More Thoughts on Reader-Focused Fiction

Considering the rhetoric of self-publishers and indie publishers these days, especially in regards to traditional publishing, you’d think that authors are finally unshackled from the chains of tyrants who cruelly eviscerated work that “didn’t sell” and denied them entry into the life meant for them, the life of a Writer. Even if you’re not looking for Stephen King-caliber popularity, you are apparently being cheated out of your true potential by going with a gatekeeper. The image of the big publishing companies has rather swiftly evolved into something a little like this.

Meet my pet. His name's Skippy. Yes, you read that right. Skippy. Don't judge me.

But as happy as I am that everyone now has the option for selling their work and becoming known as an official Author, I want to reiterate from a previous post: your writing is meant to serve others.

I mentioned that I appreciate the gatekeepers, and that some people are running away from them for the wrong reasons. Even though the self-publishing industry is thriving more than ever, it seems to have lost a great deal of focus on serving readers with great storytelling, and shifted its focus to marketing. That could be just my limited exposure to such talk, so please tell me if I am wrong.

Most writing talks and articles nowadays are geared toward self-pubbers, with instructions on how to format a book, what price the Kindle edition should have, and how you can advertise your name through social media (Maybe that’s just “most” articles and talks I’ve seen and I need to hit the Writer’s Digests again).

I’m here to ask all fiction writers, no matter what they write or how they publish it: how high is excellent storytelling on your priorities list?

What of the readers who need a great book in their hands? What of the complex characters and patiently built plots they hunger for, flowing in the veins of a living story that tells them something True about themselves and about mankind?

Are you willing to kill your ego and send the book to an agent, or hire an editor for it? Remember this: every writer goes to war, picking up a rifle and doing their part. And whether or not they know it, they’ll need a drill sergeant to let them know what they’re getting right, and what they’re totally screwing up. If you’re a writer, you need such a colleague because you are bound to a cause that serves others, gifting them with an endless supply of new stories that they will care about. Readers want and need stories that challenge, that bewilder, that terrify and amuse and race through the blood until it becomes a part of them. Renewing your commitment to excellence is more important than ever, for your readers have so many excuses to be distracted.

Don’t let them be distracted. Give them a story that captures them as surely as a spell, and do this by honing your skills and wit until they are as sharp as obsidian. Learn to care about your readers more than whether the story needs to run through a gauntlet of “gatekeepers” to reach them. Your readers are starving for wonderful new fiction. They need the best tales you’ve got.

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5 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Reader-Focused Fiction

  1. I have to say that high quality story is at the top of my list. I’m giving serious thought to self-publishing, not because I don’t want to run the gauntlet of submitting it, but for a host of other reasons. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t ask myself if I my story is good enough, any story that I’m working on at any stage of development. But I agree that not all self-publishing writers are asking this. I remember seeing someone post in the NaNoWriMo forums sometime in December that they had just self-published their book that they wrote over November. My reader’s soul cringed, I swear.

    For myself, I’m not running from the gatekeepers (I planned at one point to have a career as one before deciding that I’d rather write), but too many are, as you said, running to self-publishing for the wrong reasons. I don’t know that it’s a new phenomenon, but it is perhaps one that has grown far beyond what we have seen before due in large part to how much easier it is to do it in this electronic age, not to mention cheaper. This still goes under the “wrong reasons” category for me, though.

  2. The story is all, and while I don’t think self-publishing necessarily kills that possibility, it is a good point that a traditional publishing route can put excellent tools in your hands for achieving the best end product for the reader. I just completed a Writing, Publishing & Marketing course, and among the many reasons for seeking a traditional publisher, it is interesting that this one didn’t really crop up. Our instructor had read all of us, so perhaps she wasn’t concerned that the end product would be a concern, but a certainly take the point that the editors, etc. you are likely to meet in a publishing house are likely to be the very people that are best going to be able to help you hone your craft. So wish me luck! 1st 2 query letters ever went out!

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