Is Writing Replacing Reading?

I’ve been reading a lot recently, which got me thinking. So, what was I thinking? I was thinking about all these books that most people believe they have in them.

I received a phone call recently from a call centre trying to sell accident insurance. The young woman asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a writer. “Oh,” she replied, “is that right? What have you written? A book?” I said that I had written a couple of books. “I must have a go at that someday,” she said. “They say that we all have a book in us, don’t they?” I said that they did indeed say that we all have a book in us.

I don’t think they say it quite so often these days. Probably because they want the book that is inside them to actually become a book. Instead of saying that we have all got a book inside us, they write it out and then start looking around for a publisher. Not satisfied with a stack of rejections, they find ways through the Internet of seeing their work printed and bound and, voilá, they have a book.

This is the new millennium with new technology that is readily available to everyone. Reading books is going out of fashion while writing books has become the thing to do.

PublishAmerica may have been one of the first to print anything that was correctly formatted and could be converted easily into a PDF file. They are not the last. “Traditional” publishers are springing up all over the ‘net. There is a market out there to be tapped and companies are taking advantage of the growing market.

Where does this leave mid-list authors? It leaves them fighting to find readers because their readers have become writers. Where’s the fun in reading someone else’s thoughts when you can write down and publish your own?

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32 Responses to “Is Writing Replacing Reading?”

  1. myaggie2 Says:

    1. myaggie2 wrote on 13 August 2009 at 12:17

    You pose many excellent questions. As a traditionally multi-published author (Thomas Nelson), I embraced this new publishing era wholeheartedly. I know my writing is acceptable quality to the traditional publishers so I believe I’m offering good quality to the reader. I don’t shirk when it come to rewriting (if you don’t believe me see the rewriting course I teach I also pay an excellent editor (Cindy Bauer) to edit before publishing myself.

    My work gets to the reader immediately in so many formats that I can’t keep up. I’m loving this new era, but it does open the field to writers who are less than careful about the quality of writing.

    I’m not so much worried about fighting for readers (writers have always done that), as the lowering quality of work out there. But that was also at question through traditional publishing. I read many awful books from traditional publishers. Editors are only human and can’t always assure excellent quality either.

    The responsibility for quality is now individual. Can we trust the writers? Can we trust our own judgment to distinguish literature from garbage?

  2. Linda Yezak Says:

    2. Linda Yezak wrote on 15 August 2009 at 13:20

    There are so many reasons for self-pubbing. One of my friends who is an incredible writer likes having the control; another, also a great writer, says she’s old and doesn’t have the time to take the traditional route. The tricky part in self-pubbing is for the reader to know who can really write and who only thinks they can. The self-pub stigma is always there.

    Are there more writers than readers? I believe so. And I believe the writers write more for each other because the bulk of non-writers who are readers have gone the way of Wii. . . just my pessimistic opinion.

  3. Shelagh Says:

    3. Shelagh wrote on 15 August 2009 at 20:32

    In the past, reading fiction stimulated the mind and fired the imagination. Readers were inspired by their favorite authors and were eager to read the latest release. Not any more. Nowadays, having control over the characters and the plot lines is more fun than reading books written by someone else. Sitting in front of a computer and allowing your own imagination full reign while you type out your thoughts into a word processor is more entertaining than reading. Writing in the twenty-first century is becoming a recreational activity on a par with reading. Soon the most often asked question will not be, “What are you reading?” Instead it will be, “What are you writing?”

  4. Gail Gaymer Martin Says:

    4. Gail Gaymer Martin wrote on 18 August 2009 at 21:33

    Maybe I’m different. I know many people want to be writers. I teach writing across the US, but I still have tons of readers. I’m traditionally published in fiction and have 3 million books in print, books that were purchased by readers. My 41st novel will be released in September – DAD IN TRAINING and a 3 book anthology set in the central coast of California, MONTEREY MEMORIES, and my 42nd novel will be out in February 2010, GROOM IN TRAINING (second book in that series).Some authors are able to write, have readers and make a wonderful living while doing what they love. I realize people can self-publish, but other than a fluke like THE SHACK, self-published and on the NYT Best Sellers list, most people will not make a living self-publishing or not have the readership. Making a living is nice, but I want to have thousands of people be touched by my stoy and help to make a difference in their lives whether it be a lesson learned, knowing they’re not alone or just a good laugh or cry. That’s my goal. I can’t do that as a self-published author even though I have a wonderful following.

