I remember as a child getting comic books from a little book store out on Edmund Highway toward the small town of South Congaree (if one could call it that at the time). My dad would take my brother and I to this book store on a lazy Saturday afternoon and we would peruse boxes and boxes of comics at the back of the store, while Dad perused shelves and shelves of books at the front of it. For some reason I keep thinking that we went on Sundays, but I’m not totally sure of that. None-the-less, Larry and I were comic book junkies. He was all superheroes and I was all Dracula and Frankenstein and Conan the Barbarian.
We would get these books, take them home and spend all afternoon reading them. I often read mine several times in the course of the week. Rarely did we miss an opportunity to go get comics. It’s one of those memories I cherish from my childhood. We would take the comics back (or most of them, anyway) and get a store credit. Mrs. Laura and Mr. Al were great about making sure we were able to get new comics when we came in. Dad was, too.
Let me stop here for a second.
We would take the comics back and get a store credit.
Keep that in mind for later.
We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid, so these little trips that my dad would make with us were like birthday or Christmas moments to us. I knew that they were special and that Dad was doing something kind and generous because he loved his boys and he wanted us to enjoy one of his great passions: reading. Store credit was important. Larry and I would look at the piece of paper Mrs. Laura filled out with a dollar amount, and then we would choose our comics based on that number. It was the ultimate in getting the most for your money.
Back then we got books any way we could: going to the book store on Edmund Highway, yard sales and flea markets. Occasionally a book would be given to us.
I was an avid reader as a kid, but very slow about it. I’m still very slow in reading today, but not because it takes me a while to comprehend, but because I take in each sentence, each paragraph, and I picture the story as it unfolds.
Fast Forward a little now.
I’m much older and Mrs. Laura and Mr. Al are gone, as is the bookstore we frequented so often as children. I don’t read comics like I used to. Instead I read other books, mostly novels and short story collections.
I am also a writer. I’m not a mid-lister or even a low-lister. I’m just a writer who wants to see my work published and who wants to see my stories in the hands of readers. If that means my stories need to be e-pubbed, then I’ll go with that. If that means they need to be in print format, I’ll go with that. If that means both, then so be it. My goal is to entertain readers, to find that happy medium of writing enjoyment and fulfillment, as well as giving readers something they want to read and something they will remember.
The publishing world is constantly changing. Thirty years ago, e-books were an unfathomable concept. Today, print books seem almost prehistoric. Thirty years ago, there were no e-zines or websites where you could submit short stories or novellas or even novels. There were physical addresses, not e-mails, and you had to print your manuscript out, put it in a big envelope or box and mail it out to agents, editors and publishers. It was a lot harder to get noticed back then.
Today, getting published is easier. You can do it all yourself with the e-pub world (and the print world for that matter). Many call it vanity or self publishing. I lean toward the self publishing term, because that is really what it is. We can call it Indie, meaning Independent publishing. I’m good with that as well.
With Indie or self publishing, or even traditional publishing, it comes down to one thing for the writer: how much are you willing to work at it. Writing is work. Writing is hard work. Don’t be fooled by some of the success stories out there:
I’ve never written anything before and this just popped in my head so I wrote it and now I’m a bagillionaire and am loved by the masses.
There are very few folks that can just sit down, pen a story and have it do phenomenally well, and that’s going the traditional route. It’s tougher going the Indie road, which is narrow and crowded with every other Indie writer out there. People shove and push and elbow their way along the streets of Storyville, peddling their wares on Facebook Avenue, Twitter Street, Pinterest Boulevard, Tumbler Road, Goodreads Circle, Blog Trail and a whole host of other places.
Readers have a ton of choices these days. The Big Six no longer really control the business. Sure, they still have a huge stake in it, but readers can go to Amazon or Smashwords or Pubit and a few other sources and browse items and titles until they find what they are looking for.
I’ve said these last 900 words or so in order to address something that is going on out there right now, and sadly, I am guilty of it.
Reading is not what it used to be. There are other things that are fighting for the consumers’ attention (especially children). Video games and the internet and television are easy distractions, and for children, probably a little more entertaining than when I grew up and books and an imagination were all you needed to escape the world for a while. Attention spans are shorter.
Reading needs to continue to be entertaining and not work. Which brings me to one of the trends of Indie publishing and traditionally published authors as well: making readers work.
Recently, one of the writers over at Book Riot wrote an article about what readers owe authors: Readers Don’t Owe Authors #%*!. I’ve read it, followed the links to other articles, and to be honest, I’m kind of sad right now. No, not with what the writer states, but because she is right.
As a writer, I want readers to read and enjoy my books. I would also like it if they told their friends about it (especially if they liked it), but they don’t have to. There is no obligation that they should have to ‘like’ my author page on Facebook or Amazon or Goodreads. There is no obligation for them to post a book review and give me however many stars they want to. There is no obligation for them to write poignant blogs based on their experience of reading my book: OMG, you need to pick this book up!
