Wednesday, March 28, 2012

There Are No Writers Without Readers

by J. Lea Lopez

I've been my introvert self lately, and have been doing a lot of thinking. And listening. And observing. I think it's good to reflect once in a while, so today I want to offer you some cautionary words and a bit of perspective.

The ever-changing publishing industry has been, to say the least, interesting for writers to navigate. There are new opportunities, new technologies, new venues for storytelling. Writers are learning to format their own eBooks, slogging through terms and conditions for various eBook commerce sites, designing covers, becoming their own sales and marketing teams. They might be paying others to do these things for them, or maybe they're deciphering legalese before they sign a contract with a small publisher sans agent. They might be sweating blood as they beat their queries, synopses, and sample chapters into submission to get their foot in traditional publishing's door. There are more viable publishing options now than ever before.

It's a great time to be a writer, no doubt.

Now when was the last time you thought—and I mean really thought—about the readers?

Of course we all think about them, on some level, if we're talking about getting published. And we're all readers ourselves. But I believe that as writers, our perception of the reader side of things (in a business sense) can't help but be colored by our own aspirations to be read by others, and to make money doing so.

If you look around the writing community, you might see some signs of writers doing everything in their power to make sure they get the best possible deal. The prettiest cover. The most positive reviews. The most Twitter followers and Facebook likes, which they hope will lead to ... more sales. Bigger royalties.

I'm not saying we're all a greedy bunch of writers, and I know not everyone is guilty of the how do I get mine, and how do I get it as quickly as possible? mentality. But you can't deny it exists. If it didn't, we wouldn't have an endless supply of how NOT to make an ass of yourself on social media posts floating around out there. If there weren't people in a rush to make their money, or even just see their name on a book cover, there would be fewer vanity presses ripping people off. There would be fewer poorly-edited and poorly-formatted books. We'd see fewer books published before they're truly ready.

Even traditional publishing seems to have lost sight of the reader. Barnes & Noble, among others, have refused to stock or sell books from Amazon's imprints. They claim to have the best interests of the reading public in mind, but I think we all (even those who may not think very highly of Amazon) know a big part of the problem is their bottom line. Money. Otherwise why stop selling books their customers want to buy? If the big guys are forgetting the reader, and some of us on this side are forgetting about the reader ... Point is, we can't forget about the reader if we want to survive as writers.

Next time you're faced with a business decision about your writing, try to re-frame it. In addition to looking at how does this benefit me? also consider how does this benefit the reader?

Got an offer from an indie publisher? Look at the contract terms, the royalty split, the marketing help available, and more. Do your research. But don't forget to look at it from the other side. What will the experience be like for the reader? Will your book be professionally edited and designed? Where, and in what formats, will it be sold?

Looking to go the traditional route? Hoping to snag one of the Big Six? Again, do your homework. Research the agents and agencies, editors and publishing houses. Look at the contract offered and see how it fits with your goals and dreams, and again, think of the reader. Will your book be fairly and competitively priced? What is your agent's and publisher's attitude toward the changes in the industry, and how will that affect the reader?

Going it alone and diving into the self-publishing pool? Once again, take the time to do your homework. Decide whether doing it all yourself or paying for certain services makes sense for you, and then look at which will provide the best experience for the reader. Thorough editing and professional-quality formatting. Access to the formats they want to buy. Doesn't the reader deserve that?

In the end, if you ask all the questions necessary to ensure your reader has a pleasant reading experience (all the way from telling a great story down to packaging it nicely and making it conveniently available for them to buy) then you will have also made business decisions that will work in your favor.

Don't rush to jump on any bandwagon. We mostly give this advice in terms of not writing to trends because they're trendy, but it's also true in the sense of not rushing to stake a claim in the latest business horizon. Don't be in a rush to see your name on the cover. Don't be in a rush to get paid. Do be concerned with giving the reader the best possible experience, because if you do, your bottom line will reap the rewards.

J. Lea Lopez is a writer with a penchant for jello and a loathing for writing bios. Find her on Twitter or her blog, Jello World. She has had some short stories published, most recently in the Spring Fevers anthology, available as a free download.


Ty Unglebower said...

"We mostly give this advice in terms of not writing to trends because they're trendy, but it's also true in the sense of not rushing to stake a claim in the latest business horizon."

Excellent sentence that sums up the excellent sentiments of this post. I only wish more agents and editors in the highest towers thought this way.

Josh Hoyt said...

This is so important to keep in mind. I think our society in general has been hurt because of the mentality of what's in it for me. Great post.

Jean Oram said...

Very good points raised. We're fooling ourselves if we really think we're giving our readers something of value when we are tweeting 24/7 about our book, it's reviews, where to buy it and not giving them something that is about them.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Thanks Ty, Josh, and Jean. I think people tend to equate "the best/easiest way to make money" with "what's best for the reader" when that's not always true. Sometimes the former is counter to the latter, but I feel like the latter is always more conducive to the former.

Matt Sinclair said...

Home run! I think this is a point that is often missed by writers, no matter how many times we read it in the books we buy or borrow about becoming better writers. Know your audience! Who is your ideal reader? That's a big part of what Jen is saying. Well done!

Jemi Fraser said...

It really is about the readers, isn't it? We need to make sure we do think about them in this process. Excellent perspective, Jen!:)

Richard said...

Very strong post.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Thanks Matt, Jemi, and Richard!

I definitely write for myself first and foremost, but when it comes to the business side and making smart decisions there, we absolutely have to keep the reader in mind.

aliya seen said...

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