The Reality of Readers

It is very easy in this industry to lose sight of the fact that the majority of readership and the conversations about books exist in the real world. I am guilty of giving far too much attention to social media and online reviews, and forgetting the unbelievable importance of readers in the real world.

It’s an issue of reach. As an author, it seems like you’re reaching more when you are online, being social, and it feels as if EVERYONE will read that review. But that’s not true. Yes, lots of eyes will be on those things, but to what extent they care is impossible to measurable.

However, the readers I meet, the  ones who I have a chance to interact with, and spend some time just talking about story–and not just my stories–provide me a tangible sense of just how much books and my work matter to them.

Friday, this past week, I was fortunate enough to visit Hudson High school and present to various classes about my work, the day before the annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival. The students were great and we had fun together. That afternoon, I got to talk about my work, on air, with Ellen Hopkins, Jack Gantos, Crissa-Jean Chappell, and Laurie Stolarz. Another fabulous experience. But the best was the following day.

This was my third year at the festival and it was busier than I’ve ever seen it. People were there early and stayed late. I signed books steadily and talked to so many adults and teens about my work and writing and books in general. However, this year, two things were different.

One, so many teens who I had met the day before during my presentations in their classrooms, showed up to buy my books. Some specifically came to this event, which hosted over 75 authors, just to get my work. Yeah, those are readers, real, in the flesh, awesome people, who made the effort because we connected. And still others, who couldn’t attend because of prior commitments, sent mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters to get my books. This happened so much, I had only one copy of Dare Me left by the end of the festival. Unreal.

Two, Look Past was available this year. I had a few ARC copies last year, but that was it. This year I was able to get copies of that book into hands of those who were curious, and those, like Max, needed it. Max asked me to sign a copy of Look Past, and when I asked for his name, there was a moment of hesitation, and then he said, “I’m Max.” I began to sign, but heard the teens with Max reacting and asking if he was okay. I paused and looked up. Max was crying. I asked if everything was all right, and he said this was the first time he felt comfortable asking someone to refer to him as Max, and this was the absolute first book he had signed to him as such. The fact that it was Look Past was not lost on me. I made sure to give him props for asserting who he is, and circled his name a half-dozen times on that page in my book, which speaks volumes about his lived experience. “Powerful” doesn’t cut it as a description for a moment like that.

It’s why I write. For the stories, for the readers, those I will only meet virtually, and for those who will stand in front of me and say, “I love your work.”

So, thanks Hudson HS and the entire Hudson Children’s Book Fest crew for keeping such a wonderful event going. As much as it is a day for those readers, it is one for the authors, too. We live in this world, and it’s nice to be reminded that we are seen.

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