I’m not talking about literacy, I’m talking about finding the time to read. Sure, you might be one of those people who always has a few books going at any given time, while putting even more books in your ‘to be read’ pile, and you probably don’t even own a television. No, I’m talking about the other people who have infinite forms of entertainment competing for their attention. Putting aside the hours spent sleeping, cooking, eating, cleaning et. al. we have more ways to spend the remaining minutes of our mortal existence than ever before. I don’t know about you, but I could just watch Disney + until the sun burns out.
As a writer, you need to get eyeballs on your words and keep them there. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Give the reader as much information as soon as possible. To hell with suspense!” While I don’t completely agree with him here, I know that a confused reader is one who closes the book and does not open it again. That’s the opposite of what you want.
We also have more ways to read than ever before, but the fact that anyone reads at all is amazing. But, the increase in the number formats means there are more books competing for your attention. As a self-published writer, the hardest thing you will do is to find readers. The late Mitch Hedburg had a joke about being a stand-up comedian and being asked to write a script, something related to comedy that isn’t comedy. I paraphrase, “It’s like being a great chef and being asked, ‘Well, do you farm?'” You wrote a book, which is an incredible accomplishment, but now you have to become an expert in marketing on an ever-shifting retail landscape. The three most difficult things you will do as a writer in reverse order are as follows and I quote-
3) Write a book 2) Write your blurb. 1) Get people to read your book
I’m sometimes excited to check my daily page reads on Amazon. Often, no one read a single page or bought any hard copies. But some days when I see someone had read 500 pages of my books (or 500 people read one page each) I am excited. Something about the book kept them turning the digital pages and that’s a great thing. It means my newest marketing plan is reaching some eyeballs. Or it’s a fluke. I hope it’s not a fluke.
Back when I used to have a job, I told a coworker about this great movie. I offered to let her borrow my dvd. Every day, I would ask if she watched it. She hadn’t. Weeks went by. She said, “Are you sure I’m going to like it?” I wanted to say, “It’s a fucking movie. It’s two hours of your life! Watch it. Don’t watch it. Just give it back. I want to watch it again.” She returned it to me unwatched.
In case you’re wondering, the movie was Garden State. Her loss.
Making the decision to read a book, and then reading that book is a monumental accomplishment. I asked a friend to proofread a “finished” book and help me with plot points. While he was a book-a-day reader, he said he couldn’t get into my book. The first chapter was confusing (and thus, boring). I assured him that it picks up after that, but he never read any more of the book. He was right. The first chapter was not an attention-getter, so I changed it, but I couldn’t even force a good friend to waste any time.
That said, I plan to spend some time talking about the frustration that comes from friends and family not reading my books. I acknowledge to the universe that reading is difficult and tip my cap to anyone who spends hours alone with my words. It’s all I ever wanted.
There’s a lot of stuff out there demanding our attention. Pity the reader and be thankful for them.