I came across a quote Stephannie Beman included in her 2021 Writing Planner. It’s a quote by David Ogilvy. That quote has a slight variation on the internet when I looked it up, but in a nutshell, the quote says, “When people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”
Now let’s flip that to the positive. “When people ARE having fun, they MOSTLY produce good work.”
In the last post, I was talking about making money writing books. Back in 2008-2010, the focus was mostly on writing for enjoyment and publishing books for the personal satisfaction of seeing one’s name on the cover. Then word got out that there was money in indie publishing, and now money seems to be the main reason most writers are publishing books. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get paid for your writing. But, in my opinion, when the focus is on money, authors are ultimately going to sacrifice writing a story that is going to stand the test of time in its value to the writer and to the reader.
The appeal of subscription services like Kindle Unlimited, Kobo Plus, and Scribd is that you can read as many books as you want for a monthly fee. Every book offered in a subscription package feels free. There is no risk involved. If you don’t like the book, you just stop reading it and return it for another. Or you can finish what you read, return it, and pick up another one. It doesn’t matter how many books you read or even whether the books are any good or not. The only thing that matters is that the books are all “free”. I can see why this is enticing to readers, and I think subscription services for books are only going to grow in popularity in the years to come. I think this is going to lead to writers making less money because retailers who cater to voracious readers will lose money if they keep paying authors the 35-70% royalty rate authors get when they sell an ebook. For the retailer to make a profit, they will need to either limit how many books a reader can read in a month or they will need to pay the authors less. Most of the time, they err on the side of paying the authors less because a happy customer is a paying one.
Now, there is good news in all of this. People reading books will still want books that take them on an emotionally satisfying experience. They want to get lost in the story. They want to be right there with the characters, sharing their ups and downs as the story progresses. These are books that will still have purchasing power because the readers will want to keep them. They aren’t going to want to return them. I might watch a movie on Amazon Prime, but if I love it, I buy it because I want to be able to download it and watch it again. Books are the same way. If someone falls in love with a book, they’ll want to read it more than once.
Books that are “meh” are a dime a dozen. They’re replaceable. One is pretty much as good as another. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s told me something like, “I can’t remember what the title of that book was or who wrote it, but it had a woman who became a mail-order bride and married a widower with kids. It took place somewhere in a cold part of the country out west.” Well, that could be any number of romances out there. That is a very popular trope. You can’t narrow something like that down without more information. Some people have told me they know they read a certain book, but they don’t remember what happened in it. I’ve read books like that, too, and I have no desire to own such books. If a reader loves a book, they’ll buy it. They won’t just read it in a subscription plan and tossed it back into the virtual bin of books. My gut tells me that the best books being written are those written for fun, and I believe, in the long term, this is the method that will pay off. I don’t think it will pay off as in you’ll be making a ton of money, but I think it’ll pay off in that it will be on a reader’s “keeper shelf”. These are the books readers will be recommending to other people years from now.
An emotionally satisfying book can come in any genre, so don’t think that you have to write in something like literary fiction to stand the test of time. For example, when you’re looking at romance, you want to give the reader the uplifting experience of falling in love. When you’re looking at horror, you’re aiming for the reader to be so freaked out that they keep looking over their shoulder to make sure something spooky isn’t in the room with them. (If they have trouble sleeping, it’s a bonus.) When you’re writing science fiction, you want the reader to have a sense of wonder about the possibilities that exist on this world or beyond it. Every genre has a purpose, and the goal of the writer is to dive deep into that purpose so you can give the reader a satisfying emotional experience. The only way I think a writer can successfully write this kind of story is by diving so deep into the story they’re writing that they feel everything the characters do. If the character is scared, your heart needs to be beating faster. If the character is amused, you need to be laughing. If the character is angry, your adrenaline needs to be pumping. You, essentially, become the character you’re writing.
I don’t see how a writer who is rushing a story just to get it published can devote the kind of emotional work that the story needs to do it justice. Books that are rushed and thrown into the world are more like products on an assembly line. They lack heart. That’s what passion brings to the table. That’s why books written for fun matter. Anyone can sit down and write out a bunch of stuff that happens to a character, and they can tell us what a character is thinking and feeling. But if they aren’t emotionally invested in the journey the character is on, it’s going to show up in the final product. I’ve read a lot of these books. They’re just “meh” kind of stories. They pass the time, but they aren’t memorable. And to be honest, I skim them.
Before anyone thinks I’m being hard on other writers, I used to write “meh” books. Under a pen name, I recently republished one of those old books, and one of my readers told me there was no “connection” between the characters. The story was just okay. See? My lack of passion showed up in my work. In the past, I spent a lot time writing genres outside of romance because my family thought that romance was “trash”. As long as I was writing other genres, they were fully supportive of my writing efforts. Finally, I broke down and stopped writing for them. (And yes, they stopped reading my books because of it.) But in the end, that didn’t matter because once I started writing for me, I was having a lot of fun. And as a result, everything else fell into place. I had no trouble connecting with the characters on an emotional level because I loved what I was writing. This is why passion is important. It’s why writing for fun produces good work.
So if you want to write books that will have long-term meaning to yourself and to your readers, I highly recommend writing stories that are fun for you to write. If you’re having fun, you will end up producing good work. The reason it’ll be good work is because you’re going to give it everything you’ve got.