There's an article in Publishers Weekly about yet another one of these Authonomy-type ideas where people can post their writing to get feedback and maybe a publishing deal.

This time it's coming from a former editor with a small indie press so it uses different language to describe itself. Round Table will bring to the social networking platform not just finished content, but many aspects of the publishing process—including, for authors open to the idea, peer editing. The idea is that feedback and crowd-sourcing can dramatically enrich the editing, authoring and reading process for all involved—not to mention expose potential talent among members of the community.

Right. When I see a phrase like "crowd-sourcing," I get worried. But what really got me in the article was the line, “you have to keep accepting unsolicited submissions, because those people are our readers.” Later he repeats it, “In our formulation,” says Nash, “readers are writers.”

The dedication in J.D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Inroduction begins, "If there is an amateur reader still left in the world - or anybody who just reads and runs..."

I wonder, are there any amateur readers left? And would it make a difference to the content of what we write if we admitted that most likely the only peope buying books are other writers?

(I guess the big blockbuster bestsellers are the only books bought by amateur readers)

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Sigh! I think I share your view on this. Sales have been dismal lately -- after being bad for a long time. I have always said that our readers hang out in libraries. The buyers are a whole different crowd, the ones who have no time to get a library card or be bothered with returning books, the ones who travel on business and pick up their reading in airports, the bored housewives in big box stores who toss a likely bestseller into their cart along with mammoth packages of toilet paper and paper towels and steaks. Not a one of them knows much about books. They buy best-selling authors by name recognition or because a girlfriend recommended the book. For the rest of us, there are the library sales -- and we know we can't survive on those.
I.J.--are you sure there are no readers who buy books anymore? I would think your books have a dedicated set of fans that buy your books every time they come out. Think of all the people who ran out and bought Harry Potter novels. Big or large, a fan base is a fan base. I would think the ultimate goal for all writers if figuring out a way to build that fan base.
Harry Potter is an interesting example - did a fan base build, or did it explode overnight?

The trouble we're having these days is there's very little in between the kinds of sales number I.J. and I have and the big bestsellers. It doesn't seem like a steady increase building into those kinds of numbers, it just seems like some books win the bestseller lottery.

Though the good news, at least for me, is that my next book can't possibly sell fewer copies than my last ;)
I'm chuckling, John M. I hope you do very much better than you expect. Sometimes, an author who hangs in long enough manages to break out of the miserable midlist status, but that does seem to me to be a long shot. Most successes are achieved via heavy media promotion. And then, some authors receive more loyal support from their publishers in terms of patience with low sales figures. This was true of Olen Steinhauer, for example. Now he has a film deal, and his sales (and his promotion) are taking off.
I have a fan base. A tiny fan base, but those folks are absolutely dedicated and preorder every novel the moment it appears on Amazon. Bless them. I doubt the publisher thinks their numbers are significant.
I dunno, John. Seems to me the days of an author just sitting back and writing books and fans eventually show up, has gone the way of the dinosaur. Now it's up to us to go after the reader. So an active manhunt is required. It may not be far. It may not be what we want to do. But if we want to build a fan base, we've got to be proactive.
You know, I.J., I've been at the market and seen that happen. A woman with kids in the cart passes the book display and shouts out the author's name (famous, of course) and grabs the book, tosses it in her cart, slaps each of the kids all at the same time and moves on. Really encouraging for the rest of us not-quite-so-famous-not-really-famous-at-all writers if this is our potential 'fan base'.

How to build a fan base tho. We can't all get on the best-seller list with our first novel; although I wonder how many people actually buy books based on that anyway--or even read it. How do we get our names out there to the 'readers'?
Oh good question, how to build a fan base! I've come to the conclusion that if we are lucky enough to sell anything, (and of course hard-working enough, it isn't ALL luck) then we have to do our best to keep promoting 'reading' as a legitimate pastime. And if we don't sell anything of any volume, then we have to keep writing as if quality is important, no matter WHO our readership is likely to be, because eventually I truly believe the written word will prevail. It may not be in the format we are accustomed to, but it will prevail.
Getting to know the population of NA writers over the recent past, I tend to think there may be some truth to this theory that most readers are writers. Having said that, writers exist in many mediums -- television, movies, journalism -- and all are legitimate forums for the art. So, one way or another, we do reach our intended audience. As for books, I suspect the only people still driven to carting around bags of them at any given time are writers like myself, who remain stoically passionate in the face of dwindling popular enthusiasm.

I wouldn't consider leaving town, even for a short weekend, without my 20 lb bookbag. I'd rather leave my jammies behind!!!
I don't think there is any such thing as an "amateur" reader. If you read books, you're a reader. And I know many, many people who are both book readers and book buyers and have no ambition to write a book -- they just want to get lost in a good story.
John, I think we're more and more drifting into a celebrity/superstar culture, where most readers are buying only these "superstar" books. I saw earlier that James Patterson is going to have 9 books out this year with his name on the cover, and you know they're all going to be #1 bestsellers no matter their quality. The big question is how do you make the jump from midlist to the next level, and I think it comes down to luck. I saw Michael Connelly speaking the other day about how it didn't matter to him that Clint Eastwood might've screwed up Bloodwork--the fact that the movie was made elevated him to the next level and allowed him to quit his day job. So you get lucky and a movie gets made on one of your books and gets enough attention (as I'm hoping with one of my books that looks like its might be going from development to production soon), it goes viral on the internet, it gets enough good reviews to get you coop space, etc. But something outside of our control has to happen, and we just have to keep plugging away until it does.

About your question, there are millions of readers out there who are not writers, but most of them will never hear about our books until we break out of the midlist.

--Dave
I love the Michael Connelly story, and I totally understand what he means. A part of an authot would cringe at having his book mishandled and "ruined," (and I know of a lot of authors who were absolutely livid about what was done to their work), but the time comes when you gain some distance and realize that anything which promotes your books is good for them and you and for your future work. An author who no longer has to worry about his sales has all sorts of freedom to develop his material the way he sees fit.

But you still have to get lucky.

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