I’ve embarked upon a series of books. Not intentionally, but in response to my readers.
When I read reviews asking “What’s next?” for Zack Tolliver (my protagonist) I am buoyed by such enthusiasm and charged to respond to it. As a writer I am flattered when the characters I create take on a life of their own; there’s something god-like in that.
But now I find myself on a road determined not by me but by my readers. And maybe not even all of my readers, come to think of it, just those who bothered to review the book. That’s not entirely a bad thing, of course, but it raises the question: for whom do I write?
Sage, experienced authors advise us to “write what you know” and “write your passion”; in essence, follow your muse. But there two very strong influences to the contrary: readers and money.
When referring to readers, I am clumping together that whole world of “other people” influences, ranging from family to that critic in Bird Tracks Crossing, North Dakota (no offense meant to that particular town). Our brains are organized to respond favorably to praise; it’s a chemical thing, quite beyond our control. We instinctively want to please people. But the trap lies in trying to please everyone.
And again, most people do not express views. From my experience, of five thousand readers who purchase a book on Amazon, twenty might write a review. The question is, should I allow myself to be influenced by the thoughts of those twenty when, quite possibly, the remainder of those five thousand readers disagree?
Yet I am embarked on writing a series.
And money. Yes, no matter how altruistic we are about our writing goals, we care about money. There are exceptions, of course, such as those who are independently wealthy, those writing memoirs intended exclusively for their families, or the odd Tibetan monk. But for the rest of us, money counts. The retailers, publishers, book shepherds, publicists and agents lead us down this path with their advice.
The strongest influence is undoubtedly Amazon, with their author rankings and multiple markets and rewards programs and graphics and reports. Many books have been authored about how to successfully sell on Amazon. But you can boil most of their content down to this: two books are better than one, three books are better than two, and so on. It’s simple economics, but it has led to hastily written 150 page multi book series. When did a novel shrink to 150 pages? But that’s a topic for another time.
The quest for money also takes my time away from writing. Social Media alone can take my entire day if I let it. The planning for book events, the search for reviews, the upkeep of a blog, a web site, daily tweets, etc., etc. together are endlessly time-consuming. Consider: if money didn’t matter, one could write all day!
I have other writing projects, and I try to give those equal time. But despite myself I return again and again to the Amazon author page to check rank and sales. My day floats euphorically or dies a horrible death according to those numbers. We are a competitive species, but good writing, like a good golf swing, emerges only from an untroubled mind.