As writers, we ask so much of our readers. We ask them to choose and purchase our book among the millions of others out there. Many of us are unknown, making the risk of getting something substandard a lot higher (at least in the minds of the readers). We ask them to stick with a story long enough to get into it and then ask them to suspend disbelief that, yes, vampires do sparkle when sprayed with Unicorn dust and women can look at men through their lashes. We ask readers to trust us, to trust that we will not cheat them in the end and have them walk away from the experience of reading our books with a good taste in their mouths. We ask them to believe that our words are worth the price tag we put on them.
Let me say this: It is my job as the writer to engage you, the reader, and to hold your attention all the way until the end of the story (or collections). It is my job to give you something you will want to talk about, that you will want to share with others.
Understand something fellow writers, we do not pay the every day, average reader to read our books. Sure, we may pay professional review services to read and review the book and share their thoughts with the world, but we don’t say, ‘hey, Reader, here’s a hundred bucks. Read my book and tell everyone about it.’
At least, I don’t. I can’t afford to, even if I wanted to.
Readers read because they want to. Readers read for enjoyment. They don’t read with the idea of leaving book reviews, and posting all over social media sites and blogging about it. Readers read because they enjoy the experience. Readers are not our personal marketing department.
As a writer, I admit that there are times I have failed to market my books as well as I should. Whose fault is that? Mine. It’s not the readers’. If I want my work to sell more, I have to market my books better. Sure, if a reader wants to help by spreading the word or leaving a review or however they choose to help, then I will be more than happy to let them. If that’s what they want to do, then go for it. But, it’s not my place to tell them that I need help promoting my book and if they liked my book, then, by George, tell the world.
It takes time to promote our books, and not many of us like to do it. So, why ask our readers to do it for us?
Writing is work. It’s hard work. Marketing is work. It’s much harder work. That is my job.
So, with all that said, I would like to apologize for my part in the whole, ‘let’s get the readers to help market my work’ scenario. It’s not your job. It’s my job. If I don’t do it well enough, then my books don’t sell. I won’t say don’t help writers you like, but I won’t say, if you don’t buy my book and tell the world about it, then you are hurting us writers. That’s BS in it’s truest since.
A reader’s job is to read. That’s it. And even then, it’s not their job, but their desire, what they enjoy doing.
I go back to the comic books I read as a kid. I go back to all the writers out there who had to make it in the business without social media or the Internet or e-books and self-publishing. Sure, word of mouth helps, but I’m certain Stephen King didn’t say, ‘will you please help me sell my books to your friends by liking it and reviewing it and whatever else you can do would be awesome.’ I can’t imagine having the time to write reviews or post on social media about all the books/comics I read growing up.
I’m not going to tell any reader not to help, because, as a writer, I appreciate when someone does like my work and when someone does think enough of it to tell others or leave a review for it. That’s the general principal behind most marketing, to sell a product so good that people will just want to buy it and then tell their friends about it and use that word of mouth to help sell things. By all means, spread the word. But I’m not going to ask you to do any of the work. That’s my job, and that’s the job of every other writer out there. And I’m certainly not going to tell you, the readers, that if you don’t purchase my work, then you aren’t supporting me. Again, BS in a pure form.
There are those websites that say things like, 20 Ways You Can Help Your Favorite Writer or Support a Writer, Buy A Book. Whatever. There is one way that you can help your favorite writer, and it’s the only one that counts. Read their work. My books haven’t sold particularly well, but I know that those who have bought them have, for the most part, read them, and enjoyed them.
I want readers to pick up one of my books and enjoy them. I don’t want them to feel like if they read my books then they have to write a review or like the Amazon page or blog about it. If they want to, go for it, but I don’t want them to feel obligated to do so—that takes the enjoyment out of reading, and we should never want to take that from them.
Readers don’t owe us a thing, but we owe them. Yes, we do. We owe them a big thank you for taking the time (and money in many cases) to read our work. Thank you to anyone who has picked up either Along the Splintered Path or Southern Bones.
The only thing I am going to ask of the readers is, please, don’t steal my work (or anyone else’s). Other than that, if you see my book at the library or a yard sale or the flea market, pick it up for that quarter or fifty cents. If someone gives you my book, just say thank you and don’t worry about whether or not I could have made money off of you purchasing the book. Readers read and that’s what I want them to do with my work. Anything else they want to do with my books after they’ve read them is really up to them. That includes going to an old bookstore on a stretch of road where a middle-aged couple sales used books and credits the kids when they return books. Maybe one of those kids will see my book and want to buy it, and maybe they would like it and decide to keep it instead of turning it back in for a store credit and a comic book.
Until we meet again my friends…