Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Value of One Person

I usually read a meditation each morning before I eat my breakfast. If I don't purposefully build habits, I never get into them. Making time for God wasn't a priority in my life until the past few years. I decided that reading a short meditation each day, then saying grace, was a habit that wouldn't take a whole lot of time and was something worth doing.

This morning's meditation shared a quote from Mother Teresa:
I don't know what the success will be--but if the Missionaries of Charity have brought joy to one unhappy home--made one innocent child from the streets keep pure for Jesus--one dying person die in peace with God--don't you think, Your Grace, it would be worthwhile offering everything--for just that one--because that would bring great joy to the heart of Jesus.
 This is a sentiment that resonates strongly with me. It was almost the theme for my first Community of Faith mystery. (As I wrote the book, I discovered another theme that spoke louder to me for that book.)

As I'm writing, I often worry about finding an audience. Will anyone buy my book? Will anyone read it? Will anyone like it? Will it have meaning to anyone but myself? I knew when I started it that it would not have a large audience, but I hoped that out of the millions of readers in this world, some number would like it.

John Locke, in "How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months", says that all you need to be a success is 10,000 true fans. I don't think this idea is original with him, but he certainly has popularized it. You don't need to please millions of readers, you just need 10,000 loyal people who will buy everything you write. He comes out of marketing and most of his book is the way he found his 10,000 fans. If you do the math, you can also see that he had to write a lot of books to sell a million of them. He admittedly is not looking to write great literature, just books that are good enough.

Even 10,000 readers sounds like a lot to me. Like most writers, I tend to be more shy than gregarious. The idea of standing on a street corner--even if it's the virtual street corner of the Internet--makes me queasy. There are all kinds of theories about how you find your readers in this new age of publishing, but the truth is that no one really knows. The only thing we know for sure is that the way readers discover new books is by word of mouth. If your best friend tells you they liked a book, there's a good chance you'll read it. If you like it, you'll tell someone else. Hopefully two someone elses. Obviously, it takes a long time for this geometric progression to get to large numbers.

Then, in that serendipitous way that life has of putting two related things together for you, I moved on to reading "On Writing" by Stephen King. Actually, I'm re-reading this one. I'm pretty much always reading a writing craft book in addition to a work of fiction. Reading about craft keeps my head in the game. The section I read this morning included this:
Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of the first draft, when the door is closed. And you know what? You'll find yourself bending the story even before Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence."
This caused one of those mental "Huh" moments. Didn't I just read something very like that in a totally different context? Two people I highly respect seemed to be sending the same message. You don't need to worry about millions--or even 10,000. Your goal should be to focus on one person at a time. I think I can do that, both in my writing and in my Christian life.

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