No One Wants to Read Your Crappy Book

*This article originally appeared at the ESO Network website. I’m reprinting it here for… reasons.


Hey. Get in. We’re going for a ride.

No, don’t worry. We’re not going far. I’ll have you back before dinner.

So, I hear you’re writing a book? What’s it about? No, wait… don’t tell me… No. Really. Don’t tell me. Don’t care. I got my own books to write.

What I want to do is give you some straight talk about writing a book in this day and age. You’re probably not going to like it but you need to know it.

The first thing that you have to know is that no one wants to read your crappy book.

Mean? You think I’m being mean? I’m trying to help you. Sit back and listen for a minute, will you?

First off, here are the cold hard facts. It’s estimated that fewer than 1000 fiction writers in North America make a living from their writing. And I’m being generous at 1000. I’ve read some estimates that put that number at only 300. That’s out of around 45,000 writers and authors working in the United States alone. That’s .6 percent… not six percent but POINT six percent… less than 1 percent… of all writers.

Ahh, what the heck! I’m feeling generous. If the number actually is 1000 writers making a living at writing, that’s 2%.

Well, Okay, you have a better chance of making a living as a writer than winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning, true, but, those are still some slim odds.

Yes, I know, there was a time when writers who churned out short novels on a regular basis could make a living Not a great living, to be sure, and, yes, they would occasionally have to churn out some cheap porn novels under a pseudonym to make ends meet.

You think I’m joking? Have you ever heard of Loren Beauchamp? She was the author of such sleazy paperbacks as Campus Sex ClubUnwilling Sinner, and Strange Delights. She was also the pseudonym of science fiction author Robert Silverberg. I kid you not! Look it up.

My point is that it has never been easy making a living as a writer. Few authors could do it, even in the so called “Golden Age” of the paperbacks after the death of the pulp magazines. They needed day jobs or, like Mr. Silverberg, they needed to wear a mask and turn to the dark side.

How did this situation come about? Let me digress for a bit.

Back in the 1960’s the typical science fiction novel ran to about 60,000 words. These were slim volumes of about 130 to 150 pages. Mass market paperbacks in the US were sold mostly at grocery stores or neighbourhood pharmacies. They were displayed in wire racks that rotated. That’s where the thinner books were more desirable. The thinner the book, the more you could stack. You used to be able to fit about six paperbacks in a three inch rack.

So what happened? Why did these compact volumes grow to such monstrous size?

There are a few reasons, but chiefly it comes down to inflation. In the 70’s and 80’s the price of just about everything rose. That included paper and printing costs. Publishers found that they needed to increase the prices of their books to compensate.

But according to grocery store logic if you want to charge more for a product then it has to weigh more. You can’t just start using bigger typeface or thicker paper to do that so you start looking for longer novels.

And there was also this massively big book that came out in paperback, a little story about elves and stuff, called The Lord of the Rings. At 473,000 words it was a massive book that had to be broken down into three parts. But, oddly enough, that little book sold an amazing number of copies.

So, given that consumers would buy longer books and pay more for them if they were thicker, well, the writing was on the wall and there was a whole lot of it.

At the same time distribution channels dried up. The wire racks were gone. Publishers were charging more and more for thicker books, but the places that were left to sell these books couldn’t sell massive hardbacks unless they were bestsellers. Those pesky midlist volumes weren’t moving off the shelves fast enough. Stop sending us midlist books, the big bookstores told the publishers. Only send us bestsellers.

What’s that? Oh… you plan to self publish? Ahh, well, that’s different, then.

You see, according to a survey by Guardian in 2015, the average self-published author makes less than $1,000 per year. In fact, a third of them make less than $500 per year. And there’s over a million self published authors with more joining the ranks all the time.

I know, I know, I read those stories all the time too, about how a self published author sold a million copies of his book and got rich. I also see lots of stories on the news about the guys who won big on the lottery, or got struck by lightning. The fact is that most people, the vast majority of the population… don’t.

Think of it like this: You’re at a concert… an open-air, rock festival-type concert… You’re on the ground several meters distant from the stage. The stage is 100 feet high and the approach to it slopes up. 1000 people are standing on the slope. The headliners… say, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, James Patterson and Neil Gaiman… are 100 feet in the air.

You’re on the flat ground. You’re trying to get closer to the stage. But you just can’t seem to push past all the others surrounding you… and there are a lot! They’re all waving their books in the air. Occasionally some author with a toothy grin and the right connections blows past you. Or one of the concert promoters escorts a cute red-head to the front simply because she’s a cute red-head.

You’ve been on the ground, pounding away at the ground for years on end and these fortunate few keep slipping by you and the grounds just keep getting more and more crowded.

