It’s been a while since I shared some things in essay form. I don’t look to do so very often as the format, I believe, is meant for things that are more universal and longer lasting than just a social media post or even passing comment. The idea with these essays is to impart some helpful insights I’ve gleaned along the way so you don’t have to make the same mistakes and/or benefit from the observation without having to make it yourself. And as always, what I share is not meant to be taken as gospel, so do keep that in mind as you read or listen to any of the other material on this site.
I’ve been mulling over this topic for awhile and think it’s a good time to share it with those looking at getting into the writing business. I’ve come across many writers and those who want to be writers over the years but I haven’t heard much spoken about this topic and believe it’s something writers have to be aware of—especially those looking to break into the field.
First, let me say that while some have begun to understand this—more so than what I first have seen and even understood myself when starting out years ago—many writers don’t know that writing is part of the entertainment business. Some hold to this notion that because writing is part of literature it is somehow elevated above the other forms of common media out there. Books and writers and their creators are suppose to be in this sort of elevated status. Somewhere beyond the unwashed masses and below God. They’re great contributors to culture; mighty wordsmiths who craft wonders for the age.The truth is we now live in an age of disposable entertainment—more so now than ever before—and the more you come to terms with that the better off you’ll be. And the faster you accept that all works of fiction are a form of media and therefore a form of entertainment the better off your life and career as an author will be.
I still run into, read comments, and hear from writers who hold to this idea of things being like they were in the 1800s when it comes to writing. They imagine that all one has to do is publish their work and the world will trip over itself in hopes of getting access to it. They fail to understand, or perhaps knowingly shove aside the fact, that today anyone can publish a book. And they do. Each year hundreds of thousands of novels get published just in this country alone. Many of them are self published (and ebooks only) but you also have the ones put out by small, medium, and large presses.
With that publication increase readers have way too many options to choose from and can be very selective. It's also entirely possible that only a small segment of the population will even know your book exists—even with the wonders of the social media age. So publication in and of itself is not a means to success to anything, but that’s another topic for another time. In this essay I wanted to focus on how this ease of access to titles has created the culture of disposable entertainment.
I suppose it started back with paperbacks. They were meant to be a simple way to get access to a title at a reduced rate in a format made easier for reading on the go. The ideal market, I believe, was the traveler and later the common masses in that they were afforded access to the same material at lesser quality for a lesser price. Paperbacks were conceived of as being disposable. They weren’t originally created to last a long time. That was the domain of hard covers that were created with great care to last for lifetimes. Skip ahead a few decades and you get the introduction of the e-book. These things aren’t even being made in print form and are simply made to be read on an e-reader or similar device. The idea is to get them into as many hands as possible. There is no real intention (at least from what I can see or understand) of having them be anything more than a form of the paperback of old. That is they aren’t being created with long term life in mind. It’s just a simpler, more universally (and in theory) cheaper way to read a book. That’s it. The novel in and of itself is meant to be disposable.
This isn’t to say that people are buying e-books or print books with the intention of throwing them out when finished. But if you take a step back, remembering what I said about how books are part of the entertainment business, you can see where things have gone and will go in the future. There have been great increases in many areas allowing greater access to all forms of media. So much so that we have a glut to choose from. With that increased collection of options books, movies, music, etc., have become something of a commodity as common place as household goods or groceries. It’s something that’s purchased, used, and then often times quickly forgotten as people move on to the next piece of entertainment that has caught their eye.
If you don’t understand this as an author you’re going to be frustrated and even upset quite often. This isn’t the 1800s. Back then printing was a smaller endeavor that took more time and was embraced much differently than today. There were no TVs, internet, movies really as we know them, and the like. Entertainment was limited and as such more valued by those who sought it out as well as more concentrated by those who took part in it. That’s why we have “classic literature.” It wasn’t that these authors were so amazingly great (not all of them were) but that they didn’t have a ton of competition to contend with. Less books also meant more people read the same thing and therein produced a foundation for such books to arise.
Today is just the opposite. We have too many books to choose from. Even books stores have given up trying to carry everything that has or will come out in any given year. When things are so common place it’s easy to take them for granted and develop a disposable mentality about them. Just like if you lived on a huge apple orchard you probably won’t be too concerned about running out of apples or even letting some rest on the ground after they fell. It’s the same with books, and the more authors understand that the better.
So why am I saying all this? To make sure you start seeing this new reality and understand how to work with it. Just because someone reads and then tosses aside your work doesn’t mean they didn’t like it. Only that it was consumed and they’re moved on to the next form of entertainment. They’ll still be fans, and even some ardent ones of your work, but don’t be surprised if what you write isn’t turned into a new classic nor when people start asking about your next work before the life cycle of the current one has ran its course.
So what’s a writer to do? Write. As long as you stay in the game you’ll do fine. Consistency has always been part of the equation—now more than ever. If you can keep your readers looking for your next work they’ll have less time to get pulled away by other things and forget to come back in the first place. And that means a reduced chance of you and your titles getting lost in the rest of the sea of disposable entertainment. That’s something, I think, every writer wants.