Tuesday, January 24, 2012

You Can't Dictate What Readers Want

My political ex-boss, one of the smartest and wisest men I've known, once told me, "You can legislate behavior, but you can't legislate morality."  Lawmakers can pass all the laws in the world and try their hardest to make people obey them, but they can't pass laws that will make people into good human beings.

The same thing applies to publishing.  You can't make readers want what you write.

Writers grouse all the time about how unfair publishing is and why certain writers, topics or themes don't succeed in the marketplace.  It's not a conspiracy.  It's a marketing fact: maybe readers can only buy the books put out for their consumption, but just because a book/writer/topic is out there doesn't mean readers have to buy it.  Books and publishers flop all the time because readers snubbed what they tried to give them.

Writing is a creative field, the supply side of publishing, which is an economic--not artistic, not social--activity.  Supply without demand means no one makes money.  Demand without supply means no one makes money.  Writers can supply all the novels and stories in the world and they'll starve if no one wants to read them.  Readers can empty the shelves of one author's books, or become fascinated with tales of dysfunctional families or fast-talking con men or cats that solve crimes, creating immense demand for those kinds of story.  Publishing is where the two meet.

Writers can, of course, write what those readers want.  After all, publishers want the same stuff.  I have writing pals who write whatever the market commands.  If the market wants paranormal romances with demons and werewolves, that's what they write.  A decade ago it was chick lit.  Tomorrow it will be something else.  Unsurprisingly, they make more money than I do.

I write for love, not money, which isn't financially smart, though it's rewarding in other ways.  My fantasies give me a lot of creative room, much of it erotic and some high adventure, but few of my works are set in this world and none follow what's hot right now.  It could turn out I never have a large readership, but I do think readers lurk out there looking for the kinds of stories I write.  Helping them find my work is the tricky part.

But those readers are out there.  Maybe a handful, maybe a dozen, and they're looking for my stories.  I just know it.

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