Dawn field on two drops of ink

8 reasons why not everyone will read your book and why that’s perfectly fine

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
—William S. Burroughs


By Dawn Field

Write for those who will appreciate what you have to say.

As a writer, you will certainly have your favorite books and beloved authors. As some works are top of your list, others might be bottom of your list. As there are so many books in the world, the truth will always be that you’ve only read a tiny fraction of all books, including even the books that you might like best.

This is just a fact about the world of books. It’s one authors have to acknowledge and accept.

The best books for each of us give us a sense that ‘someone gets it’. As Anne Lamott says in her book on writing, Bird by Bird, it’s that overwhelmingly emotional moment when a reader feels, “Someone finally spoke for me”.

Authors are encouraged to write about specific stories that are unique in their details but universal in their messages.  This is admirable, but hard to achieve.

What about writing more narrow topics? This is equally valuable, and fills the ‘niche market’, but will naturally have a more focused readership.

Here are eight reasons most people will never read your book and why that’s expected and perfectly fine:

It’s not their topic

Many people read by topic. They know what they like and stick to it. You might have written the best romance in the world, but those who don’t pick up romance won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. That is just how the world works. This goes for all subjects.

Bestsellers make up the majority of sales

Most publishers make their profits from the sale of a very short list of books. The best sellers make up more sales, for the reason cited above. Most people just don’t read most books. There is a very long tail.

The name on the cover

Many people buy for the author. They like the style and topic and to get the next great read, they just go down an author’s book list. If you don’t already have a following, you can’t pick up this kind of reader.

Few books reach launch velocity

Many people pick their books because they are ‘the best’. This could be word-of-mouth, because they top the best-seller list, or they’ve just won a big prize. It’s like tuning it to watching a royal wedding just to be part of an event that involves a billion people. This is a good bet for filtering on quality, but since so few books reach this height, it’s extremely hard to win readers this way.

Big world and millions of books

This is just a fact of today. On top of there being a finite number of readers, spending a finite amount of money on books, there are millions of choices out there. You have to get beyond all the buzz to get a place on the bedside table.

They might love it but just won’t come across it

Even if you are on topic for someone, in the sea of books out there, they might just not find it. This is where networking, publicity, and marketing are the defining factors.

Mood Readers

Even if your book is on-topic, and found, a reader might not be receptive because of mood. Many of us are mood readers. What appeals one day, doesn’t the next.  What we can deeply relate to in a period of our life, we’d brush off in the next.

Stuck on the bedside table

If the mood for your book doesn’t manifest, or time doesn’t allow, or bestsellers and buzz books invade, your book might get stuck on the bedside table. People buy books with all best intentions. Be happy it got to the bedside.

What this means

These are truths that all authors face. All you need to worry about is whether you did the best you could and if so, then the book is what it was meant to be. Certainly, you can use these facts to tailor your strategy somewhat, like writing to a genre, but it’s often far more important to write what you have in you, no matter what that is.

At the end of the day, your goal is to connect with the readers who will appreciate your book.

And the fact also stands, that almost all great writers have stories of long lists of rejections – including for many of the best-loved books ever written.

SUMMARY

You can’t write a book for everyone. This just means you should go with your instincts and write what you have in you. This gives you a high degree of freedom. You shouldn’t aim to please all just the ones who will appreciate what you have to say.

The fact that most people don’t read most books is just a fact of life. It doesn’t mean your book couldn’t be the best thing possible for someone because of its specific message.

QUESTIONS

  1. What kinds of books do you like to read – and which do you never pick up?
  2. Are you writing the same kind of book you like to read best?
  3. Who are you writing your book for and why?
  4. Do you actively think about readers when you are writing?

Dawn Field

Spot on humor: A genius example all writers can learn from two drops of ink dawn field

BIO:

Dawn Field is a scientist now writing her second book for Oxford University Press. She has published over 50 articles on writing because she is fascinated by what makes great writing, the writing process, learning how writers create, and how fiction impacts society. She loves reading book drafts at any stage of completion, brainstorming writing projects, and hearing about the diversity of writing experiences. Connect with her to collaborate, or converse, at UnityinWriting.com.

