Tag: blogging

Who are the greatest writers of our day?

As an English Literature major in college, I studied many great writers of the past. The old writers were celebrities of sorts, or so the stories seemed to suggest. Everyone knew of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. What writers do we speak of today?

If someone asked me who the best writers of the 21st century are, I wouldn’t have an answer. Maybe that means writing is totally irrelevant in our world today. If asked, I think most people automatically mention the old writers as the best. Jane Austen is still a big name today, thanks to movies made of all her books. Do people actually still read her books or just know her name from the movies?

If I asked my niece or nephew, who are both in high school, whether Jane Austen was a good writer, they would both answer yes. If I asked whether they had read one of her books, they would both answer no. Around Christmas time I asked them if they were familiar with A Christmas Carol. They were, but only the movie. They had no interest in reading the book by Charles Dickens.

Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for fiction this year for writing The Underground Railroad. Is Colson Whitehead one of today’s great writers. Whitehead has a twitter page and six novels to his credit, according to a Google search. Do modern great writers have to have a twitter page? Must they write novels?

Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature last year. He doesn’t write novels. He falls loosely in the poet category, if you consider modern-day song writers the equivalent of ancient poets. Do poets still exist outside of songwriters?

These are some of the questions floating through my head on this Wednesday night. Who do you think are some of the 21st century’s greatest writers?

What if word of mouth was all you had?

A writer can wake up each morning and ask the question: what should I write? Whatever the writer decides to write, the next question becomes: How will I get read?

In today’s modern world there are more options than ever for getting read. A writer can start a blog and perhaps generate a few readers. A writer can post their work to social media and beg their friends and acquaintances for a moment of their time. A writer can save the morning composition and collect it as part of a future book, in which might be their ticket to stardom and riches. 

What if there were no publishing houses with advertising and marketing at their disposal? What if you were left with one method of promotion and that was word of mouth? 

Advertising professionals are little more than carnival barkers pulling a fast one on the consumer, saying anything to make a fool part with his money. Yet, they are a necessary part of the entertainment world. Without them, consumers wouldn’t know what exists. 

Professional marketers and advertiswers are often good at their jobs and their methods are effective, but pretend for a minute that the world of advertising doesn’t exist. All that exists are writers and readers and the only way to get read is through word of mouth, perhaps the most honest form of advertising.

Would you choose to write something different today? 

Is browsing in bookstores still a relevant source of sales?

If your town is similar to mine, few bookstores exist. As far as corporate chains, or large, recognizable book-selling brands go there is only one such store in my town. In the past few years, I’ve set foot in that store twice, both around the holidays, in search of gifts for family members. 

So, if my patterns are similar in any way to the masses, which I would guess they are, few people browse in bookstores anymore. I’ve read reports that print books made a comeback in recent years, that people are choosing to hold a real book in their hands over a tablet, but are they going to the bookstore to purchase those books? If print books are really making a comeback, will we see bookstores make a comeback? 

This is an important question for aspiring writers, because one has to decide if potential readers are going to find their book in a real bookstore. If a writer decides he or she won’t find a large number of potential readers within a bookstore, that means the readers will more likely find an author’s writings online or in a digital bookstore. If you wrote a book in the past decade, there is little to no chance I have seen it in a bookstore. 

If you wanted to get my attention and sell me a book, you would need another advertising vehicle. I can’t remember the last time I saw an advertisement for a book, but I see plenty of ads for movies that say, “based on the book.” I’ll admit to reading a few of those. The only other way I come across books is by browsing online or by recommendation from friends.

I can count recommendations from friends on one hand without using all five fingers and not one of those recommendations led to a book I liked. The only book I liked in the past decade from browsing a bestseller list was Gone Girl. I’ve struck out with so many books using the browsing method that I am unlikely to keep browsing, so where does that leave me as a reader?

I see plenty of blogs advertising books written by independent publishers, but not one has convinced me to buy their book. Unfortunately, if you are trying to sell your book with a blog or social-media account, you come across as amateur and nobody wants to buy a book from an amateur. 

As a reader, I am often left reading classics that have passed the test of time and are known to be good reads. That way I don’t waste my time on some random book. The independent modern writer is not reaching me, the modern reader, with books of print or electonic variety. 

I don’t know what that means for the modern writer, but it is possible that the traditional idea of a book is dying, even though readers are supposedly returning to print books. Give me all the stats you like, I see no evidence in my daily life of people going into bookstores or talking about the latest Kindle read. 

A road block

Today I surfed the web and landed on an independent author’s website. I clicked around until I found a link to her book for sale on Amazon and then I stopped.

This caused me to ponder an interesting idea in the world of self-publishing and internet promotion. This author had links to everything she could possibly need, like Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook pages, but when it came time to link to the one thing I could pay her for, the inconvenience of Kindle is what stopped me.

I didn’t care about the price of the book, which was short enough to read in a weekend with ease. It was the having to stop surfing and buy a book that I could only read on a kindle app or kindle that ultimately slowed me down. If the writer had a story available to start reading on the internet, I probably would have continued.

