July 17th, 2022

Can you succeed as a writer? It’s an easy question to answer. Just put on a black turtleneck and look in the mirror.

Your story should be enough, but it isn’t - at least not yet. The story should be all that matters, but unfortunately we’re in a sad sort of cusp between a rickety collapsing old system and a new one that is arguably even worse.

The old structure is warm and familiar: book stores, libraries, proper publishing houses who preside over it all and tell themselves that they are the last defense the readers have against sloppy writing. "What would the readers do without us?” Their strategy was, and is, to make the author a celebrity. Make the author into a hybrid writer/celebrity who can entertain crowds and whip up excitement. Why? Because it works. It works for the subset of good writers who are comfortable in the spotlight doing book signings, interviews and blog tours.

Of course this strategy is a blunt instrument and it misses wide swaths of people who, for one reason or another, don’t fit the celebrity profile. But it’s a flaw of omission. Some quality is missed but nothing truly awful gets through. For all the flaws, that system kept the truly terrible books away from the readers. Now we live in a dystopian between-time, where the old way is failing and there’s no replacement to help readers find that unknown gem in the sea of over a million new stories which appear on Amazon every year. All we as readers have, is reviews, but reviews are a leaky life raft. That system is all too easily gamed as we have seen. So, we’re between a world of author-as-celebrities and a brighter future where the story is all that matters and truly objective book recommendations are made by an A.I. without any axe to grind, without any agenda, and without being distracted by whether the author looks good in a black turtleneck.

What does it take to sell books?

A good story that is well-told.

An audience. This is why Traditional publishing always tried to turn the author into a celebrity. Without an audience standing by to hear you say “Hey! I have a new book,” no one will buy it.

Any author, regardless of talent, will fail without an audience. Even J.K. Rowling failed without her following. She wrote a book under a pseudonym, (without the fans of H.P.) aaaand crickets.

Let’s flip that around and look at people who were already famous before writing a book. With a few exceptions, books by celebrity-authors are pretty horrible. So, why do they do it? Because it works. It’s the exact same problem. If there’s an audience, there’s a market, and anybody with an audience can sell anything.

Will this ever change? Maybe. If, or maybe when, someone creates an A.I. capable of discerning between a good story and a bad one, then we will live in a reader’s

paradise where our “to-read” pile has no stinkers, and each one is our new favorite. Equally as important, unknown authors with amazing stories find an audience.