Okay, if you’re reading Mad Genius, you’re probably a reader. You might also be a writer, but at the very least, you’re likely a reader.
So, how do you read.
(Ah, ah, the gentleman on the second row who just said “from left to right and top to bottom” has earned the duct tape across the mouth prize. I’m in a good mood, though. I won’t set his hair on fire)
I mean that seriously. I suspect most of us have different habits, and some of our habits vary depending on our time of life, and which writer we are talking about. In my lifetime, I’ve gone through time periods of reading six new books a day, and other time periods (usually when health was wobbly) of reading the same book for a month.
However, Amanda’s post yesterday reminded me that, no matter how different our reading habits, no matter who we are, none of us reads as establishment publishing seems to think we read. In fact, the only way I can account for their misunderstanding of readers is – when I’m being kind – that they read all that they can read at work, and so don’t understand those of us who pay for our fun. (When I’m NOT being kind, I just assume they’re illiterate children.)
Here are some of the weird assumptions built into the business as was when I came into it – and which to an extent are still there in the traditional side –
1 – Assumption – No matter how much readers love an author, they don’t want more than one book by him or her a year.
Reality – my dears, if I could get my favorite authors to write a book a week, I’d buy a book a week from them. Heck, I’d buy a book a day – even if I had to stop eating to do it. Two books a year? That’s nothing. Three? I’m still shouting more, more. And most readers I know are like that. Heck, that’s not even just my top favorite writers, but all the writers I even mildly like. None of them can write enough to keep me in books.
2 – Assumption – If a book by an author tanks, all other books by that author, regardless of genre, treatment, cover and distribution will tank.
Reality – this is sheer insanity. Any of us can – before the automation of the book business made it impossible to SELL more of one book than of the previous, because it wouldn’t be printed – point to authors who had some startling stinkers just before a blockbuster. Or authors who wrote abysmally in a particular subgenre (Agatha Christie thrillers, anyone? Georgette Heyer mysteries?) and yet write and sell very well in another genre or subgenre.
However the entire “book numbers’ business and dictating orders from the last book’s Nielsen’s (which btw, might be as little as 10% or 5% of sales) is based on the idea that a writer sells a certain number, period, regardless of what the writer wrote. This is also the reason hat for the last twenty years agents wouldn’t let you submit to editors under an assumed name, because they “had to know how you sell.”
3 – Assumption – If we don’t give them what they want, they’ll read what they don’t want.
Reality – this could only be believed by people who never tried to give healthy food to kids. Look, if you don’t give your kids something that approaches the same level of tastiness and fun as they can get from a candy bar, they’re going to eat the candy bar. They’re going to do this even if they have to go a long distance to get the candy bar while the spinach is right there on their plate. No, trust me on this. And if you make it impossible for them to get the candy bar because, say, like my mom, you make them sit at the kitchen table, in front of a plate of black-eyed pea salad… they’ll eventually fall asleep face first in the black pea salad, and they’ll go hungry rather than eat.
For years, while the publishers thought they were “educating public taste” readers “went hungry” or re-read stuff they’d read long ago. Now, they’re finding ways to get their candy bars.
The business meanwhile is still operating on the “if they get hungry enough they’ll come crawling to us and read our worthwhile dystopias which are politically correct and worthwhile and did we mention worthwhile?”
4 – Assumption – people want books to be just as they were in the nineteenth century. If we ignore this newfangled ebook thing and make it hard to buy them, eventually the readers will come begging us for paper again.
Reality – the truth is that people are reading e and paper, and will read more e in the future. Our kids are growing up with ebooks. Paper will be something romantic and archaic for them. Maybe something to have a few books in, as collectibles, but not “what a book is.”
5- Assumption – We can continue to treat writers as we always have. They can’t work without us.
Reality – Mwah ah ah ah ah ah ah. Yeah.
The end result is a system that can’t see reality because they’ve bought such a pretty lie. It will be interesting times for them – and us – as the bubble shatters.