Where Have All the Readers Gone?

I need a reader! And truckload of aquanet...
I need a reader! And a truckload of Aquanet…

I’m going to need to put Free Fiction Friday on hiatus while I focus on my work in progress. I’ve been so busy marketing Crimson Son, that I’ve fallen a couple months off schedule and for someone whose only deadline nazi is, well, me, I need to exercise some serious discipline. Today though, I want to write a post about something that I took from my World Fantasy Con trip last week.

Not long ago, I mentioned I was retooling my site. That I was going to stop posting articles about the writing process and my self-publishing adventures (and mis-adventures). I wanted to focus on hobbies and diversions. Review some books. Share my inner geek and connect with like-minded souls.

I still plan to continue that trend. I want my site to be more than just a marketing platform. That and there are SO MANY sites out there peddling writing advice, whether it be business or craft, I didn’t feel I had that much to add to the noise.

Coming back from D.C. though, I found myself wondering about the state of the industry as a whole.

At the convention I met exactly three “fans”. Not my fans (no club yet though you’re welcome to start one…) but attendees who were solely readers interested in learning more about their hobby. (Actually, I suspect there were four and should include the guy who literally stooped and shoved his face into a conversation so he could read my badge and then scurried off with a rolling bag full of books. )

This shouldn’t be a surprise. The convention was billed as a professional event. A time for writers, editors and industry pros to mingle. The attendees ranged from the unknown (me) to the legendary (Straub, Haldeman, Kay, Datlow, etc.)

However, these three fans had been coming to the convention for years. All middle aged and older, they spoke of a lost time where the event drew readers and not solely writers. A time when they didn’t feel like the “odd man out”. One confessed that the next year would be her last due mostly to that unwelcome feeling.

Locally, I’ve seen the same thing. Our own cons appear to be run by an ageing “fandom” and attendees along with panels have all shifted toward the “you can be a writer, too” perspective.

I have a problem with this. You should too – if you want to sell books.

Look, I’m taking full advantage of the self-pub craze. I realize that. And since I’m not traditionally published, the argument could easily be made that I’m here, doing this, because I simply can’t make the cut as a writer. But I do feel that there are WAY too many people identifying as writers and not enough content to simply be fans.

So why can’t we be both? Why can’t we write and sell our own books while continuing to read and geek out about the Gaimans and the Kings of the industry? Why can’t we sell fiction and on the side run a cottage industry that plugs manuals and workshops on how to become the next big thing in the literary world?

Anyone who wants to take a shot at writing should. I don’t want to discourage that at all. Self pub has opened the doors for everyone to try and I’m a big fan of that kind of demolishing of traditional barriers.

Yet, I think the problem begins when we start to cannibalize our own market. When we push fans, potential buyers, out of our space. When pitching and celebrating in our closed circles becomes the focus and not finding those who want our work and sharing.

The ugly truth is I most likely won’t make it with this endeavor. None of us will. But the promise is being sold much like a bag of beans. Instead of being inspired by great fiction to become uber-readers, we’re being told that we too can claim the prize.  And everyone is trading their cow.

What exactly is the effect of all this? In short, I don’t think we’re doing enough to nurture the consumer. Writers are readers, for sure. However they aren’t fans. They aren’t even good potential customers for a new writer. While you describe your latest work, they are waiting to tell you about theirs. There might be an exchange, maybe an assumption of a literary handout or trade, but in most cases you aren’t cultivating a lifelong fan. You’re building a business relationship which is entirely different.

At the heart of this is what amounts to a lie. A promise that can never be kept. You too can’t be a writer. We all won’t make it. Thousands of dollars spent at a convention, seminar, or workshop and hundreds tossed at “How To” manuals won’t buy a magic ticket. You need to work your ass off every day, every hour. If you can’t do that, be content to read. Enjoy my lies about faraway fictional places – but I won’t lie to you about the here and now.

3 thoughts on “Where Have All the Readers Gone?

  1. angeliquejamail

    Your writing is good, and you’re dedicated to your craft, and so your self-described ugly truth might not actually become your circumstance. But your other points are very well taken. Writers need fans — ones who buy their books. And not every person is cut out to be a writer, just like not every person is cut out to be an engineer or an astronaut or an English teacher or a parent. These — and many, many others as well — are all specific roles that require a lot of work and motivation and learning to be good at them. While I love the democratization of the publishing industry that self-pub and indie have brought us, I feel these points too. There’s one writing conference that I’ve gone to a few times, and which I’ve enjoyed and made good contacts at and found to be intellectually stimulating most of the time, but they mega corporation which puts it on is definitely of the “you can all be writers and make tons of money at it” perspective, and after a while it’s hard to get the enthusiasm to trek across the country to attend it. Something about it feels inauthentic, disingenuous, and I’m just not sure that’s what we’re supposed to be here for.

    Sorry about my rambling. Great post. 🙂

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