As of now, selling e-books is pretty much the only way to charge actual money for one’s writing. Paywalls on the web don’t work; I’ve tried.

When I am in the mood to read, I sometimes do so on a kindle, but usually browse the books I find on the kindle menus, which means I am unlikely to find independent authors to read. I guess what I’m saying is, as a consumer, I found that following a link to an e-book selling point didn’t work on me. It didn’t make me want to buy the book or even consider doing so.

As an independent writer, I always imagined how cool it would be to enable someone to buy my book by simply linking them to it on the internet. Now I see it really isn’t so cool and is ineffective.

Could you imagine a day of nothing but websites?

Modern technology should make printed books obsolete, but they aren’t. If you really think about it, modern technology should make e-books obsolete, but they aren’t.

Is it mere habit that forces readers to enjoy reading in a strictly linear fashion, with nice little bookmarks to keep them from losing their place? Will a day ever arrive when people will bounce around the internet, reading at a frantic pace and soaking in random facts and figures with no concern for chapters and structure?

If that day ever does arrive, there will no books, electronic or otherwise. There will only be writers and readers and websites. It could happen.

People love to read about themselves

My time as a sports journalist taught me one thing: The only people really reading the entire article are the people in the article, and they will always love the article; doesn’t matter how poorly it is written.

There may have been lots of people curious about who won, but once those readers get that answer in the first paragraph or two they usually quit reading; doesn’t matter how well the article is written.

Even Nicholas Sparks wrote on his website that selling books has nothing to do with writing well. He claims to have many friends who are better writers than he is, but they can’t sell any books.

So, why are we all spending our time trying to be what others consider good writers? Perhaps we should do what Sparks claims to have done and study what kind of writing sells.

When I left the newspaper a few years back, I decided to put my theory to the test within a blog. I started blogging about my local golf community, a group of  more than 100 people I knew extremely well and could track with ease online. Sure enough, there were plenty of golfers who knew about the blog, but would never read it, until they were in it.

Everyone who was in the blog would rave about the awesomeness of the article and they would sometimes (rarely) share the article on their Facebook page. No one ever shared an article on their Facebook page if they weren’t in the article.

One share, by the way, generated at least 10 times as many readers as any promotion I did for the blog, which coincidentally kind of proves Sparks’ point about the power of word of mouth.

There are three possible reasons for any reader to read. They are either seeking specific knowledge, indulging their own ego or enjoying the poetry of the language. Which one do you think happens most often?

Why do certain types of novel readers like certain kinds of novels? Because they identify with the protagonist in some way.

Men generally don’t like romance novels about a woman snaring the bad-boy love of her life and women don’t usually like westerns about cowboys getting scalped in the middle of the desert.

There are always exceptions to every rule, but in general, my findings are fact. I could go on and on, but I won’t. In the end, if you want to write something that people really want to read, it has to be about the reader in some way.

In my next post I’ll discuss my testing of social media and why I found it doesn’t work at all, if you are trying to make money as a writer. If I have room, I’ll include some of my economic theories about writing.

 

Nicholas Sparks’ three ways to generate a bestseller

Love or hate Nicholas Sparks, nobody can deny he sells a lot of books, so let’s take a look at his three keys to creating a bestseller.

First, Sparks says you can get Oprah to recommend your book. Second, your book can garner widespread, lavish critical acclaim. Third, your book can sell through word of mouth. You can read more details from Sparks by clicking the link at the end of the previous paragraph.

Most of us don’t know Oprah and most of us aren’t in with the critics, so what is left? The only way the majority of aspiring authors can get read is through word of mouth. This leads to several interesting observations.

In order for word of mouth to spread, at least one non-family member has to read your book and like it well enough to tell someone else about it and sincerely recommend it. I say non-family member, because nobody is going to read your book based on your mother’s recommendation.

Of course, the next question is to ask yourself how many friends of yours have read books you recommended to them? In my case, the answer to that question is a very low number, like maybe zero. I read a handful of books per year and have read tons of books over my lifetime and I recommend them to people all the time. Sometimes months or even years pass and I check in to see if my friend read that book I recommended and they always say no.

While statistics show books are still selling and making millionaires out of authors, real life seems to indicate that nobody reads books at all. Their top excuse: “I don’t have time to read.”

Last summer, a friend of mine told me a long story that I’ll make shorter. Someone told him about a golf book that would change his golfing world for the better. Understand, this friend of mine lives for golf. What did he do? Instead of reading the book, he found an online video that summarized the book in about an hour. People will do anything to avoid reading a book, even when the book contains valuable information that pertains directly to their life.

This may sound like an argument for why all aspiring authors should give up, but it isn’t. It is an argument for why we all need to change the way we view authorship in the 21st century. Next time, I’ll write about what I learned from my days as a professional journalist and as a community blogger, specifically what it taught me about how much modern readers do love to read.