A lovely reminder for writers everywhere to be mindful of our readers. They are giving us their time, energy, and even money…which can be humbling to contemplate, as Richard Goodman points out in this beautiful piece.
As you may recall, Richard Goodman has written here about a variety of topics: titles, collections of letters, and the “audacity” of writing a writing book. For sure he deserves MY thirty-five dollars and then some!
LOOKING THE READER IN THE EYE
By Richard Goodman
I wish my new book, The Soul of Creative Writing, were cheaper, but it isn't. It costs thirty-five dollars—more with tax or shipping. That's a lot of money for a book, especially such a slim volume (132 pages, with index) as mine. So it was very moving and humbling when I was at the Alabama Book Festival recently to see high school teachers buy my book.
We all know teachers don't make a lot of money. We also know, especially those of us who have taught, that teachers will often spend their own money on things the school doesn't provide for their students—leaving them with even less money. Thirty-five dollars! Would I pay thirty-five dollars for a book? I'm not so sure I would, I’m ashamed to confess.
During the book festival, which was held in Montgomery and was a wonderful affair, I went to a lecture that was attended by many high school teachers from around the state. I saw that some of them had bought my book, which was for sale, along with the books of the other presenters, at the conference. A sudden wave of apprehension swept through me. It was a kind of chill, a sense of potential shame, and with it came a self-imposed inquisition. "Did I work hard enough on this book?” I questioned myself. “Is it worth these peoples' hard-earned money?" I wondered what else they could do with the thirty-five dollars they paid for the book. Buy a tank—or part of a tank—of gas? Pay a phone or electric bill? Buy some groceries? Get their child a new pair of jeans? Do I have the right to ask them to forgo those things to buy my book?
I tell you, a very direct and clear reality faces you in this situation when you literally look the reader in the eye. This is no idle intellectual speculation. Am I, I worried, hoodwinking them with a catchy title, only to disappoint them with what’s within the covers? Have I given them their money’s worth? Did I try hard enough? Did I push myself to the limit? I hope so. I hope when they take the book home, they’re not disappointed. It’s these people whom I feel most beholden to. People who, buying the book on blind faith, believe they will get a fair exchange for their money.
And it’s going to places like Montgomery, Alabama where you encounter the reality of the pact you make with the reader, which is this: You give me your money, and I promise I’ll give you the best I’ve got. Anything less, I would have trouble looking you in the eye. ~~Richard Goodman
About: Richard Goodman is the author of The Soul of Creative Writing and French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France. He has written for the New York Times, Harvard Review, Creative Nonfiction, Saveur, Vanity Fair, Commonweal, Ascent, Louisville Review and the Michigan Quarterly Review. He teaches creative nonfiction at Spalding University's Brief Residency MFA in Writing program. Please see his web site for more information.