I’m in a release day frame of mind lately, what with DEMON POSSESSED being released last week. See, it’s not just that that book was released, it’s also that it means UNHOLY GHOSTS will be out soon. Well, soonish, lol; three months.
And like any other writer with a book coming out, I’m thinking about promo. See, I want you to buy the book(s). I want you to get all of your friends to buy the book(s). I want to sell thousands and thousands and thousands of copies. I want to hit the NYT list, or the USA Today list, or the Publisher’s Weekly list, or Bookscan or whatever. Lists make writers happy, you see. And they make publishers happy, and everybody’s happy. Happiness is good.
And of course, I would hope that you guys, my lovely readers, would want to help me sell books or hit lists or whatever. Because we have something of a symbiotic relationship, you know, you and me. I write books, and you buy them, and when you buy them you encourage me to write more of them, and it’s all very cheering and makes me feel warm and happy inside to think that I’ve given you something you enjoy (I honestly love giving presents; I’m one of those weird people at holidays who gets more excited about the things I’m giving than what I might get).
But here’s the thing. While I would hope that you would want to help, I don’t expect you to. I’m surprised and thrilled and grateful whenever you do, but I don’t expect it. At all. Ever. And I certainly wouldn’t presume to INSIST you do, or berate you for not doing so. Or imply that you’re stupid for not purchasing my books in the exact fashion that I would prefer you to do so.
Sadly, it seems sometimes as if I–okay, I and several of my close friends–are alone in that feeling, that instinctive cringing when we see readers being treated like nothing more than open wallets whose sole purpose is to drive said writer to greater glory.
Do I want to hit a list? Of course, although I would never presume to think I have a real shot at it. Do I think it would be great if readers everywhere held off on buying my books until the day of release? Well, sure, I guess so, but see the aforementioned “I would never presume to think I have a shot at a list anyway so what does it matter,” answer. (Yeah, I know, that wasn’t the full answer, but it’s what I meant.)
Are there things readers can do to help a favorite author hit a list? Yeah, but not as many as you think, really. Sure, waiting until release day–or the day before, since books release on Tuesdays and sales are counted for the entire week, so buying on Monday is okay–helps. That’s a good thing to do, if you’re interested, but really that’s about it. It’s certainly all I would ever think to ask.
See…I work for YOU. I mean, yes, I work for myself, but I DO the work for you. You are my audience. You are not my slaves. You do not exist in order to feed my ego or allow me to add a shiny “List” pin to my vest. It’s not for me to tell you where you’re allowed to buy my books or in what format. I’m just amazed and grateful that you buy them at all.
I’ll be perfectly honest here. There are times when it feels as if the world of readers and the world of writers are at war. Readers want certain things; they have a right to want those things as consumers. But writers/publishers want certain things as well, and we have a right to want those things as content creators and producers. And don’t even get me started on copyright violations/piracy, and some of the justifications for those. Again, to be honest? There are times when I see discussions of it, or come across my books on filesharing sites, and have the sick, deep feeling that I should just give the hell up. I can never “win”–by which I mean earn a decent living consistently, when I’m being stolen from.
And it’s not just the financial theft, it’s the feeling that someone has literally reached into my mind and taken something from me without permission. It feels like I got drunk and told a deep secret to someone I thought was a friend, and that so-called friend turned around and told the world, and they’re all laughing at me. Or like a when a guy you really like sleeps with you and then never calls you again, you know? It makes me feel worthless, and frustrated, and lonely and sad. Sure piracy bothers me because of the money, sure, but really?
Piracy just hurts. It hurts to think someone is using you for entertainment but doesn’t think you deserve any compensation for that. It hurts to think you’re seen as less than human; as some sort of machine which exists for the gratification of others but is not permitted any gratification of its own. It hurts to feel that someone thinks they’re entitled to the fruits of your labor–the expression of the truth as you see it and the worlds and people you created and love–without paying for them. It doesn’t feel like a royalty payment was stolen from you. It feels like a tiny part of your soul was stolen from you.
That shit hurts.
And I imagine it hurts readers, too, when they’re made to feel–from being yelled at, lectured, or treated like they’re stupid–that they exist solely to provide the writer with titles and accolades. That just buying and reading and enjoying and talking about a book isn’t enough, that they now must buy it at certain times, in certain places, in certain formats, at certain phases of the moon, or whatever. Just as writers are not simply typewriters churning out words, readers are not simply notches on that big bestseller belt. They are people.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. Just that I think it’s wrong.
Do I want to sell a lot of books? Hell, yes!
But I don’t want to just sell a lot of books. I want to entertain a lot of people. I want to give them something. That’s what this is about, not numbers or lists. It’s about books and writing and reading and the way when we read a book we love we feel connected to that book, and those characters, and that author. And when we discover another fan of those books we have a connection with that person, and books created that connection, and it wouldn’t exist without writers, readers, and publishers.
So do I want to hit a list? Of course. Have I thought of various promotional things to do, fun things, that may help facilitate that? Sure.
Do I want to hit a list at the expense of readers, by berating them or nagging them, by treating them like my minions or like they fucking owe me that goddamn list, so they better get off their fat asses and do what I say?
That’s not worth it to me. I don’t want it that way. It wouldn’t mean anything that way.
I may never hit a list. But I will always be grateful that people have bought my books, and read them and loved them and took the time to tell me. Yes, this is a business, and I want to succeed in it and make money. But not at the expense of readers, and not at the expense of my own soul.
So that’s it. Just some things I’m thinking of, and will continue to think of as we get closer to the summer and the release of the Downside books (finished copyedits on CITY OF GHOSTS last week, and am quite pleased, btw).
ETA: Moira Rogers, who writes awesome books, has also done a post on this topic, and I highly recommend you check it out too. My response to it? Ditto.