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.