Posted in News, TV shows
March 2, 2016

Should We Be Writing If Nobody's Reading?

By Elizabeth Shore

So, did you happen to watch the Kurt Sutter – he of Sons of Anarchy fame – period/fantasy drama The Bastard Executioner? No? Me neither. Nor, apparently, did anyone else. Recently I came across a really fascinating article in The Hollywood Reporter about how Sutter himself, knowing the ratings were in the toilet, pulled the plug on his own show. What was particularly intriguing, however, was what Sutter had to say about why he made that decision.

“I love this show, I love the mythology, but, you know, it almost f—ing killed me. I don’t write in a vacuum. I’m not the guy sitting in my ivory tower spitting shit out not caring if anyone is watching. I like an audience. I don’t want to write something that nobody’s f—ing watching.”

So, realizing that the show simply wasn’t catching on with the audience, he decided to cancel it. Admittedly, he says, part of the reason to stop was ego. He doesn’t want to be behind something that people aren’t watching. But he also said that he feels if people aren’t watching then he’s not necessarily doing his job. I found both of these comments rather thought provoking as I applied them to my own writing career, and I asked myself: should I be writing something if no one is reading it?

The truth is, I didn’t get into this writing business for any reason other than the personal enjoyment and satisfaction I get from doing it. I’d venture to say that’s truth for most all of us. Sure, it would be amazing to have sales like Nora Roberts. Or Eloisa James. But creating and telling stories is what we like to do, so that’s why we write. I had the sense when I read Kurt Sutter’s comment that he’s placing a pretty heavy emphasis on his definition of success by how many people are watching his shows. If he doesn’t connect with an audience then, by his own admission, he’s not doing his job. Yet there are so many variables behind gaining traction with viewers and, in our case, with readers. As someone said to me just today, hard work is good, luck is better.

Gaining readership takes monumental, on-going effort. Blogging, tweeting, adding your content to Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads…and on and on and on. But it all starts with the fundamental no-brainer of writing a good book. Right? So say you’ve written the best book you can, you interact with social media til you’re blue in the face, yet still you just don’t have a lot of readers. Does it mean you haven’t done your job? Further, if you’re writing something that people aren’t reading, should you throw in the towel?

I recognize that comparing a romance writing career with Kurt Sutter’s high-stakes TV show is a little bit apples and orange-y. There are some seriously big, no giant, dollars behind TV productions. If a show doesn’t connect with an audience it means no ad money. Without that the show is doomed. So it’s not as if a TV writer can just decide he’s doing what he’s doing for the love of it and damn anyone to hell if they don’t watch. But Sutter put much less emphasis on that aspect than on the simple fact that he doesn’t want to put out something no one watches.

I find it an interesting question to ponder. How do we measure our own success? By having lots of readers? Fabulous reviews? Receiving requests for interviews? Or is it simply for the sense of supreme accomplishment that comes from having written a book as well as you can.

I’d be curious to hear from fellow writers what you think. Let us know in the comments section, and be sure to follow us at Lady Smut, where we put out new content every day just because we love doing it.







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  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    There’s ‘doing social media’ and then there’s looking at funny, happy stuff your friends are posting on social media and responding to it, liking it, and sharing it. Hey, sometimes you even find stuff to post yourself. The latter kind of task has quite a different feel to it than the former.

    And everything just takes a lotta lotta time. Jerry Seinfeld talked about being an ‘overnight’ wonder after ten years of relentless on the road comedy club performances. It took Larry David twenty years. Persistence is just the name of the game.

    That said, it’s an interesting question as to whether you’re ‘working hard’ or ‘working smart’. And is part of working smart knowing when you’re heading into a blind alley, stopping, and turning around? And how much of ‘working smart’ means having an agent, or going with the right publisher, or ditching all that and going indie?

    I like being a writer. I like it in a day by day way, but I also have the extraordinary luxury of writing every day and not having to earn an income just yet. (I mean, if I never turn a profit, we’re going to run into a financial wall eventually).