That’s what the publishing industry is today for most authors.

So what does that mean for you and your book? Well, like I said, no one wants to read your crappy book. But… you can change that. Or at least make it more likely that someone will want to read it.

Here’s the thing: don’t focus on the stage 100 feet in the air. Focus on those around you. Be interested in their work. Talk to them. Make friends. Don’t moan and whine that you haven’t sold any of your books. Talk about your books if others are interested. If they’re not (and believe me, most people aren’t) talk about something else. What do you like? Comic books? Movies? Stamp collecting? Cookie recipes. Talk about that. Be genuine. Be present.

Have a website. Have a Twitter feed. Have a Facebook page. Talk about things you are interested in. People will find you. If this seems like a waste of time, just remember that those 1000 writers up there near the stage? They’re doing it too. So is Steve, J.K, James and Neil. They’re always out there, always talking. People like them. They like them and they read their books.

No one cares about your book. But if you are out there online or (post Covid, of course) in person at conventions or other gatherings… heck, even house parties… just be yourself. Be the best version of yourself. Be friendly. Be interested in others. If people like you they might read your book.

Look… maybe your book will resonate with a lot of people. Maybe some weird confluence of events will thrust you into the spotlight. Strange things happen. But you can’t control that. The only thing you can control is yourself. Be yourself. Be the best version of yourself. Don’t brood. Don’t moan. Don’t whine.

That’s all I got for you. I’m sorry it’s not more encouraging, but that’s life, right? And, hey! Look. This is where we started. I told you I’d have you back in time for dinner.

Take care now. Good luck with your book. Honestly. You seem like a nice person. I’m rooting for you.

Check out my Podcast!

Well, it’s actually the podcast for DARKWORLDS QUARTERLY MAGAZINE but I co-host and produce!

It’s all about writers, writing, pulp magazines, fantasy, science fiction and horror. We sit down with guests such as WILL MURRAY, DAVID GERROLD, ALLEN STEELE, HOWARD ANDREW JONES, JOHN O’NEIL, WILLIAM MIEKLE and more!

Check it out here: https://anchor.fm/darkworlds

…or just press the play button below:

The Street Where you Live

A friend and I were talking about the movie version of MY FAIR LADY earlier today. He was a school teacher and used to show the film to the kids in his class to teach them about the English class system.

Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play PYGMALIAN, MY FAIR LADY was released in 1964 and starred Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn as Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. It had a marvelous supporting cast as well, though one of the cast who gets very few mentions is the actor who played young Freddy.

Freddy meets Eliza at the races and is completely taken by her. Later on in the film he tries to see her, only to be rebuffed. Undaunted he delivers her flowers and wanders up and down the street where she lives, hoping to run into her. While he does this he sings probably my favorite song from the movie “On the Street Where You Live”

My wife loves My Fair Lady. We’ve had it on VHS and DVD and we’ve watched it many, many times. This scene is one of our favourites, even though my wife calls it a “stalker’s love song”.

The best part, however is that the actor playing young Freddy is none other than the late Jeremy Brett who later on, in the 1980’s became much better known for playing one of the absolute best Sherlock Holmes in a series from Granada Television.

And… that’s all I got for today.

I haven’t written anything on here since my birthday which is dreadfully remiss of me. I need to get back to posting here regularly.

So, I’ll leave you with a question: Do you like Brett better as Freddy or as Sherlock Holmes? Leave me a comment.

So What’s Your Point?

Here’s a question directed at my fellow writers:

Have you ever written a book to prove a point?

Because I have. I didn’t really know that was what I was doing. Like most writing a lot of the work is done in the subconscious. Patterns are not evident until a draft is completed. Sometimes they aren’t clear until after the book is published.

Many years ago when I was in my twenties I would go to a lot of Science Fiction conventions in the Lower Mainland of BC and the Pacific Northwest of the US. At one of these conventions a panel discussion was taking place and someone brought up the topic of paradigms.

While I was listening I was struck by an idea about paradigms and how society moves from one paradigm to another. How a paradigm shift can leave some people behind because they don’t recognize the new paradigm supplanting the old one. I remember trying to make my point from the audience and not being very successful at getting my thoughts across. The panel members did not follow what I was trying to say and at the time I did not have the ability to make my ideas any clearer.

I did not make my point because I didn’t really fully understand it and even if I did I did not know how.

Flash forward to a few years later. I had the opportunity to write for a fanzine that published Star Trek fan fiction. I wrote a Next Generation story about a planetary transporter and fractal geometry. The whole thing didn’t gel. None of my ideas seemed to come together. I told an interesting enough story but it didn’t have that extra dimension that I was hoping it would.

