We try. In some ways the tools of being a writer are some of the simplest for any avocation you can name. Most of our tools are internal, so no stocked shop, power tools, grinders, wrenches…just time, space, paper and pen. Which is, of course, rubbish, and you can see the flaws right away. I mean, sure, you can write with a pen and paper, but when it comes time to actually do something useful with what you’ve written, at the very minimum you’re going to need a way to produce typed copy. In theory a working typewriter will do, but in practice you’re generally talking about a computer and email. Perseverance is a matter of personality and just how long one can bash your head against a brick wall, but basic functioning as a working writer is another matter. There are things required. So that got me thinking about what writers really need, as opposed to, say, what we want.
Wants are simple. We want sympathetic editors, powerful, pro-active agents, discerning (and numerous) readers. But those are wants. You can sell to any unsympathetic editor who has professional standards. Send them something they need, and they’ll buy it. Agents are grand things, especially for those of us who haven’t completely abandoned traditional publishing models, but not necessary. You don’t need an agent to sell stories and you can sell novels without them as well. It’s easier with, yes, and working without one IS more work, but it can be done. New and established writers do it all the time. I’ve had three agents, and now I work without one. That’s better for me. As for the readers, well they’re there or they are not, which is the crux of the matter. Lacking that, nothing else matters. No readers, and you’re not writing at all. Just muttering to yourself and recording it on paper/phosphers.
All of which leaves me here with only one conclusion. What writers really need, in this brave new world of a changing publishing scene, are champions. Most of the rest of it, we can do without. As I’ve said before, for most writers the real enemy is obscurity. It doesn’t matter how good you are or if you’re writing something that would connect with readers if they knew about it, because odds are they’ll never know about it. There’s a limit to what the writer can do, even with social media and mailing lists, before it becomes counter-productive, not to mention annoying. Even the traditional publishers aren’t spending on advertising for most of their authors. They depend on getting the books in front of potential readers through bookstores and hope for the best, but what really moves books no matter the venue is word of mouth. So where does word of mouth come from?
I’ve been a champion myself. It’s easy. All you have to do is read something, like it, and say so. Sure, tell the author if you want, it’s always nice to hear, and egoboo (ego boost. Old fan term) doesn’t hurt, but it’s not the point. To be a champion, you have to tell someone else. Another reader(s). “I just finished this book. I liked it a lot. You might, too.” Write reviews for B&N or Amazon or your blog. Tell friends. If you write, odds are you’ve had the experience of putting your heart and soul into a book and have it sell reasonably well but otherwise lie there like a beached whale. No reviews, good or bad, and yes, even bad reviews can be a good thing, if expressed well. The things you didn’t like about a book might be someone else’s snuggly happy place.
The opposite of love, as they say, isn’t hate—it’s indifference. Indifference kills far more careers than bad editors and bad reviews combined. True, the indifference might arise from books that just don’t move you or otherwise connect. Sometimes the book in question just sucks. Fair is fair. But a lot of the time, and I’ve been guilty of this myself, what happens is we read a book, like it and resolve to be on the lookout for the author’s next, and that’s it. We keep things to ourselves, in a miserly “Mine!” sort of way. “I know something you don’t know.” That’s greed, not love. Greed doesn’t make champions.
And writers don’t make it without them.