The Yin and Yang of Writing, Publication, and Readership

If you’re a writer out there, or a practitioner of any art form, for that matter, what does success mean to you? And before we go any further, let me ask you to read this article.

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Another recent article, this one on writing, argues that publication is only a means to an end. But what is that end? It’s your readership. I believe this to be true. How many of you writers out there seek publication beyond friends, neighbors, readers of a similar perspective as yours, or from your geographical locale? Each step outward in developing a readership is valuable, so why are you content to sell to your own insular group? To people of your particular mini-culture? Or are you brave enough to take your writing to the larger audience out there, the one that doesn’t know a thing about where you-or your characters-are from, or why you and your writing matter?

But then there’s the writing itself. Is your writing compelling enough to Europeans, say, of maybe to a Japanese reading public, to have them want to read you and slaver after your next book-and the next?

So here we have two main problems writers face:

  • Is your writing good enough to attract readers from more or less alien cultures? Do your characters and your story display some thread common to readers in Poland and South Africa that will pull them in?
  • And how do you, daring writer, go about reaching these “exotic” readers? The article above recommends finding ways to plant your books in cities such as New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, that have a cross pollination of cultures, where readers aren’t so insular. The article argues that MFA programs do that, as does developing a relationship with a known writer, publicist, etc. who has those connections.

The problem is-and here the issue is having a growing readership at your disposal-that there are ways to develop your writing to be read world-wide. But those avenues don’t in all likelihood open you to a wider audience. Many teachers are writers themselves, and as I’ve found, not a few are jealous of their own audience, unwilling to share that audience with someone they might view as a competitor.

But the problem has a “Part B,” and this is my constant complaint about MFA programs, writing conferences, seminars, and the like. They may offer the brass ring of reader-laden connections, but, particularly MFA programs, they don’t offer legitimate ways to develop you as a writer. For instance, let’s talk agents: One agent may read part of your manuscript and, based on his/her connections, like/dislike certain things. Another agent may react in an opposite way.

This, then, is the state of writing, publishing, and reading these days. But so that this not be considered a rant, I’m seeing good writing in abundance these days. So there must be ways to bridge the above implacable forces.

How? Sorry, but I don’t have an answer for you. That’s because every manuscript from every writer is likely unique in style, vision, and impact on readers. Thus each must be developed and managed uniquely in a book industry that has little interest in such a unique approach.

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