March 21, 2012

How mainstream literature is absolutely needed by the industry

I want to talk about the difference between mainstream literature and ordinary literature, and how I wish more talented authors would focus on the former. The thought crossed my mind today while I was browsing through writer forums and writer sites. I was reading posts by published writers on various topics, and I was interested to see if their books (as they usually have links to their site/blog in their signature) were successful.

Only one of the writers was a New York Times Bestseller, while the others were mostly unknown. Now, this isn’t a one-time observation I’ve come across, but something I very commonly see. Writers who are published with well-known publishers, but their names are unfamiliar to anyone outside of the “literary circle.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they were known within the literary community, but to the general public, they are not.

So I want to ask – why? I suppose not everyone can be a Bestselling author, but the reason cannot solely be because they’re bad writers. I’m sure they’re all quite decent, and I’m a hundred percent positive there are thousands of writers who deserve worldly recognition, but aren’t known in their own town. There are probably plenty of reasons for this: failed marketing, low distribution, lack of a follow-up, but there is one I want to focus on. The overall point of the book.

Let’s think about who reads books. Think about your friends (and no, not friends you met at your book club/writers conventions). Think about the people you meet daily, think about your family, and everyone else you know. How many of those people actually read, and enjoy doing it? If I’m guessing correctly, not very many. We live in an age of computers and television, where videogames and movies show beautiful sceneries and enthralling storylines, with no effort required from the audience than to sit on their butts. Reading is nothing more than a hassle to many people. And honestly, as much as I hate to say it, I agree with them for the most part.

These statistics from show a very grim truth:

1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. 
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. 
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. 
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. 
57 percent of new books are not read to completion. 
70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance. 
70 percent of the books published do not make a profit. 

Why is this? Why are so many books failing, and why do so many people loathe reading? There are several points, but again I’ll go back to my main topic – the point of the book.

Writers need to stop writing books that only appeal to other writers. Writers need to stop following the formula, stop listening to tips and stop trying to impress other writers. These are not the people who are buying your books. These are not the people who will make you a household name. Your pizza boy, your dentist, your accountant, your coworkers – this is your audience. Writers are killing their own field, because our shelves are lined with book after book of stories and themes hardly anyone wants to read.

You don’t believe me? Let’s go back to the question of how many people you know that actually read. Out of those people that read, how many of them only read Game of Thrones or Hunger Games in the last year or so? How many of them read Harry Potter and the Inheritance Cycle as kids?

Yeah. There is an audience out there. There are many people who would love to read, there are many people who would love to sit down and enjoy an amazing, interesting, work of art between binds. The problem is, writers are not catering to these people. And those that do aren’t hitting the mark.

So you may say, “oh, but I don’t write that kind of stuff.” That’s understandable, but if decent, easy-to-read literature is not produced, then the writing market will continue to shrink at an exponential rate. The work you like to write as a writer will continue to be ignored, because people are no longer being introduced into the market with the mass-appeal literature. I fear if there had not been Harry Potter in the last generation, it would be much worse now. We need a new Harry Potter more than ever, and we need it now. So please, if you’re a writer, and if you’re talented and imaginative, write something that the masses will enjoy.

And also – if you want to write the next Harry Potter, please don’t treat kids like idiots. They don’t appreciate it.

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