In the three years – as of today – since I started this blog, I have written 47 posts, published 2 books, 4 articles, 7 book reviews and a host of shorter things that qualify as the ephemera of a life around words.
Each minute of my writing has been clawed out of the midst of daily grind. I have not quite started writing at stoplights when driving, but any other spare moment is fair game. I am entirely envious of those who write for a living, even as hacks churning out scripts for telemarketers. When it comes to those who, by virtue of circumstance, have bills paid so they can just write, envy is far too feeble a concept to express how I feel.
Writers write so readers can read. It’s one of those universal dualities, like yin and yang. With no audience – present or potential – writing is simply a waste of trees, or electrons spewed out to vanish in the background static of a universe that doesn’t notice or care.
So, as a writer, I deeply appreciate readers. As an author, however, I am troubled to think they are a species at risk in western society. When Amazon can discount my new book by 30% on a whim, it is not good news for authors, publishers or booksellers. When I send a couple of books through Amazon to friends and family and my “best seller” position rockets up by 100,000 spaces, it means very few books listed on Amazon are being purchased at all.
Certainly the meagre royalties bear this out. At best, writing books is a labour of love; at worst, it is delusional behaviour, if you write them expecting to make money. Having been asked repeatedly “how are sales going?”, I recently resorted to the curmudgeonly response: “I don’t know. Have you bought one?” This leads to the blushing confession that, no, they have not. I then say: “Well, I guess sales could be better,” which usually leads to a laugh and an opportunity for both of us to exit an awkward stage.
Call your book on sustainability Fifty Shades of Green and put tree sylphs in various stages of undress and bondage on the cover, and you may justifiably be asked how sales are going. For the rest of us, whose sales figures contain far fewer zeroes, the better question, the one that is rarely asked and scarcely answered, is “what did you think of the book?”
Want to make a writer happy? Read the book. Want to make them dance in drunken homage to the tree gods in the local park, pretending themselves to be sylphs and pirouetting naked in the rain? After reading the book, post a lengthy, five-star review full of glowing adjectives on goodreads.com or (yes) even on Amazon that shows you understood it, and enjoy the show.
The ecstasy of it all stems from realizing that even if people buy the book, fewer and fewer will read it, despite all best intentions. Even giving the book away (as I have done too many times) generates very few readers. As for reviewers, they are more scarce than right whales outside the Bay of Fundy, and just as elusive should you try to track them down.
Writers don’t need lots of readers to feel compensated. Most days, just one would be lovely. In fact, numbers (while nice!) are less satisfying than even a few people who understand what you wrote – not necessarily agreeing, but understanding it, not just “oohing” over the lovely cover.
So, while I have no current idea about book sales, because the royalty statements take six months to appear, I can track the number of readers who at least open a page on my blog. Any celebrity worthy of the name gets more page views, retweets and likes in ten minutes than I have had in three years, but it is gratifying to know how many thousands of people around the world have wondered what “Choosing the Future” could mean. Those brave souls who have ventured to use the contact form and say something in response are cherished even more.
But there has been less and less on these pages, appearing at erratic intervals as other things in life have intervened. Around my house, there is a growing pile of books I really should read, I want to read, or which I have promised other authors some day I would read.
Starting into a fourth year on this website, I will risk making public my intention to write at least one blog a week, on a timely subject. If you like it, tell a friend to tell a friend.
And, if you happen to live in Winnipeg and the driver in the car ahead of you is slow to start up on a green light, please be patient – I am not texting, just writing (and how can it be distracted driving if you are stopped?).
To whittle away at that pile of books, I am also going to write a review of the ones that I manage to find time to enjoy. Writers and readers need each other, not just to survive, but to thrive and to help find the best company to keep.
After all, book reviewers are match-makers, at heart – so I will add a page to the website that might help you make a match, however rusty you are at being a reader.
You might start with the lovely couple pictured at the top of this blog…soon to be a threesome…sorry, a trilogy.
That gives “I Love to Read” Month (February in Manitoba, when there is little else to do outside in the freezing cold) a whole new twist, doesn’t it?
And what would happen if we called it “I Read to Love” Month instead?
Hmmm…I can see those posters right now…