One Book Won’t Do
Used to be one book was enough to make an author a superstar. Harper Lee dined out on To Kill a Mockingbird for decades. Well, and even had her book assigned as regular classroom curriculum (at least where I’m from).
Maybe an author didn’t write only one book, but it only took one to shoot him or her to the moon. Stephen King’s Carrie was just the start of his huge success, and he’s built up from there.
But then one has to keep in mind that, back in the day, one had to go to a bookstore to get a book.
I liken it to movies, now, too. There are so many different distribution streams. And, hell, cinemas have 10 and 20 screens now. When I was a kid (God, I’m old enough now to start using that old chestnut), growing up in Small Town, South, our cinema had one screen and showed maybe two movies at any given time. Those films played for about a month before we got anything new. Now, though, a slew of movies come out at a time, and if you don’t feel like spending $50+ at the cinema, there’s just as much on offer at home On Demand.
Same for books. A bunch of books came out each Tuesday, and the local bookstore would display them for at least a week, if not more depending. (On what? The whims of the bookstore owner or manager, I suppose.) Your choices were to pick up one of these books, or maybe browse the older stuff on the shelves, or go to the library, which had pretty much the same stuff as the bookstore but for free so long as you gave it back when you were finished with it. In short, though, an author had a fair amount of time on display and a fair chance of getting noticed. Same as movies. At some point in that month of What’s On, odds were you’d suck it up and go see it because, well, that’s what was playing.
But now? Thousands of books get published per day via self-publishing platforms. It’s a constant deluge. And the minute your book is out, it’s lost in the flood. Even if you get some attention from readers, the chances of you being a breakout superstar are miniscule. Because today people don’t have much of an attention span. So any attention you do get is fleeting.
Which means you have to (a) market constantly, and (b) keep producing new work.
I’m going to switch metaphors on you now. Think of it as fishing. The readers are the fish. When only a few boats (authors) are out on the stream, the chances of catching lots of fish are pretty good. But when the stream is crowded with boats—so many boats you can’t even see the surface of the water—that’s a lot of bait for just a few fish. So you up your chances of catching anything by throwing in more hooks (books).
I could go on about using the right bait for the right readers, but I already feel bad about calling readers “fish.” Let’s just say, readers, you are a valuable and necessary resource to us authors (who are also readers)!
I’m thinking about all this as I look at my list of projects and wonder which to tackle next. Some I’m bound to do, but after that . . . What bait do I load onto my hook? Because while of course I hope Peter is successful, I can’t honestly count on it being my one shot at glory. I’d keep writing in any case—I can’t not write—but I must balance the things I want to write with those that catch fish. Ideally, the two are the same, but it’s not always so. I know my Sherlock Holmes stories are still my bread and butter (would it help to say Peter started in my head as a Sherlock fanfic and then went somewhere else entirely?), and I’ll write more of those, enjoy writing those, though not as often as readers demand. So I’m forced to juggle wanting to write more Peter, more Changers, and Hamlette with the fact that my Sherlock Holmes stories are what sell.
Usually it ends up going something like: Work on a big project until I get stuck, then transfer my attention to something smaller and more immediately gratifying. Then go back to the big project. So I’ll be working on a novel, then I’ll write a Holmes story (or some other story), and then go back to the novel. It’s good to insert the quick stuff in the cracks whenever possible. Though when a book is really rolling, I might not stop to write anything shorter for a long time. But that also means I won’t catch any fish for a long time, either. Gotta have fresh bait out there.
Which is why I say one book won’t do. That bait gets old, and unless you’re picked up by, I dunno, Oprah or suddenly assigned to classrooms across the nation . . . You’re going to have to keep baiting the hook for the older stuff and putting out new hooks to boot.
And I don’t even like fishing.
But, hey, a girl’s gotta eat.