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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I agree with Neil. Okay, I know the economy is bad, but the rest of you guys are depressing the stuffing out of me. NO, all readers are not writers. I come from a h-u-g-e family--my parents had 10 kids--Dad came from a family of 14, Mom from a family of 5--each of us kids had bunches of kids. The joke is that if you got rid of my family, there would be no overpopulation in this world.
Most of us are readers. None of the rest are writers. As a matter of fact, several of them (the ones who hated book reports in school) keep asking me how I can stand to write.
They buy books--okay maybe some of them buy them in used bookstores just now because of the economy (daughter still buys expensive hardcovers but she's single.) but they buy them. And they read them. And I read a thing in the NY times where bookstores were still up. It was 1% or so--but it was up.
Come on, folks, if we were doing this for money, we would have done something else a while ago--but really it's not all that bad. I'll take library sales. Heck, I'll take used book sales. Whatever. I just want people to read the stuff.
I think there are a lot of voracious readers out there, amateur or polished. They definitely outnumber the authors. But as B.R. points out, authors have to go after them. They have a wide range of choices, and very few signals that rise above the general din. Reaching out to them in some unique, interesting way can cut through the clutter. But you have to go after them. I agree.

I think an author can also be strategic with interviews, etc.

But, yes, there are plenty of people browsing shelves, Amazon, and libraries, looking for a reading experience that matches their spoken or unspoken desires at the moment.

That said, a lot of readers are watching their money these days, something that we can't really help.
We do paint a doom-and-gloom painting in here sometimes . . . with me at the forefront probably. Ah, well. I'll keep hammering away and hoping for the best. What other choice have I?
I'm a realist, and frankly I've become gloomier as I gained some experience about the business. Still, the writing part will always be there, and as long as you keep writing, chances are that your luck will turn. It has happened for any number of authors. And once this starts happening, it works something like a slow avalanche: the publisher is encouraged to do a bit more promotion and marketing; word gets to the stores and the press and book-related media; more readers spread the word to more people; more media become involved; the publisher makes big plans for your next book; etc, etc.

Of course, a lousy second book will slow down the avalanche, though sales will continue for quite a while. Readers don't like to admit that they've been wrong. This isn't true for reviewers. :)
A slow avalanche would be fine. It's this pre-Cambrian ice glacier I worry about.
When I started this I was really wondering more about the effect on the content of the books we write.

Maybe the 'first readers,' the ones willing to take a chance on a new writer are often more involved in the world of writing than the people who only buy the big bestsellers at the box stores - do other writers make up most of that initial base we're talking about?

I'm working in TV now and we're told from time to time that our show isn't a "cable show," it's a "network show." A cable show will be successful with far fewer viewers than a network show and that affects the content. Deadwood on cable is a lot different than Deadwood would be on CBS.

TV is right up front about this, but this kind of thing doesn't come up very often in book discussions, from what I see. Almost everyone is trying to write a "network show," kind of book.

Except for Al Guthrie and Duane Swierczynski. And Maybe Christa Faust.
Being on a number of crime fiction discussion lists, and going to conventions, I am happy to say that there are loads of readers out there. I have family and friends who are great readers. Unlike me, they don't go to conventions or frequent mailing lists, but I make sure they know about books they might like :o) I get my own recommendations from blogs (mostly readers, mailing lists, seeing authors at conventions. If there's mention of a warped noir then it goes on MY list, a spy thriller, the recommendation goes to my dad, a cosy or historical goes to my mum.

The thing that doesn't work at all, is incessant self-promotionauthors thrusting their own books in my face every chance they get. "Hey, read my book. It's a medical thriller about the ghostly owner of a soap shop who talks to her cat - you'll love it!" Well no, actually, I won't. And your name will go on the OTHER list - the list that says "Don't bother."

And I am glad everyone isn't trying to write a 'network' show kind of book. I love all the authors you mention, John.
John,

I know that booksellers have been handselling a lot of copies of Small Crimes, and that, as well as people curious about the NPR and Washington Post best of year selections, made up the base of my initial readers, not people from within the world of writing. As far as network or cable, well that's the big difference between the corporate publishers and the independents. You want to read more cable-like books, look for books from people like Serpent's Tail, Bitter Lemon and Quercus.

--Dave
I too believe there are more readers than writers buying the books. Has to be. They're are a lot of writers out there, I'll grant you. But I.J. for instance, mentioned a number concerning the pre-orders of her newest book, and if I remember, it seemed fairly substantial to me. I doubt that many writers are looking for her books (although I am, I'll admit). I doubt Jon Loomis' readers are more writers than readers (Jon, pitch in here). We HEAR more from writers and critics perhaps. But the vast crowd of readers are just that. Readers.
I'm grateful, B.R. The day I gloated about preorders, I think the amazon ranking had gone well below 10,000 and it was still 4 or 5 months till release. It has since climbed again. Besides, an Amazon ranking above 1000 isn't really anything to get excited about. I admit, I get excited easily.

What keeps me from doing better is that my readers need to have an initial interest in a time and place that is extraordinarily strange and remote to most Americans. Most readers prefer to deal with familiar territory. Not all readers are the same, and they don't read the same books. In other words, I write to a niche market. My readers have above average intelligence and a lively interest in the unknown histories of mankind.

This handicap could be overcome with better publicity. After all, they eventually went for Harry Potter and cave bears, not to mention a ladies' detective agency in Botswana.

In general, modern settings, especially in the U.S., do a great deal better.

New books (first books) have a small advantage: they get reviewed more reliably.
80 million copies of Da Vinci Code were bought world wide so there are clearly more readers than writers.

The reality is the majority of books are sold at supermarkets, drug stores, big box stores (Walmart, Costco, Target, etc.), coop thru chains, airports, etc., and if you're a midlist author none of these are open to you. I think John was simply expressing the frustration a lot of authors feel when their books seem lost in the shuffle. Until you get the big movie deal, your book goes viral, the big publicity push, or amazing reviews (from the right sources) that can push you up, the odds are you're not going to break into that next level. The internet has created another dynamic which can add to this midlist frustration as some authors who big each other up start believing the hype.

It can be a long road to make the jump from midlist to the next level. A lot of luck's involved. A lot of perseverance on the writer's part, and even still most of us won't make it. But all we can do is plug along and try, write the best books we can, ignore the hype, and try to enjoy the ride--because otherwise what's the point?

--Dave
Exactly my point, Dave.

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