Eventually I took the story and transformed it into something else for a unique new market which was looking for shorter, exciting, fast-paced stories. I got rid of all the Star Trek elements and the story began to evolve. Unfortunately the market folded before I could submit.

Undaunted I pressed on. I began to write a novel. I was doing a lot of world building and, without realizing it, I was coming up with a very good point about paradigms and how some societies can embrace the new paradigm and others get left behind because they don’t recognize that the paradigm shift is happening.

It wasn’t until I was into my second draft that I realized what I was doing, after so many years, was making the point that I had unsuccessfully tried to make before.

I called the book THE PARADIGM TRAP and I was pretty pleased with it right up until 1991 when Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released into theaters. That film had made exactly the same points and had several of the same plot points.

I was pretty crushed. Everybody had seen it and nobody who would ever read my book (if anybody) would not believe that I had simply ripped off the last Star Trek movie.

So… what’s my point?

My point is that I wrote an entire novel just to prove a point. Even if it was just to myself. I wrote THE PARADIGM TRAP to solidify my idea that when paradigms change, as they are wont to do, those who do not see that change will still keep fighting trying to make headway using the old ways that worked under the old paradigm. But it doesn’t matter how proficient you were at making things happen under the old paradigm, once it has been supplanted by a new one, your best efforts are impotent.

Of course, none of this is relevant to any situation that is going on at this moment… is it?

THE PARADIGM TRAP can be purchased in e-book or paperback here.

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed me Yet

This is a difficult piece, but it’s one that has interested me for a long while. When I first heard it I was confused and annoyed but as I listened the emotional power of the simple loop of tape and the accompanying orchestra moved me to tears.

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet is a 1971 composition by Gavin Bryars, an English experimental composer. The basis of this piece is a recording of an old vagrant singing a song that he improvised. On top of that simple loop rich harmonies are built up by an orchestra, increasing in density before the whole thing gradually plays out.

“In 1971, when I lived in London,” Bryars says, “I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man’s singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp’s nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.”

For the first LP recording, Bryars was limited to a duration of 25 minutes; with the invention of the cassette tape, Bryars was able to complete a 60-minute version of the piece; and later, with the advent of the CD, a 74-minute version. In 1993 Bryars teamed up with Tom Waits to release a new version with Waits singing along. There are a couple of versions of that recording, the longest of which lasts for one hour and fifteen minutes.

It’s not for everyone. Listening to the recording (any version) is not an easy experience and if you have any kind of attention deficit disorder you will find this impossible to sit through. If you do manage to listen to the whole thing you will find it a powerful and cathartic experience

No writing done today

You can probably guess why. Shocked, dismayed, disgusted with the events that happened in the US today. As a Canadian I want to be a good neighbour and encourage my American friends to stay strong.

But honestly I just want Trump and his motherfucker cronies to die. Burst into flames, swallowed up by the earth, hail of gunfire, guillotine? Any method is fine with me.

I’m not a nice person in that respect.

I’ll try to be a good neighbour, though, because that’s what we’re told we do best. So, as one of my country’s more revered philosophers is wont to say: “Keep your stick on the ice.”

Sugar Cookies

I started writing a blog post but it’s going on way too long and I haven’t even come near to making my point yet and I really want to get back to the story because I’m about to introduce two brand new characters and I’m anxious to find out who they are so…

Here’s a picture of some sugar cookies I baked up on Boxing Day. They’re all gone now, but they were delicious while they existed on this good Earth.

More tomorrow.

Writing Report

I had a goal today to write 1000 words. After much thought, deliberation, hemming and hawing, I have written the words: CHAPTER TWO.

And, after reading a lot of articles about Old English village names and consulting some Old Norse dictionaries online, I decided on the name of the village: Beyargmunn.

I’ll keep writing, but it’s 9:30 and I have an early morning tomorrow.

*sigh*

Some days you get the bear. Some days the bear gets you.

UPDATE: It’s just past 11:00 and I have laid down 1,444 words. By, god, I may yet finish this tale! But now; for bed!

National Science Fiction Day

Isaac Asimov

So today, January 2nd, is apparently National Science Fiction Day.

National Science Fiction Day is an unofficial holiday celebrated by many science fiction fans in the US. It’s held on January 2 because that is also the official birthdate of science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

While not an official holiday of any sort, in the sense that it is not recognized or declared by any government, National Science Fiction Day is given some degree of credence by its recognition by organizations such as the Hallmark Channel and by the Scholastic Corporation. It is also listed in the National Day Calendar.

Which is all well and good, but, honestly, to me it is just a day like any other because around here everyday is Science Fiction day!