    Yet when it comes to working smart, I’m trying to pay attention to the people around me who have lots of readers and seeing what they’re doing, specifically. Sometimes it all seems so far out of my reach. Other days not so much. I think when you’re surrounded by people who have few readers and little sales, it’s time to look at what’s the common denominator — publisher? Romance sub-genre category? Lack of craft or not paying attention to the romance conventions readers really want/love?

    The pinchy place for me is what if having a ton more readers and being more successful meant writing stuff I don’t really want to write? But thankfully, I see the writers I love writing stuff I want to write, and they have tons of readers. So whew!

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Yes, agree. Whew! (wipes brow). And you make an excellent point about whether you’d write something you don’t want to write if it’s successful.On the flip side…if you’re writing stuff you absolutely love and want to write, but nobody’s reading it, do you keep on writing? That’s what I found intriguing about Kurt Sutter. He loved that show and poured his heart into creating it. Yet nobody watched so he pulled the plug on that which he loved.

      What about if you were just crazy insanely wild about 8th century romances set in Bavaria and that’s all you wanted to write, yet the only readers you manage to connect with are your mother and closest BFFs.. Do you keep on writing your 8th century Bavarian romps or do you move on to Regencies?

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorG.G. Andrew

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too, and talking about it in my writer’s group. Everyone’s definition of success varies so much, and of course everyone’s definition of “no one reading” probably varies too, as probably few people have literally no sales or readers for years… There’s probably some, but it’s up to the author to tell if it’s enough. For me, writing is so rewarding in and of itself, that I’ll probably do it despite sales fluctuating. Though I think this is a reason to branch out and try different subgenres and ways of telling stories, to see which stick better with an audience.

    Reply to G.G. Andrew
  • Post authorKate

    What an interesting question.

    First, I do agree that tv shows versus, say, an indie ebook are on vastly different scales of economics. The only “investor” I really have to worry about is my DH and, wonderfully, he’s in it for the long haul. A second point about writing in obscurity—as Mark Coker points out so clearly in his free Smashwords ebook—the more you write, the more readers you’ll get. If you only write one book, you’re way out on the tail but the more you write, the more likely you’ll begin to exponentially increase your sales (i.e. readers).

    But I want to focus on Kurt Sutter’s point—that it hurts, emotionally, to give your heart to something that doesn’t catch on. And in this world of “celebrity” as art, it’s especially discouraging not to have high sales numbers, followers, etc., when somebody’s cat video is going viral and your highly praised book goes unread.

    But this isn’t really new either.

    American composer Charles Ives, now considered a master, died without financial or popular success. In an early form of social media, renowned composer Aaron Copland published a newspaper article praising his work (circa 1930’s) but it didn’t help sell Ives’ self-published collection “114 Songs.” Ives even won a Pulitzer but still he was forced to self finance nearly all performances of his music during his lifetime. He died never knowing that his work would become inspiration to countless musicians and composers today. Of course, he’s not the only one. Even Schubert’s lush music was thought inferior in his time.

    History is littered with great artists that died unrecognized or penniless. Toulouse-Lautrec. Vermeer. Gauguin. Van Gogh only sold 1 painting during his lifetime! Even Rembrandt, considered by some to be one of the greatest painters of all time, died in poor obscurity in 1669.

    William Blake. Kafka. Thoreau. Edgar Allan Poe could not make enough money to live on. Others, such as Emily Dickinson and Stieg Larsson (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) kept their writing a secret on purpose, only to be discovered after their death.

    I would suggest to you that there is one unifying theme with all these diverse artists. They were driven to create and in some way it must have fulfilled them to do it. Even in the face of hardship. Even without anyone else seeming to appreciate their efforts. They must have utterly loved creating art.

    That’s why I do it. Even though I don’t pretend to their mastery, I share their love of creating something out of nothing. Taking quill to paper. Making stories. I love it!

    Is that why you write?

    Reply to Kate
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