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You don’t want readers, you want obsessive fans

Your subconscious lies. It’s a filthy thing full of half-truths and sweaty fears. The dirtiest of things hiding in your subconscious is this: the notion that writing a book is hard. I might agree with that statement if I were chatting with Helen Keller or Jean-Dominique Bauby. Otherwise, chin up, pussycat.

A book’s just a string of words and punctuation. If you’re literate and you’ve spoken more than 100,000 words in your life (the length of an average novel), you can surely string together 100,000 written words.

No, the writing’s not the hard part. The hard part is writing something someone wants to read. To do that, carve this sentence into the drywall above your desk:

You don’t want readers, you want obsessive fans.

UNESCO says there were 304,912 books published in the U.S. in 2013. Throw in ebooks and self-published titles, and that number is probably closer to 1 million. Guess how many books the average person read in the U.S. last year?

Five.

Seriously.

Five.

Twenty-three percent of Americans didn’t read a single book last year.

That’s enough to make me want to take a crap on my manuscript and host a party where we take turns shooting flaming arrows at it while drinking Bacardi 151.

No. It’s clear that the hard part isn’t writing a book. The hard part is breaking through the noise.

You do, of course, have to get over your fear of writing a book that sucks. After that, your job is to write something people obsess over – something that gets stuck in their brains like plaque. It’s the only way they’re going to tell a friend about your book, which is the only way that person’s going to tell their friend, which is the only way more than 15 people might end up reading the book that consumed a year or more of your life.

You don’t want readers, you want obsessive fans.

Let’s be conservative. Let’s say 750,000 books are going to come out this year. That’s an average of 2,054 books a day! Considering the average American will only read five books a year, we’re looking at a rate of 1 in every 150,000 books achieving superstardom.* The average coastal dweller has 3x better odds of dying in a tsunami! Seriously, here’s the source.

People accuse lottery hounds of paying a stupidity tax… Perhaps the same should be said of writers?

And yet, we continue to write.

If we must self-flagellate, we owe it to ourselves to write something people talk about. We must create something that shimmers and fascinates. If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with it. Re-write it. Put more skin in the game. Create harder. Push further.

You don’t want readers, you want obsessive fans.

Readers don’t obsess over average. You must forge something unique. Go on a quest for anti-fans. Open that door you’ve kept locked. Take a lantern and explore what lies on the other side. Come back and tell us a story we cannot forget.

* That number’s probably high since the five books the average American reads in a given year weren’t all written that year. Your book will compete not just with all the books being published this year but with the millions of books that have come before it.

Fredrick Marion

Fredrick Marion

I like books that refuse to let you sleep at night. I like coffee, talking animals and hearing from readers. Sign up for my email newsletter, and I'll send my latest blog posts to your inbox!

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