is definitely being tucked away in the memory banks as one of the highlights of my career as a writer! And Casey, thanks for the PS! I love going to Oakmont, but just couldn't swing it this year. I've a new "Jess" book out next year so hopefully I can make it in 2013! One bad thing about that, my dear partner-in-crime...since seating is alphabetical, I'll be in with the "M's" instead of sitting next to you!!!