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11 comments

  1. Some might find this discouraging, but I found it inspiring – with so many books out there, it frees me to not worry about anything except writing because I want to write, and doing my best when I write. Granted, at some point I’ll (hopefully!) have to dive into marketing and all that jazz, but if and when I get there, I am quite sure it will be exciting to take the plunge.

  2. Dawn, you ask about books I like to read. I may read 1 novel a year. The last was by Michael Connoly (A Darkness more than Night) which I finished just after Christmas last year. I read a lot, but today my reading is mainly e-books or web focused, and generally focused on either work or things I am researching.

    The question of writing the same type of book that I read, that is very interesting. I have a detective character that I have tried writing about and have great trouble getting the plot moving. I know precisely where the story will lead, but cannot get the work moving. That said I am focused on other work which I openly admit may be standing in the way.

  3. Good post, Dawn. Clearly-stated reality. Some answers to your questions:

    1 – I love procedural mysteries, Also, not sure what you call them, but James Michener’s books. Solid non-fiction (mostly science-based). Some memoirs (hated Angela’s Ashes, but loved When We Were the Kennedys). Occasionally, science fiction. I don’t read romance or very many dystopian novels. I got totally hooked on the Outlander series.
    2 – So far I’ve only written one book (a memoir). But, I have done several short stories (one mystery, one travel essay) which have been published.
    3 – I write when I have a good idea. I do not make a practice of writing every day.
    4 – Not really. I write what I enjoy. But I belong to a critique circle, which bring me back to reality. And has helped me a lot to transition from business writing to “real” writing.

  4. “All you need to worry about is whether you did the best you could and if so, then the book is what it was meant to be.” I LOVE THIS!! I will be enlarging, printing out and pinning your words to my memo board above my desk as I continue to go through the first edit of my first book. I will need to remember it on the hard days.
    . I am writing the book I like to read – and I am keeping my readers in mind. Although I am a mood reader, I continually gravitate back to stories or books that inspire, encourage or motivate me to continue walking by faith in Christ and looking for His redemptive hand in the midst of loss and grief.
    I hope my book will do the same for my readers (whoever they will be). Thank you for this realistic look at both reading and writing!

  5. Thank you, Dawn, for this excellent post that was clarifying for me. It has been ‘dawning” on me lately that not everybody “gets” me, which (duh) also applies to what I write. I guess I’m like Popeye saying, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.” Now here it is through you: DAWN. There are times (like this) when I find God simply hilarious!

    • Whitney, I love your Popeye reminder quote. Another version of this which I often say is “What you see, is what you get.” Well, here we are – as we are! Lol! Thanks for the reminder to just be who we are – in life and in our writing.
      And I do believe that God does have a sense of humor! 😊

      • Me, too, Terry. And this: I am what I eat. Aka: I have discovered that what I read affects how I write!

  6. Dawn, I like your matter of fact way of telling the truth. It makes it easier for writers not to take things personally if their books don’t get read. I read all kinds of things…I am a mood reader. Right now I am back on a fiction kick. My own writing is for me to express things I think and feel. Not usually fiction, but I dabble. 🙂 My current attempt at a book is a memoir about my husband’s head injury, and I do think about my readers…because they are like me, caregivers of head injured loved ones. It is a hard road to walk…which is why I am writing, to encourage.

    • Michelle – I will be one of your readers. Although I am not a caregiver for an injured loved one, I’ll be reading your book for other reasons. First, because I am privileged to call you friend. Secondly, because I have come to know and love your writing, and thirdly because it fits into my category of inspiration, encouragement and motivation….
      May God bless the work of your hands as you prepare this book.

      • Thanks Terry! I am trying to make this a priority this year…the problem is I have TOO MANY priorities. I am going to schedule some time away to try to pull it together.

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