1. They get bored too easily. We used to have writers who were flavours of the month. With Amazon rankings, you can be the flavour of the hour and then disappear into obscurity unless you fight the death spiral and/or get lucky.
2. Readers are too busy. With the proliferation of “free” we all have huge To Be Read piles. Sadly, as with to-do lists, many of us never get to the bottom of those piles.
3. Many people prefer a genre I don’t write. Romance is much more popular. I used to read romances professionally when I worked for Harlequin. My books have a key romantic element, but they are not romances, so de facto, I am not on the radar of a large group of very dedicated readers.
4. The readers who love me might get sick of me trying to reach the readers who don’t know me. I’m very careful on Twitter to promote others, not just me. Still, I need to kick back and tweet a little joke here and there and say hello. It’s difficult to find the balance.
5. I’m not reaching some readers because I made some choices in titles that were challenging. (I almost wrote “unfortunate”, but that would put the onus on me and I’m not ready to own that yet.) The thing is, Sex, Death & Mind Control is one of the best things I’ve written but it has the lowest sales. It’s not sexy enough for those searching for erotica. It’s paranormal suspense (with award winners!), but when you see that always-interesting “What Else Customers Viewed” list, it’s almost all erotica on the Sex, Death & Mind Control sales page. “End of the Line” is probably the best short story I’ve ever written, but it remains a hidden treasure because I turned readers off with a title I thought would get more attention, not less.
6. Ditto Self-help for Stoners. It was a clue for me when one of the reviewers who loved it added, “Don’t let the title scare you off.” It’s a weird mix of War of Art self-help and suspense. Strange, I know, but not really all that transgressive. (Should have called it Self-help for Surrealists to pull in readers who are also painters!) My strategy going in was to have an identifiable group to market to instead of saying it was for anybody who loved suspenseful fiction. To some extent that worked, but not as well as I’d hoped. (It still outsells Sex, Death & Mind Control four to one. I can’t say the Self-help for Stoners strategy was a failure, just that it could do better.)
7. Readers have less patience now. I changed my plotting and pacing with Bigger Than Jesus to cater to that lack of patience. I see it in myself. Maybe the Internet did it to our brains, I don’t know. That’s not even be a bad thing per se, but expect more Blake Crouch pacing and less Annie Proulx meandering. There used to be more room for both approaches.
8. There are still prejudices against anything labeled “experimental”. I wrote Bigger than Jesus in present tense, second-person. That alone is reason enough for some readers to run screaming. I can tell them all day that it worked. Won’t matter. That’s okay, but it’s still a prejudice.
I wanted to do something that some people thought couldn’t or shouldn’t be done and I wanted to do it so well they’d either quickly forget their prejudice or give me more credit for doing it so well. Blanket pronouncements of “You can’t do that!” are one of the reasons I did it. I don’t like being told what I can’t do. In fact, it makes me want to do it all the more. (I admit this attitude is not something that serves me well all the time. Having a job in the regular world, for instance, is uh…a problem.)
9. Readers look for ties to your real life. This is a byproduct of increased author/reader interaction. However, the Internet isn’t to blame for this one. This was very much the rage in English departments across the world years ago. Students were taught they couldn’t understand the fullness of the fiction without making judgments about the author, his or his gender, origin and life experience. They shouldn’t have done that. No one truly knows the inside of someone else’s skull. (I’ve even opened it up and had a look. Trust me, nobody really knows.) Besides, it’s fiction. Take it on its own merit. Please don’t make assumptions about the author from what you read in a book of fiction. Don’t make me kill again. (See what I mean?)
10. Readers fade. Even if they love your work, they move on. They get hungry for something new and different unless you keep feeding them. I don’t think anyone should race to publication if they aren’t up to the schedule and you do have to build in editorial time to make the book better. However, they are hungry and it is a race. People will tell you it isn’t. They’re wrong. It is. It’s a race against time. We don’t live forever and we have books in us and a readership to find and a readership we hope finds us. William Styron came out with a nice juicy thick book every ten years, but he was William Styron and that was before ebooks and our shiny, new demand-per-click culture.
I love readers. People who don’t read creep me out. I can say that because how would they know I’ve insulted them? What do non-readers have to contribute? Those dummies!
Ha! Wait. You aren’t reading this aloud to someone are you?
~ Like my flavor? Listen to the first chapter of my crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus. I’m podcasting the book through the summer. Enjoy! (Or be a hero and just click the cover to grab it. Thanks for reading!)
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