Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Best Seller or Survival: what's best?

Back at Buzz, Balls & Hype, in her post "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley..." M. J. Rose has an interesting perspective on every author's dream: hitting the BIG times with a blockbuster bestseller.

I think it's Lawrence Block who said that most writers want to have been published. Meaning that many don't want to expend the effort to get there. They just want to be rich and famous, with a slew of bestsellers to their names. The result is people who give up the craft, because it's too damn hard.

M. J. echoes that by stating that it's not the BIG book that's important, but survival. Making enough so you can keep doing what we love, which is telling stories. I find I totally agree with her. Yeah, sure, I won't lie and say that I wouldn't want the big advance, the hype, the worship. Who doesn't? But what I want more than that is to write, and for people to read my stories. Authors don't really write in a vacuum, although most will say that they write only what they can write. The stories are compelling and authors only hope they'll have the same effect on the readers.

And there drops the other shoe, one I totally agree with: people don't read anymore. They watch TV. As Raymond Chandler said:

"Television's perfect. You turn a few knobs, a few of those mechanical adjustments at which the higher apes are so proficient, and lean back and drain your mind of all thought. And there you are watching the bubbles in the primeval ooze. You don't have to concentrate. You don't have to react. You don't have to remember. You don't miss your brain because you don't need it. Your heart and liver and lungs continue to function normally. Apart from that, all is peace and quiet. You are in the man's nirvana. And if some poor nasty minded person comes along and says you look like a fly on a can of garbage, pay him no mind. He probably hasn't got the price of a television set."

The number of people who actually pick up more than one book a year --and usually, they'll pick up the hyped book, the BIG book-- is rapidly diminishing, and the industry has been passively watching this happening. Instead of trying to revitalize reading, they bemoan the problem. On the other hand, small, indie publishers, even though they might want to do something about it, don't have the clout, or the money to do much.

So we authors must do what our publishers can't or won't do: market ourselves, so we can survive, so we can write. That's why we have websites, blogs, virtual book tours, 'net interviews, to reach as many people as possible. Out of those, maybe we'll find a few readers. Out of those few readers, maybe we'll find some who want to buy our books.

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