“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” So said the venerable British man of letters Samuel Johnson, and two hundred years later we continue to prove it true.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, a book can have an impact far beyond what its author might have imagined–depending on what readers do with it.

For example, I doubt that Thomas More envisioned Oneida, Amana, and other idealistic communities that his Utopia would inspire in America a quarter of a millennium later. But when religious libertarians fled to a new continent, beyond the reach of a monarch, they dared to make More’s vision a reality. Many other books have exerted an influence exponentially larger than their authors had anticipated, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Stowe later confessed that she’d merely hoped the book would earn enough money for a new dress.)

So many times, a writer feels that the result of all that hard work will be a momentary glimmer of light soon to flicker out, like a paper match held aloft in vast darkness.

But let’s not forget our readers. Thanks to them, our work of writing merely begins when it’s published. Perhaps it will be just a sputtering flame in the darkness, but it may become much more. It could ignite an explosion in a powder magazine.