As I sit, summer is upon the British Isles and I’m doing my normal dodging the sun routine. I burn very easily, and I don’t like the feeling of sun cream so I only put it on if I am out for more than a few minutes at a time. The day they invent non-claggy, safe sun care for sensitive skins is going to be a very welcome one for pale-skins like me.
Summer usually results in a slow down for blog hits and also for many authors, a slow down in book sales. Yes, I know: people are out enjoying the summer rather than staying in reading blogs or books. Yet I have now been blogging for over six years and I have seen a change. My blog hits have slumped now to equal those of my second year of blogging, and I am sad. I have always chosen NOT to chase hits for the sake of numbers, eschewing learning SEO magic tricks and a whole host of other strategies that bring in greater and greater numbers. I don’t want that sort of engagement; I believe in serendipity, and synchronicity. I believe that people will find their way to the right articles on this blog by those avenues and not because I effectively collar them on the virtual streets, accosting them by telling them that THIS is what they were looking for.
I’ve been struggling to keep going with blogging. Not because I have nothing to say, but there is a feeling inside me that grows until it roars like an enraged tiger: hardly anyone is listening. That is not true. I know this. There are lots of people listening, and engaging. Yet the feeling is still there, and it keeps telling me to just shut up, that no one is interested. I do not know where the feeling comes from precisely, but this post is intended to try to explore it. Hence the title Buffering; often by writing down my thoughts, clarity emerges.
On one of my recent work trips I mentioned to one of the teachers that I did not understand why adults read books for the Young Adult market. The explanation was that after a long day at work, people don’t always want the effort of reading a book that demands more of the reader. They want an easy read that fulfils the need to enjoy a story without the need to wrestle with it. I cannot tell you how sad this makes me. Young adult fiction did not really exist when I was a young adult, and I probably wouldn’t have read it then anyway. Not that there is anything wrong with it, before anyone leaps down the internet to rip my throat out (virtually speaking) but because I never identified with any of the themes. I read Harry Potter because I worked with teens at the time (ditto Twilight; that’s a few hours of my life I’ll never get back.) I can’t say I didn’t enjoy HP, because I did, and it does grapple with some important ideas (though all the teen angst had me just shrugging and reminding myself I am not the target demographic.
No, it’s the fact that people are reluctant to read something that demands something of them as reader. They wish to be entertained, not enlightened. We all read for different reasons, at different times. Entertainment is essential. But then so is engagement and that’s the thing that seems (to me, anyway) that is being shied away from on a grander scale.
My own books have been described as thought-provoking, poignant and other epithets that unfortunately have become almost the kiss of death for books at the moment. Combined with the vast ocean of material on sale, is it not inevitable that their appeal is limited?
I’ve become also terribly weary of the effort of trying to sell my books. There are hundreds of blogs, tips, tweets and even books that explore new (yeah, right!) ways of reaching readers. One might spend all day following these ideas and yet never sell a book. Things that worked six months ago may well not work now, and with tens if not hundreds of thousands of authors exploring every possible method, each method soon becomes stale. In my view, the thing that is crucial is the loyalty of readership, of having readers who love your work, share it and talk about it. I know that I seldom ever buy a book based on a single tweet, but do because of personal recommendation.
I now believe that one of the things that keeps me from just saying Bubbles to it and going and growing marrows like Poirot in his retirement, are my readers. Wonderful people who ask me when the sequel to The Bet is coming out, who tell me how much Away With The Fairies helped them through a dark time, who comment on this blog and whose words of kindness have often brought me back from the brink of quitting.
I’ve realised also that the yawning maw of social media is something that has had a weird effect on my writing. I want the instant approval and acclaim when I write something, and I’ve had to step back from it all. I’ve taken to old technology for first drafts: pen and ink and Moleskine notebooks, so that I am not using a keyboard a whisker away from being on Facebook, hearing its siren song and the plink of someone messaging me. Truth is, I’m terribly lonely at times and my friends in social media world are a huge comfort to me. But from time to time my other friends, the ones who live in my head and not in my computer screen, will sometimes talk to me and their voices are quieter, like overhearing voices in the next room. So to hear them, I need to go into that next room and sit with them. The constant demands of the perceived career path of an independent author are getting in the way of me actually being an author.
I’m not sure where to go from here. My biggest hitting blog posts tend to be the ones that are about writing; I imagine they’re read mostly by other authors looking for tips or wishing to express solidarity. The next biggest are the ones about mental health. The ones that garner least visits are the poetry ones, which again tells me something interesting. Ones I write about my books vary hugely; I’m reluctant to write those often because I can just hear those voices in my head sighing and bitching Oh enough already about your wretched books.
I know I can write. I’ve always know that’s what I should do with my life, yet writing for a diminishing market is getting me down because my faith in myself and my path is easily shaken. In theory it should not matter to me if I sell no more books, ever. But it does matter to me, and for more than just money. My worth as an author is inevitably measured by external agencies by the number of books sold. It tends to be among the first five questions people ask you when they find you are an author: how many books have you sold? It’s intrinsically wrong that this is so, but then it is as it is.
Anyway, I’ve postponed the release of the book of essays till early autumn because summer is a rubbish time for a book launch for anything that isn’t a beach read or an airplane book. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking is in the final stages of a final polish before release. I’ve had the sequel to The Bet printed out by our local stationery shop, to start a proof read. It needs a concept for cover art before I can even think about contacting my last cover artist and I’m stumped to find anything. The title, by the way is One Immortal Diamond (but that could change). I’ve been plugging away with other stuff as well, usually longhand but some on the computer. One work-in-progress slipped past the 50k words mark and I’m pleased with it so far. There’s life in this old dog, but I’ve learned too many new tricks in the last years to have the energy for more. In the end, I’m just a writer and more than that is expected of me (marketing executive, publisher, formatter, social media expert etc etc) and they are all getting in the way of me actually being able to do the thing I am good at.