The Truth About Writers

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Most of us don’t sell a lot of books.

There. I said it.

This is not a defeatist attitude or some silly plea. It’s the truth. There are a small percentage of elite writers and book producers who garner most of the readership. There are the one-hit wonders who write incredible books, big sellers, influencers, and then they produce nothing more. There are the Stephen Kings. There are E.L. James’ (Fifty Shades author. Don’t get me started.) There are the fantasy and science fiction writers who grunt out five books a year to a market that eats them up.

None of these is me.

A reviewer once said of my books: “Berner writes quiet, thoughtful books.” Thing is, most “quiet books” are very hard to market. “Why don’t you write a mystery?” someone once ask me . “Mysteries sell.” I don’t want to write a mystery. Also, I don’t think I’d be very good at it.

So, why do I do this? That. my friends, is the existential question..

I do not generate long lines at bookstores. I do not ticket my book signings. And I am not an expert marketer. Truth is, most book publishers aren’t very good at that either. To be fair, it’s a tough world out there for books, for authors. And to add to the mix, there are plenty of “iffy” book publishers in the marketplace, indie publishers who give the indie publishing world a bad name. I’ve been a victim of one. I bought back the publishing rights and will re-release that book soon. There are stories of Chicago publishers who haven’t paid royalties. There are stories of hybrid-publishers (where the author pays for part of the production) that renege on their promises, disregarding contracts.

It’s tough out there, people!

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So, again, why do I do this? You tell me. No, really. Tell me. Comment here. Message me. Answer my question for me.

Oh, I have my thoughts. I write and publish because I believe in what I have to say, because publishers (the good ones) apparently believe it, too. I write because it’s a form of self expression. I write because the people who do buy my books like them. Really, they do. We all have a bad review now and then, some reader who is disappointed. But all in all, the feedback, for me, has been gratifying. Awards have come. Some of which I am very proud.

Is that why I write? To get praise?

I am certain that is not why. I would write no matter what. Honestly, I would. Do I like the praise when it comes? Goodness, yes. But in the end, most of the writers I know are not quitting their day jobs. Even some of the big household names are still working “real” jobs. Yes, many sell far more books than me. Good for them. Sales of books help us all. Someone has to read, right? But in the end, the truth about writers is that we will forever be asking you to read our stories, to buy a book and buy another for a friend. Not because we are trying to get rich. Not because we want to satisfy our publishers. No. We want you to buy a book because what we do is write, and writing needs readers, and that is you. Like a musician singing his heart out in a dive bar with an audience of two, we just want to get our “art” out there. Like the singer, we will perform for those two readers, and those two alone, if that’s what it comes down to.

Why do I write in a marketplace that doesn’t necessarily reward most writers?

Because it is what I do. It’s really as simple as that.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

 

6 thoughts on “The Truth About Writers

  1. Well, okay . . . let’s examine several possibilities, each of which may contribute to our inability NOT to create.

    First, consider the sheer joy we derive from language. We revel in it, we luxuriate in it. And as we were first readers before writers, we became enamored of its beauty and power in the hands of skilled practitioners. As we gained facility in usage, we began to think — to hope and dream — that we, too, could bend language to our own purpose, creating worlds as real as our own lives or as fantastical as the most distant galaxy.

    Second, after honing our chops, we reach a point of having enough hubris to believe others might be interested in what we have to say, that we might illuminate a corner of the human experience in a fresh way or simply provide a pleasurable escape from the quotidian. So we seek an audience. Which brings brings me to . . .

    Third, we’re performers. We crave a stage — whether it be on the page, the canvas, a bandstand or a radio studio. It’s a powerful elixir. As my close friend and drummer with whom I’ve played many blues gigs with puts it, making good music with a band, when it all meshes, “is the next best thing to sex.”

    Fourth, it’s a way of explaining ourselves to ourselves and, by extension, others who would know us.

    Fifth, it’s a way to transcend ourselves. And, let me take it to its logical conclusion:

    Sixth, it’s a way to transcend death.

    I’ll leave it there.

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    • Once again, you hit the mark, Nick. I, too, know that musical sensation. It is incredibly special when it works. And there are few things like knowing that your words somehow made an impact, even a small one. Believe me, none of this is “for the money.”

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  2. I don’t write “for the money”. But I will admit that being paid for all those days of staying in and rewriting stuff and putting the time and effort into my books feels good. It feels like I’ve accomplished something and hopefully, people like my stories. The BEST thing about writing is having other people say they actually LIKE what I have done.

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  3. I do get the “circle” concept. 3 of my books were bestsellers and another one had huge critical acclaim but was “sound of crickets” at the book signings. I regret none of them. All came from worlds that were tangled up in my heart like yarn, waiting for my fingers to pluck them free. – Brigid

    Liked by 1 person

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