Thursday, June 14, 2012

Upside Down World

I was talking with my co-conspirator partner in crime colleague about how strange this world is in which we're working. I mean the world of educational assessment publishing, and specifically, what this world is like for writers.

In the real world, so many writers are writing, so many books are published. Writers are writing and writers are getting published, and the goal of getting published is a worthy one for a writer. Otherwise why write? Presumably a writer has something he or she wants to say to the world. Or at least say to a reader, or to as many readers as a writer may somehow cajole onto the page. All well and good.

And yet in that real world, the average book might sell 300 copies. (I don't know how many copies my first book sold, but I do know the print run: 1500. That number broke my heart when first I heard it.)

Here in this world, a story a writer writes may be read by thousands of children. Over the many years I've been writing in this world, considering the hundreds of stories, poems, articles I've written, I'm certain it's no exaggeration to say my writing has been read by at least a million. A million readers! Can you believe I'd never considered that until now?

Ups the ante, don't it?

You know what else ups the ante is that our readers, unlike most readers, who are at liberty to set the book down and walk away (or throw the book across the room, as I once did with a book I found deeply unsatisfying), are a captive audience.

Which makes our intention all the more important. The primary intention is to put something on the page that will allow those captive readers to show us what they know. If we can interest and entertain them while we do it, all the better. The only way to do that is with good writing.

The intention can't be simply to get published--because in this upside down world, what does it matter? One might have a million readers, and yet no fame. (Ahem, not naming any names, that would be me.) If I were in for fame, I'd be playing a different game.

Sometimes I think about the writer's quest to publish like I do about a college degree. Some of the smartest people I know never went to college. Some of the very best writers I know haven't published much. Getting published seems to be more a matter of sticking with it than evidence of the quality of one's writing. If a writer be determined to get published, I'm sure that writer will eventually find a market that will do it. Water finds its level. Every pot has a lid.

CORRECTION: I just had occasion to look at one of my reprint contracts. For one story alone, the print run was in excess of 2 million. My (captive) readership is at least triple what I'd estimated. Dang. The weight of responsibility, eh. I'll do my best to rise to the occasion.

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