  5. myaggie2 Says:

    5. myaggie2 wrote on 19 August 2009 at 1:26

    Everyone has made excellent points. And, as always in a topics such as this, there are so many points to be considered. You are very right, Gail, about so few self published authors truly making much money at it. Of course most authors overall don’t make much money at it., I’d love to hear more insights from everyone.

  6. Shelagh Says:

    6. Shelagh wrote on 19 August 2009 at 22:05

    Hi Gail,

    Thank you for replying. It’s very reassuring to know that you have so many readers and are able to make a living solely out of writing books. The premise of the blog post is that recreational habits are changing and poses the question of whether, or not, writing is replacing reading. It would be interesting to know if your readership has increased, remains the same or has decreased over the years. The trend seems to be that the sales of books by individual authors are in decline. Maybe this is not so for you.

  7. Joanna Penn Says:

    7. Joanna Penn wrote on 19 August 2009 at 22:48

    I think that I read more now that I write more! I read hundreds of blogs and love to respond and write about them on my own. I find books that spark ideas from people on Twitter and read them, then write about them too!
    So I think it depends – I love to write, but I love to read also, I do both daily!
    I can’t imagine one without the other – and Stephen King says “writers are readers”
    I am a self-published author although I would be interested in trad pub if the opportunity arose!

  8. Shelagh Says:

    8. Shelagh wrote on 20 August 2009 at 9:22

    Hi Joanna,

    I visited your website and checked out your video. You said,”Eighty percent of people want to write a book.” Maybe that has always been true. The biggest difference today is that not only can they write that book they have dreamed of writing, they can see the book in print by self-publishing. Like you, I speak as a self-published author! Oh, and I read a lot — but not as much or as often as I used to!

  9. Alma Alexander Says:

    9. Alma Alexander wrote on 21 August 2009 at 21:43

    I have always believed that being a writer was something you couldn’t help being – you are, or you aren’t – but these days there seems to be a proliferation of people who not so much want to be writers as they want to “have written”, to have the label but not to do the work that is required to earn it. Writing is easy enough; GOOD writing, less so. And if writing is a calling, or a gift, then being published is not a right, but a privilege. Those people who are too impatient to wait for publication and validation by a traditional route – where someone actually BELIEVES IN YOU and agrees to publish your work – are not doing anyone, least of all themselves, a service. Poorly written, uneditted self-published books which exist for the sole reason that the “writer” can see their name on a book spine (and then whine about how pesky bookstores won’t sell his immortal book or reviewers review it) are unfortunately with us to stay, though, given the ease of putting a book together these days.

    This is not to say that there aren’t decent books out there which may have been self-oublished. But when the criteria for publication are only the author’s, I’m inclined to give such books a pass. I don’t know offhand if the book is one of those rare gems, or the 90-plus percent of the ilk which varies from boring to appalling, and frankly I don’t have the time to winnow. I like to rely on professionals in the field to pre-winnow for me. SUre they might make their own share of mistakes or have lapses of judgment – but at least someone other than the author has weighed in on the decision to publish…

  10. myaggie2 Says:

    10. myaggie2 wrote on 22 August 2009 at 3:35

    A huge thankx to everyone for participating. This is the kind of give and take forum where we have the chance to hear many points of view, and I, for one, love the opportunity.

    I have been the traditional publishing route. The first place I sent my first novel accepted it, and my second novel also (Thomas Nelson). I didn’t need them to validate the quality of my writing. I knew it was worthy or I wouldn’t have submitted it to them. Back then self publishing was too expensive. And a real writer never has to have an outsider validate them. We know in our hearts that we are writers.

    Now I hire an editor, proof reader, illustrator. My work is just as quality as ever, if n ot more so because I have control over it and I won’t settle for 2nd best.

    I have control over it all, and I love that as I look back on the days where I couldn’t even write my own jacket blurb, or have the slightest say about my cover art, or how long it’s in print.

    Now, I don’t have to let my books be overlooked because of the “budget” of the publishing house. Now more people are exposed to my work than ever even imagined at Thomas Nelson. And no one will pull my book after a certain amount of time because THEY aren’t making any money on it.

    I’m tired of the selfishness of the traditional publishing route that never puts the author first, but the house. I write because I can’t not write. That’s what a writer does. And it’s not right, nor fair, for huge conglomerations to put a stop to writers being published simply because they can’t afford to publish them. That never made sense, and it makes less sense now that true writers can so easily publish themselves.

