Putting Things in Perspective–Looking at Readers as Individuals and not as Numbers
In late 2005, I published my first novel. To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect much. I just wanted to share the story with as many readers as I could manage, hoping to entertain them, stimulate their imaginations, make them happy…
This was in the days B.K. (Before Kindle). I went to bookstores and conventions with my twenty-dollar paperbacks, trying to convince readers to invest. The paperbacks were available on Amazon, too, and they sold better than I had expected. People would recommend them on Amazon discussion forums, and I saw them on quite a few lists on sites like Goodreads. Every once in a while we’d get reports (which I called “random fandom sightings”) of Elfhunter cropping up in a Barnes and Noble somewhere like Coronado, California or Austin, Texas. I was slowly–very slowly–building a readership.
Every reader who received a book (often directly from my hands) was a treasure. Often that decision to buy was hard-won. It would only happen after quite a lot of page-riffling, chin-stroking contemplation, especially from parents whose wide-eyed young reader-children stood ready to leap into Alterra with both feet. I pitched the book, answered questions, handed them a “read-me” copy with the suggestion that they cosy up in a comfy chair and try it on for size. If we got that far into the relationship, they usually bought one, but I could often see the debate going on. (Should I try it? Will I like it? Will my son/daughter like it? Will I get my money’s worth?) Then, if the stars were right, “OK, I’ll give it a try.”
Signings were great, especially as additional books in the series came out. I would start seeing real fans of Alterra showing up at the mall just to see me and grab my latest. There’s a kind of euphoria that comes with knowing that one has actually succeeded in drawing readers so thoroughly into one’s imaginary world. That euphoria is beyond description. (Wow! I entertained, I stimulated, I made them happy…)
Then came the Kindle, and everything changed.
It’s now 5 years P.K. (Post-Kindle), as I sold my first e-book in 2009. The bookstores, except for a few independents and the few remaining B&N stores, are gone. GONE. And there are now a million-gajillion “indie” authors uploading their books every second of every minute of every day. There is little hope of visibility amid such a quantity. Publishing has become ridiculously easy, and marketing has become absurdly difficult. Writing? really? Who’s got the time for that? We have to be pounding the blogosphere and running promotions and working social media. That is, if we want to be “successful.”
A few self-published authors have risen to meteoric fame and fortune. There’s also a short list of those who have acquired traditional publishing contracts, which is what I would really like to acquire for Alterra (I’m still stuck on the idea that the validation of a traditional publisher is necessary in order to be a “Real Boy,” Pinocchio). But traditional publishers want to see REALLY big sales numbers, thousands of wildly vocal and visible fans, and indefatigable promotion on the part of the author. That sort of demand has skewed my perspective lately, leading me to feel as though I’m failing despite my small-yet-devoted fandom. It leads me to doubt myself, to wonder whether my work is worthy.
Somebody, quick–call the Waaaaaambulance! Break out the refreshments for the pity-party! The guest of honor has arrived!
Seriously. I need to knock it off! Let’s just take a step back for a moment and realize what I’ve been doing–reducing my lovely, possibly-loyal readers to mere numbers in an Amazon sales report. Taking that beautiful process by which an intelligent person mulls over the prospect of reading one of my books, lured by the cover, intrigued by the description, and affirmed by the sample–then BUYS it. This is a leap of faith for that reader, trusting me enough to invest in Alterra. Perhaps he wonders whether the book will be like others he has read. Perhaps she worries that the story will be too violent or the writing too cumbersome. But in the end, the writing convinces him. In the end, she trusts the reviews. And they wait on the platform with their tickets in hand, ready for the story-train to take them on the journey.
I have reduced that to #1 and #2 so far this morning.
How DARE I do that to my readers? How dare I do it to myself? I should value them as individuals, not as numbers…especially when they literally have a nearly-infinite number of choices before them, and they chose me. They. Chose. Me.
What an awesome responsibility that places before me. I dare not let them down…and I can’t afford the time to wallow around in self-pity. I have work to do. Promotion, sure, but I also need to get back to writing. The story-train has left the station, but it’s not gotten to its destination yet. And we have lots more stops to make.
If you’re an author, I’d suggest that when you doubt yourself, when you get discouraged by such things as sales and number of reviews, that you imagine the circumstances surrounding your most recent sales. Someone sat in the quiet of his study, looking over the lists of Kindle books, and somehow found yours. Maybe he heard about it from a friend…who knows? Maybe she found your blog or your Facebook page somehow. But they sat there, they looked over what you had to offer, and they chose it. They. Chose. You.
Readers these days are “virtual.” We don’t get to have personal contact with them. We don’t see them, hear their voices…we don’t get to witness that decision-making process. But readers have ways of making themselves known–reviews, social media–the devoted ones will find you, and you’ll know that they aren’t just numbers in your sales report. Now quit feeling sorry for yourself, get off your duff, and get back to writing. You’ll want to make sure that leap of faith is rewarded.