A few weeks ago I talked about how, once your novel is published, it “belongs to the ages,” and I’ve written before about my ambivalence toward critics and reviews, and the ways in which readers bring their own experiences and creativity into the act of reading, but I don’t think I’ve ever simply thanked readers in general, so I will now.

Thank you for reading novels.

If you’ve read any of mine, thanks. If you haven’t, but read novels by anyone else, thanks.

Through all the time I’ve been involved in the business—since 1986—publishing has been dying. It’s been seconds away from complete collapse. It was and still is a lumbering old dinosaur whose time has come and gone. Even really smart people, like Kurt Vonnegut, seemed to think so. Decades ago, he said, “There is no shortage of wonderful writers. What we lack is a dependable mass of readers.”

And yet here we are, in 2022, and though we have been beaten up a bit here and there, the publishing business is alive and well. People read every day. People buy books from various outlets in various formats. People talk about the books they liked (or didn’t like) on various social media platforms from GoodReads to Instagram.

And people are writing books, publishing them themselves or in various cooperative forms, and with giant publishers and everything in between. Hollywood is making movies and TV series based on novels.

Publishing is a venerable and honorable profession that supports thousands of Americans, and just because it’s not as lucrative as the enterprise software business—or video games—that doesn’t mean it’s dead, dying, or in any way mortally wounded.

And that’s because of readers.

If you read a novel in the past year you’re part of the solution, and I, like John Cheever, love you all:

All sorts of pleasant and intelligent people read the books and write thoughtful letters about them. I don’t know who they are, but they are marvelous and seem to live quite independently of the prejudices of advertising, journalism, and the cranky academic world… The room where I work has a window looking into a wood, and I like to think that these earnest, lovable, and mysterious readers are in there.

Thank you for reading, and in so doing, help me, and many like me, to make a living doing something we love. I think Chris Jackson said it nicely when he described being an editor:

The immense privilege of working as an editor is to be there at that point of connection between the writer and the reader, the moment when the author’s work of creation or co-creation with the editor enters its next act of co-creation, where the author’s consciousness mingles with the readers, another generative act of meaning-making, the miraculous work of our stories. 

Miraculous, yes. So, yeah, readers… thank you!

—Philip Athans

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