Let’s kick off October with something scary–every author’s worst nightmare.
It’s not that we’re afraid you won’t like what we like; disliking it is fine. What kills authors is if you don’t read our books at all.
Think of a great recipe sampled only by one person, a sofa sat on by two or three people the first day and not after. A light you never turn on, though it’s installed in the corner above that comfortable chair. That is what a book that isn’t read is like.
Except, a book isn’t a sofa or a light or a recipe: it’s a story.
Some stories are controversial. They make blood boil and forehead veins pop, and they often help the writer out quite a lot, at least in the short run. Most people are pretty opinionated and enjoy finding an author who holds their views. So long as those aren’t views that will be seen as preternaturally regressive in five years’ time, those books tend to do authors well.
When they’re read.
Obscurity has killed more authors than media campaigns against them. How many people bought Fifty Greys just to see what it was about? Even I admit to reading an entire series of hilarious-turned-soboringly-tragic blog posts on them just so I’d be in the loop. It might have not been a good book, but it is a book that did its job.
Because people read it.
Most authors won’t admit to envy; we prefer to be mysterious intellectual beings who exist on another plain far removed from crude things like profits and advertising. But the reality is that most of us would trade that persona in a heartbeat if it meant laughing all the way to the bank. If it meant seeing a couple dozen copies sold, a hit count meter that didn’t stay static.
As it is, we mostly look at our bank statements and sort of grimace. Forget McDonalds; they at least make minimum wage. Most authors don’t.
Most authors don’t see a penny. Because nobody’s reading their books.
Sometimes—many times—those books are bad. Poorly worded, confusingly plotted, ill-edited. Even other authors smirk about them. Nobody’s reading? Maybe there’s a reason.
Yes, there is: obscurity. The same reason nobody’s reading the good books out there that are buried on page twenty-seven of Amazon. Terrible books have gone on to do their authors perfectly well.
Because people read them.
We often hear about the decline of reading. Young people aren’t doing it, old people have ceased to, middle-aged people don’t have time. I know I read far less than I used to; I can’t seem to find any good books. The publishers are too busy chasing commercial sellers to keep me as a demographic, and so the perfect book for me is likely self-published, lost to obscurity. Probably yours too.
And they’ll stay that way until people read them and spread the word.
Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t become one of those strange people who run up behind live newscasters, brandishing a copy of my book. Perhaps I should hire a skywriter, or make sure my book is found at the scene of several grisly, well-publicized murders. Remember the guy who used the Baltimore Riots to publicize his mixtape? I can’t help but admire his thinking. In a world where we’ve learned to block out advertising, being novel is a good approach.
Word-of-mouth is best of all, but in the meantime Facebook ads will have to do, because word-of-mouth only works when people read it to begin with.
There’s a Japanese myth that things that remain unused for one hundred years come to life to wreak havoc on those who neglected them. I admit I can understand the sentiment. Anything is a better response than silence. Anger we can move on from, disgust we can react to.
Silence begets hope that maybe no one’s heard. Except they probably have, and thought, “Ah, I’ll do it later.”
If everyone does it later, no one does it at all.
Let the books you read this year be written by your near and dear. Ignore the airport paperbacks in favor of something with three excellent reviews on page fifteen of an Amazon search. Click the obscure link and check if the introduction suits your taste.
Much like a single can in the green bin is a good start to recycling, your actions have meaning. The likes, the shares, the comments—they are real. Because the truth is? If you don’t, probably no one else will either.
And that is how good books die.
Thanks to all of your feedback from last week on how cool an Invisible Books Week would be, I’ve decided to end my blog posts with a new section:
In this, I’ll feature a book which I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard of–but which I think you’ll all enjoy. The sort of book that doesn’t have big clout or press dollars, which can’t be found in libraries across the nation.
In other words, an invisible book.
This week we have a coming-of-age suspense I personally liken to To Kill a Mockingbird. Post-war Canada in the 1940’s, unlikely friendships, and a shocking twist that changes a small town forever–a day at the circus will never be the same.
If you know a book you think should be featured as an Invisible Book, please don’t hesitate to contact me about it.
I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, writer of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels of the dark and gritty type. I’m also a blogger, Twitter-user, and newly-minted drinker of tomato juice. Who knew what I was missing all these years? In any given fantasy scenario, I’d be the bard.
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