As the year begins, I — like many, many writers — contemplate what I can do to further my career.
Success all boils down to having a product to sell, and in this case it’s the best books we can write. Tell a whopping good story in clear, accessible prose. But that’s not sufficient in itself. Many, many wonderful books fail to garner a readership (and many talented writers find themselves without a publisher because their sales are lousy). This is so unfair, I could weep.
The challenge is connecting those “best books” with readers who will adore them. We can’t count on readers wandering into a cozy local independent bookstore, where they will see our latest proudly displayed on the “New And Recommended” shelf. The internet is flooded with announcements and exhortations to Buy My Book! that readers have become deaf. Self-pimpage becomes not only monotonous but a turn-off. They make many potential buyers (like me) disinclined (to put it mildly) to even take a look at those books.
So if writing a fabulous story isn’t enough and relentlessly publicizing it on every social medium yet devised turns readers off, what else can we do? To answer this, I took a look at what factors do contribute to a writer’s success.
- Write a book (or series) with lots of salacious sex, preferably kinky.
- Write a YA series with kid wizards/dragons that’s turned into a hit movie series.
- Write epic fantasy with tons of gore that’s turned into a hit television series.
- Write a dystopic YA series that’s turned into a hit movie series.
- Write many, quickly released Mary Sue paranormal romances.
- Write an epic fantasy the like of which nobody has ever read before, preferably with movie contracts to come, although these need not occur in your own lifetime.
- Write lots of horror movies that are turned into hit movies.
- Write gritty police procedurals, with or without sexy medical examiners, that are turned into a hit television series.
- Write a series with romance and vampires, YA or adult, that is turned into a hit television series.
- Write tie-in novels to wildly successful movie/s.
- Write anything Peter Jackson turns into a movie.
Is there a trend here? Genre fiction is a pretty small piece of the pie, although romance and mystery have their devoted followers, just as science fiction does. Kids read omnivorously across genre, but they read stories that grab them. Most of the preteen kids I know are avid readers, but they read print books, either from the library or school book fair, which pretty much eliminates them as an audience for self-published authors.
I had great hopes that the internet would transform how we find out about and buy books. In some ways, it has done so for the latter, although I am becoming increasingly leery of the power of a few enormous online ebook retailers to pressure publishers, writers being next in line. I once believed that social media, writers’ and reviewers’ blogs and the like, would make it easier for readers to connect with books they might not otherwise have discovered. As far as I can tell, this has mostly failed to live up to its promise. I suspect it’s because we are preaching to the choir. Folks who read our blogs or follow us on Twitter (etc.) already read in our genre (and know us by name or some other genre-community association). Today, the best I can hope is that we are still in a “shakedown” phase and that eventually, the internet will indeed become a medium that connects readers and books.
It seems to me we have a choice: to chase “what sells big” (much of which is beyond our control); to flog self-promotion on the web (a recipe for frustration) or to admit that what we love to write may not be commercially successful on the scale of NYTimes Bestsellers. That’s the only option that offers me any degree of satisfaction, let alone sanity. There is no guarantee I will be content, and I almost certainly will not be rich, but if I go the way of imitating someone else’s vision or spending all my energy trying to get Hollywood interested, or writing Buy My Book! posts for hours every day, then I will make myself miserable and what I do write when I can write will be crap.
I continue in my belief that if I write from the heart — not only my fiction but my blog essays — then eventually my words will find a readership. Folks who like what I have to say will seek out my books. It probably doesn’t work that way, but you never know. At least I’ll be a success in being happy. And I’ll have the best readers I could ask for.
P.S. If you're a movie or television producer, why yes, my agent would be delighted to talk with you.