Marketing, Writing advice

The Attention Deficit

Recently I stumbled upon a website called Positive Writer, which from my brief visit, seems to be dedicated to helping overcome the discouragement that can so easily overcome those who are trying to make something good out of this writing gig. It’s an admirable project. The culture we live in is not kind to those who attempt to carve their life out of the arts. It is very easy to get discouraged. Even those many of us would consider “successful” find themselves getting discouraged.

I battle discouragement on a regular basis. Personally, I think everyone does (even those who don’t write) because there’s a human desire for more, despite however much we might already have. But it can be worse for writer, painters, musicians, all those who are interesting in learning and perfecting an art.

Part of that is the apprentice period. It can take decades to learn the art form well enough to produce work that is any good. And then, when you do learn your art and produce something you think is pretty good, the culture around us—how do I put this?—doesn’t give a damn. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking the average person on the street couldn’t name a living poet or landscape painter if their life depended on it.

It’s just the nature of the world in which we live.

One of the most frustrating and discouraging part of this gig is when you have finally created something you think is good. Maybe it’s a poem, or a short story, or even a novel; it doesn’t matter. You’ve created it. You’ve revised and re-written it until there is no flab in the manuscript. You send it out and—be still your heart—someone agrees to publish it. This is what you’ve been working for all these years. This is the Promised Land. Right?

But no one even notices. No one pays any attention. The work you worked so hard on and are so proud of dries up and dies of neglect almost as soon as it’s released. You get discouraged. What’s the point of working so hard to produce something beautiful if no one’s going to pay attention? No one that isn’t a blood?

It’s a legitimate question and a valid reason for discouragement. It happens more often than you might think. In fact, I believe it happens with most works produced these days and that is also discouraging.

But perhaps there’s a better question to be asked here. Why in the world should anybody pay attention when I publish a new novel? After all, they don’t know me, do they? Who am I? Yes, I worked very hard on this novel and yes I think it’s pretty good, but doesn’t every author work hard on their novels? Don’t they all think it’s pretty good? Upwards of 200,000 books are published every single year, fiction and nonfiction. Why on earth should anyone pay any attention to mine?

The brutal truth is that there is no reason. The fact that I published a novel called Deception Island warrants no attention at all from Mrs. Mary Smith in Everytown, Iowa. Why should it? It has nothing to do with her. The fact that I published a novel deserves her attention just as much as the slaughter of a goat in a village in Zimbabwe—not at all.

The brutal truth is that most works of art, whether it’s poetry, a novel, a painting, sculpture, or a song, fade away soon after they’re introduced to the world because there is absolutely no reason for anyone besides its creator to pay attention to them. No reason at all.

It can be very, very discouraging. Very discouraging indeed. Especially if your goals are not satisfied solely by the knowledge that you have created this work, or with the praise and/or admiration of your circle of friends.

If your goal is to have everyone in the English-speaking world read your creation, what do you do? How do you overcome this discouraging news?

Well, first off, take a sip of realism, because you’re never going to get every person who speaks English to read your book. It’s impossible. Sorry. Even the Bible—the best selling book of all time—hasn’t been read by everybody. Shoot for a more attainable goal such as being the number one selling book on Amazon. It’s a high target, but completely attainable. Someone has to be number one, after all, why not you?

But how do you do this? How do you make your book a best-seller (or even a good seller) if no one is going to pay attention to it? Well, you can’t. People will not buy your book (or other work of art) if they aren’t paying attention to it.

In order to sell, we first have to get their attention.

But we’ll tackle that next week.


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