Why do you write?
This is a question that I’ve been going over in my mind in recent months as I assess where my fiction projects are at.
For context, while my first novel, which was released in 2007, sold reasonably well for a lit fic debut, and won several awards, my second, released 11 years later, did not fare as strongly, which may well be the death knell for my literary career – because if you can’t show publishers that you can generate ongoing sales, ideally to an established audience, then they have less reason to reinvest in your next project.
That’s basically where I’m at. The market has changed a lot since my debut, and the reasons why people buy and read books has also shifted, with a significant portion of book marketing now focused on the author’s story, alongside the work itself. This, of course, has always been an element, but in the age of social media, author identity is a bigger consideration, and if you’re not doing all that you can to establish an audience, based on who you are as well as what you write, you’re once again diminishing your marketing value, and thus, your prospects of being published.
But I remain confident in my work. My writing is of a publishable standard, and I’ve completed several new manuscripts. I just can’t get anyone to read them. Like at all.
Which then begs the question – why write? Why do you set out on a literary project, and what are you aiming to get from your efforts?
If it’s fame and money, then lit fic is not for you, and money has never been a major element of why I write (luckily).
Ideally, you want readers, you want to connect with an audience, and a general lack of interest in reading has definitely become more pronounced, among people that I know at least.
It used to be that people would read on the train home, or they’d squeeze in a couple of chapters, propped up on a pillow in bed, before switching out the light. Now, we have phones to soak up all those gaps in attention, which makes it harder to get anyone to commit to reading long-form fiction.
People still read, with crime fiction and thrillers, as well as books from established authors still selling reasonably well. But it feels like it’s a harder pitch to get people to commit to 250+ pages than it’s ever been, which increases the barriers to success.
So if you can’t make money, and readers aren’t overly excited to check out your new stuff, is it worth writing at all?
I don’t know, and I’ve been grappling with the concept, as I continue to work on different fiction projects and ideas over time.
It seems that we now simultaneously have more pathways into publishing than ever before, with the internet and self-publishing so prominent and readily available, while we also have fewer actual readers to reach.
Then again, you don’t need a huge audience to make it worthwhile (dependent on your aims), and maybe then, self-publishing is the way to go, just to keep things going, just to keep it moving, while ideally also helping you to build an audience and establish your own market.
Maybe that’s the path I should take – but even then, it doesn’t feel like that’s really what I want, that’s not the reason that I want to write.
So what is it? What makes you want to come up with a story and map it out and write it down and put all the pieces together and have it all complete?
For me, completion is, at least in part, the goal. I have a concept that I want to explore, I develop the characters, and I’m interested to learn more about their lives and experiences, while also refining my writing and creating a dynamic, moving story. I love doing that, I love writing and re-writing, then leaving it for a few months before checking back in, to read your own words with fresh eyes. That still excites me – and maybe that’s enough, maybe I don’t need outside recognition or acknowledgment as much as I just need that creative outlet, for my own sanity as much as anything else.
But it still feels like a bit of a let down. I spend all that time crafting something complete, something that comes together, that builds page-by-page. And no one will ever read it.
Is that enough? I’m still coming to terms with that, and considering my stance, but right now, despite my latest work, in my view, being far more advanced than my past efforts, it’s just sitting on my hard drive, gathering digital dust.
So is it worth starting something new, when no one’s interested in what you have?
For me, as a learning and development exercise, there is still value in the next project. And market trends shift, things come back around. Maybe another opportunity is coming.
Till then, I’ll keep working, and see where the next story takes me.