    Of course we will encounter the poorly written, But we always did. And as for those who just want to “have written” — I was teaching about them at writers conferences in the late 80s. They’re still here, and they still won’t “have written” because they still are not true writers, and as such not willing to put any work into their book.

    Just because self publishing is easier than ever doesn’t mean that it’s so easy anyone will do it. That will always be the case, even when self publishing gets even easier than it is today. True writers write. Nowadays true writers can all be published.

  11. @PublishingGuru Says:

    11. @PublishingGuru wrote on 22 August 2009 at 3:42

    I believe self-publishing is the Britain’s Got Talent of the publishing world. No longer is the power to publish in the hands of an oligarchy of elite few. With a reasonably small budget, it is now possible for authors to seize power, control, speed to market, and profitability for themselves. Britain’s Got Talent helped Susan Boyle achieve her dream, and there are people in the publishing industry willing to help develop the Susan Boyle’s of the publishing world—like me.

  12. Rebecca RyalsRussell Says:

    12. Rebecca RyalsRussell wrote on 22 August 2009 at 4:24

    Although this seems like the age of technology and there are fewer readers than ever before, I think there are actually more readers; they read blogs, online newspapers and mags, and now eBooks. Maybe the era of the novel ie Victorian Romances is over but people still read and we writers must adjust to the new reading habits and styles. Shorter, more succinct with less flowery language and able to be communicated in a sitting or two; or a commute or two….

  13. J.W. Thompson Says:

    13. J.W. Thompson wrote on 22 August 2009 at 11:30

    I find that most writers are advid readers themselves. I know I am. As far as Publish America it may be the first Vanity press to try to say it is a traditional publisher. Publish America interest lies not with selling books to the general reader but rather to the Authors. This is evident in their pricing policies that put most of their books out of the market. Make it almost impossible for the author to get them on the shelf of a book chain. A good example is their pricing of an unknown authors book at 29.95 for a trade paper back when a best selling authors hard bound edition is priced lower.

    Back to the subject. Every writer that I know in the Florida Writers Assoc. is a reader. So I expect that this is the norm rather than the exception.

  14. Abe Says:

    14. Abe wrote on 22 August 2009 at 11:44

    I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. Each believes in his/her take on the subject and that’s good. Books are written based on the ideas of the author and that’s not going to change. The industry continues to change as does the reading habits of the consumer. I believe there is a greater market today than ever before. How to tap that market is challenging for the publisher as well as the self-published. I have never met a person who picks up a book and looks to see who published it. The attraction to buy varies. The genre, the cover, the summation, and of course the author gets attention where there is a track record.
    Back to the subject of whether writing is replacing reading, I don’t think so. As for making an attempt to write, that has increased for the reasons already expressed in previous comments. Rejection is a great factor in quiting. In the past, many would-be writers got rejections and simply gave up. We didn’t hear about them. Today, with the internet and various forums, we hear about those would-be writers. They get encouragement to keep trying and that in my view has increased the number of people seeking publication by traditional or other means. Some simply can’t write and in reality should quit.

  15. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    15. Malcolm R. Campbell wrote on 22 August 2009 at 13:54

    “Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it.” — Russel Lynes

    It seems rather arrogant for a non-writer to believe that if s/he ever got around to it, s/he could write a wonderful novel that will attraction the attention of more than friends and families. That’s about like me telling a great baseball player I could play for the Dodgers or telling Stephen Hawking I know as much about time as he does–I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  16. myaggie2 Says:

    16. myaggie2 wrote on 22 August 2009 at 14:43

    I can agree to a point with every single comment. There is not only wisdom behind your words, but experience.

    But I think people are focusing too much on the wanna-be writer. Those people won’t get “published” whether they print their own book or not, just the same as they wouldn’t through traditional publishing. They may go through the POD process, but that book will just in the internet air forever doing nothing.

    The benefits POD brings to real writers are tremendous. That’s my focus. A real writer will go through professional editing and even design, print it on demand and then begin the neverending process of presenting it to the world, seeking professional, unbiased reviews and on and on. These are the people/writers to whom POD is such a boon.

    As a writer I’ve always read avidly, but with today’s technology I can read even more. Used to be I could only read wherever my book/magazine/newspaper was. If I was out too bad, I just twiddled my thumbs. Now a thin Kindle cab be in my purse at all times, or IPOD, etc. etc.. My reading is almost never ending with technologyieslike these.

