- by Barbara Keiler
The morning of my state’s Senate primary a couple of weeks ago, my plan had been to complete my daily five-mile jog, shower, eat breakfast and then head over to the community center to vote. As I neared the turn-off to my street at the end of my jog, however, I saw the community center just up the road a bit, and I really wasn’t that tired, and I thought, what the heck, I’ll jog over and vote now. I figured the few poll-watchers I encountered in the community center wouldn’t mind too terribly that I’d shown up to vote wearing scuffed sneakers, running shorts and a slightly sweaty tank top.
So on I jogged, past the soccer field, past the playground, through the parking lot to the building. A woman about my age approached the door as I did, and I smiled and called out a greeting.
She smiled back and said, “You are my inspiration.”
I was stunned. Me? Her inspiration?
“I see you running every morning,” she explained. “You’re out there every day, in all kinds of weather—rain, snow, summer heat. Some days I don’t feel like exercising, I just don’t want to do it—but then I look out my window and see you, and I think, if she’s out there jogging, I can move my butt and get some exercise, too.”
I’d never met this woman before, never even seen her before—yet knowing that I, a klutzy middle-aged woman who averages eleven-minute miles, could inspire a total stranger with my jogging thrilled me. I was far more excited about my conversation with her than I was about doing my civic duty inside the community center.
Contemplating my encounter with her, I realized that this is what writing is all about: inspiring people we don’t know.
Writers love to believe our novels will change the world. I have one writer friend who swears her books can cure cancer. She writes action-packed romantic suspense novels, and I have yet to hear of any scientific breakthroughs in treating cancer with her books (although reading them would surely be a lot more pleasant than undergoing chemotherapy.) I wrote a novel years ago called Barefoot in the Grass, about a breast cancer survivor reclaiming her life, and I’ve got a carton full of letters I’ve received over the years from readers who tell me the book helped them get through their own breast cancer ordeals. I wrote that novel and wound up inspiring people I’ve never met.
We can’t inspire other people with our books unless those books are published. The desire to reach others, to connect with them and communicate with them and maybe, just maybe, help them get through a breast cancer ordeal, explains why authors endure so much to get their books in front of readers. If a mainstream publisher won’t publish an author’s novel, the author may turn to a small-press publisher. Or an e-publisher. Or a Creative Commons site where readers can download an author’s work for free. Authors want—we need—to be read.
I recently completed a manuscript that my agent and I both love but that publishers, for a variety of frequently incomprehensible reasons, have rejected. I so passionately want this project to be read that I told my agent I might just post the entire manuscript on my website. (My agent responded with a firm, “No, you won’t.” She’s convinced she will sell it eventually. I can only hope. And so can the world, because hey, this book just might cure cancer.)
But what about all those writers whose works do get published, and then they never hear from a satisfied reader, and they check their royalty statements and gasp at the appallingly low sales figures, and they think no one read their book and no one cares?
To them I say: there are people on this planet, people you don’t know, people you have never even seen, peering through their windows and watching you as you jog down the street in your scuffed sneakers, running shorts and slightly sweaty tank top, and they are inspired. If you’re published, someone, somewhere, is reading your book, and that reader is inspired, too.