The Cup That Runneth Over
Does any written work have an audience?
In other words, does quality count?
It’s an arguable point. Even the scribblings of a young child might be valued by its mother.
What kind of audience? What size of audience? Is there any way of guaranteeing that at least some people will read a work? It may shock you to discover that 99% of books put out by traditional publishers do not make any money at all, for the author, the publisher, the distributor, anyone. Publishers and distributors earn their keep from the few books that do make some money. That leaves the author in an isolated position, doesn’t it?
In terms of profit potential and ease of use, self-publishing has become vastly more appealing for many writers these days. Amazon self-publishing is particularly attractive because everything is easy - you don’t need to be professionally qualified in any way. Anybody can use the Amazon platform to get their work out into the world and into the hands of readers. Some reports state that as many as 485,538,000 ebooks were sold on Amazon by 20,000 unique publishers last year. Fiction, non-fiction, history, biography, children’s literature - the field is wide open.
So on the surface there is an audience for just about any kind of work. You can even search for the most profitable subjects and types of book. You can almost guarantee that there will be some kind of readership for even the most poorly-written, obscure topics imaginable. Some authors make over a million dollars in a year by churning out badly-composed drivel, because they have found audiences who want to consume badly-composed drivel. Let’s face it, McDonalds makes millions too and is hardly a gourmet restaurant. But it really throws up questions: what do you want to achieve as a writer? To what degree are you willing to sacrifice quality to quantity?
When you consider what it is that you want to achieve as a writer, don’t just answer ‘Wealth’. Of necessity, wealth would mean a large audience, unless you sell each copy of your book for a million pounds. A large audience brings with it the temptation to write for the masses, as those big earners do, writing fast and hard and not bothering too much about integrity or the worth of their words. The magic combination is obviously a large audience attracted by the quality of your book, which seems to involve the marketing powerhouse of a traditional publisher, even these days. But perhaps there’s another way, or more to it…
Many best-selling authors, whose works we treasure to this day, didn’t become best-sellers because they had great marketing which drew in vast crowds of readers: they sold a lot of books because the books were good and reached a few readers only at first - but those readers told others, and those others told yet more, and so on. Then the marketers got busy and further spread the word that was already spreading. Tolkien’s works didn’t really take off until word of mouth reached a kind of critical mass; the same with Beatrix Potter, George Orwell, and even J. K. Rowling. And thousands of others. Word got around.
One of the conclusions to be drawn from all this is that the 99% of books in a bookshop which don’t sell well enough to even pay the author don’t sell because they are simply not good enough to prompt that ‘word of mouth’ magic which then spills out like a flooding river and becomes an ocean of readers. It’s only one conclusion, but it’s one that every writer needs to consider when writing: the quality of the book, the degree to which it fulfils readers’ needs, the amount of satisfaction resulting from its completion is the first cup running over, which triggers that flood.