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No one reads books, why even bother writing them?

“I just spent the past year researching book publishing, and I can sum up my findings in one sentence: No one reads books.” wrote Elle Griffin in her Substack newsletter.

Like me, she wanted to write fiction. She even wrote a Gothic novel and published it on Substack. She tried to focus on her job and writing on the side – nothing else. Then she was chosen by Substack for a fellowship program. She was one of the ten writers selected for the fellowship, and it would have been silly to let the opportunity pass by her.

So rather than spending a year writing her next Utopian novel, she hunkered down on Substack, and according to her, it paid off.

After only one year of starting her newsletter, Novelist, she attracted 4,000 free subscribers and made $10,000 in revenue.

But then she dropped a bombshell. She wrote the article; No one reads books.No one will read your bookAfter I completed my first novel, I had dreams of a beautiful black book, its ivory pages sewn into the binding, the…ellegriffin.substack.com

Her article caused quite a furor. People wrote so many comments. In the Substack writers’ discussion group, people gave their views about her article.

“I think when every word you write is tied to the possible money you need to earn to keep writing works (whether fiction or non-fiction) it can influence choices positively and negatively.” wrote Erica Drayton, The Storyteller.

Most writers indeed want to get compensated for the amount of time and energy they devote to writing. When that doesn’t happen, frustration is inevitable, especially when other ventures are far more lucrative and rewarding.

But that is not the reason we write books. We write books because there is something in us so compelling and urgent that we have to share with the world, whether it is an idea or a story.

“For over half a century, books were considered the ultimate form of writing, wrote Mark Starlin in the discussion forum, “When they were simply a means of communication. The story or information is the important part. The book is just a (much loved) container. Perhaps we need to shift our mindset for current time and technology.”

Now writers have other mediums — blogs, social media, podcasts, videos. Even ebooks and audiobooks have become competitors to physical books.

“The medium doesn’t matter as much as the story, “wrote Mark Starlin, and he is right. In the end, we all are after stories, and we are ready to consume them in any form that is handy. If we are mobile, then through the digital medium, if we are doing chores, driving, or exercising, then through voice, if we are relaxing, then through a physical book.

It is true that we haven’t read 40% of the books we own.

The percentage might be more for some people, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that those who love books can’t resist buying them, thinking they will read them one day.

Our reading habits might have changed too. I like to binge-read books rather than read them cover to cover. It could be because of being time-poor or due to a low-attention span. But I don’t see myself stop buying books anytime soon.

Instead, I now buy books in the middle of the night, at the spur of the moment.

Most writers don’t write books to make money.

We don’t need to do everything to make money. Writing a book is one of them.

Writers write books for themselves.

Ask any writer who wrote their first book why they wrote it, and none of them would say that to make millions. Or even to make a living. Instead, they wrote it because they wanted to tell the story. Or share the idea.

They wanted to see whether they could write a book. It is as if writing a book is like climbing Everest, and you do it not for any reason other than you want to see whether you can do it or not.

I like Mark Starlin’s (another Substack writer) comments in Substack’s discussion group:

“Do we need to be massively popular and earn a lot of money at everything we do? Is that the only gauge of success? I hope not? If you want to write a novel, write one. If ten people love it, then ten people loved something you wrote! That is a good thing.

Sure we would all over to have millions of readers. But if you told a story in a pub to seven people and they all loved it, wouldn’t you feel good about it?

So my thinking is to be a storyteller. The medium doesn’t matter as much as the story. A novel (or a non-fiction book) isn’t the only option. Be creative! And if you can make money writing non-fiction at the same time (and enjoy it) then you have the best of both worlds.” — Mark Starlin

In David Weinberger’s book Too Big To Know, he talks about how knowledge used to be shaped like a book; now it is shaped like the Web.

There is truth in this. Who uses a set of encyclopedias anymore. For most people, information is online.

We have a better medium now than before, that shouldn’t mean we stop writing books.

But poetry, songs, and drama have all survived multiple changes of medium. So can novels and books. They might eventually diminish like any technology and invention. But the hunger for stories will never diminish.

Subscribe to my newsletter at A Whimsical Writer for more tips and motivation.