Nobody Reads

It’s easy to be disheartened as a writer. It’s one of those professions that few people take seriously–including writers themselves. So many are eager to give up their work for free (“exposure”) or even pay people to read it (“reading fees”) and when people do pay for quality writing, inevitably most of the money goes to whoever is hosting the work. That’s how the world works, of course–employees exist to make money for the employer, and creative professions are no exception. But more than that, the employers are barely able to exist themselves–how many struggling publications are out there, who have a dream of spreading quality literature to the world, who have to resort to taking advantage of their own readers and writers just to exist? Only all of them, except those who exist solely to be a scam.

I don’t blame publishers. I understand reading fees, as frustrating as it is to be unable to get paid for my work because I can’t afford to submit. And I can’t help thinking publications float on these fees, and the only ones reading are writers who have subscriptions from when they paid to submit their work. It’s a depressing, wryly amusing cycle.

Not enough people read. And those that do rarely take a chance on writers–they’ll read the bestsellers, the ones strongly recommended by their friends, the ones movies are based on. After all, as cheap as books are, they’re a big time-investment. So why don’t people read more short stories, or novellas, or, god forbid, poems? Especially in an age of Twitter and texting and Buzzfeed and other brief reads.

One reason might be the bang-for-your-buck idea that novels have more staying-power. More than that, it’s just tradition to curl up with a book. And since novels are more profitable, few writers really stick with writing short stories. I firmly believe most big novels could easily be told in a short story–or at most a novella–but those don’t sell. Another cycle.

As for those who don’t read at all (except messages from friends and celebrities and entertainment websites), why not? They probably watch movies, play games, listen to music–all involving writing. Why have the entertainment industries around movies and TV and music and games all advanced so much, but reading hasn’t? Is it too sacred? Sure, we’ve got our ebooks, but in an age of Netflix and Spotify and Xbox Live and Facebook, reading just isn’t exciting enough. People don’t seem to want to read–they want to be read to.

I think publishers should look at those aforementioned entertainment giants as starting points for advancing reading as an entertainment medium. Why can’t reading be social? Why don’t we have a Pandora for audio recordings of poetry and short stories? Why do people still refuse to read on their phones? Why aren’t serialized stories coming back, now that TV is so much better? These are all questions people need to think about. There are so many ways of making reading (or hearing) stories as massive as Twitter. Sticking with reading fees and zines just isn’t going to cut it.

– H.

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