    As for arragance: it is necessary to being a true writer. I got tired of reading novels for years and saying to myself, “I can do better than that!” So one day I did. And even pulled in a friend to write my first novel with me. Sent it to the first publisher, Thomas Nelson, and it was accepted, and my second solo novel also.

    If we don’t have the arrogance to think we can do it better than published writers, well then, we’ll simply always be a wanna-be writer.

    But enough about me. So what do you all think?

  17. myaggie2 Says:

    17. myaggie2 wrote on 22 August 2009 at 14:47

    Malcolm, I see you’re interviewing a publisher on Blog Talk Radio today. I’m on my way to hear it. Glad I caught your comment in time to go to your site and find out!

  18. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    18. Malcolm R. Campbell wrote on 22 August 2009 at 16:27

    Cool. Actually, the publisher is interview me. That means the show will probably be really weird.


    P.S. Sorry about the “attraction” rather than “attract” typo in my original message. I didn’t see the mistake until it was too late.

  19. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    19. Malcolm R. Campbell wrote on 22 August 2009 at 16:27

    See what I mean about typos–SB be INTERVIEWING. I need a personal editor.

  20. Mark David Gerson Says:

    20. Mark David Gerson wrote on 22 August 2009 at 16:28

    Anyone can, of course, publish a book these days. Not everyone can publish a well-written one that someone else will want to read. As I tell my writing students and coaching clients, if you want to write well you have to read. A lot.

    It’s the best way to learn how to tell stories that engage, entertain and transform.

    If writers aren’t reading, they aren’t writing anything worth reading. And if writers aren’t reading, why should anyone else be?

  21. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    21. Malcolm R. Campbell wrote on 22 August 2009 at 16:36

    I’m not sure whether I can accept the idea that those who want to be writers are arrogant. Thousands of people earn their livings being writers–technical writers, reporters, brochure writers, newsletter writers, communications directors, publicists. It seems quite natural to me that somebody who worked on a high school newspaper or literary magazine and/or who has had some form of writing or another as a long-time hobby or career will think “maybe I should write a book.” People work their way up through the hierarchy of many kinds of careers with the dream of one-day being a top insurance salesman or a tenured college professor because that’s the reasonable expectation of anyone who puts in years of time an effort honing their skills. The arrogance, I think, in any field comes from thinking one can reasonably be a mega-star without paying any dues first, without learning their trade and being content at the beginning to work in less-glamorous positions. Of course, the really talented people in any field from writing to corporate management often make the rest of us envious when they leap-frog over all the others and zoom right to the top.

  22. myaggie2 Says:

    22. myaggie2 wrote on 22 August 2009 at 16:39

    It is my understanding that in such things as internet “comments” we are not required to be grammatically correct. But I know what you mean — we can’t stop editing ourselves, can we?

  23. William Butler Says:

    23. William Butler wrote on 22 August 2009 at 17:11

    Over time, recreational forms change as new paradigms come into being. Motion pictures, radio, television, video games, computers, and now multi-linked computers through the internet. In the last century, the forms or individual entertainment has grown greater than at any time in history. Prior to that, for thousands of years, the choices were quite a bit fewer.

    However, I believe people who read for the purpose of entertainment continue to do so. While I’d be unable to cite this study or that study to substantiate my claim, I will say that the desire to read and become engrossed in a story remains an acquired taste. As far as books not worthy of publication saturating the market; I’ve found that to always have been the case. Even before the advent of electronic publishing the shelves of bookstore were full of fiction that was bare worth the paper on which it was printed. I speak from experience on this point, having read (several pages or chapters) much of it myself.

    I think, instead, what the advent of self publishing does, is give voice to authors who otherwise, we might not have found. It may be true that everyone has a story in them. But it may not be a story worth telling or one that I have an interest in reading. Still, we should also not forget that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. After all, aside from manuscripts that are poorly formatted with spelling and grammar not worthy of a kindergartener, one taste is also an important factor.

    Reading, when compared to other forms of individual entertainment, actually requires work. Rather than sitting down in front of a television and flipping a switch (now that it’s on a remote, you don’t even have to leave your seat to change from one program to another), reading requires some effort on the part of the participant. As such, it not just a spectator sport and not for couch potatoes. Writing is even more so. It takes time and effort to sit and pour words onto a page (whether physical or virtual in a computer). And even for the self absorbed, producing a 20, 30, or 50 thousand word document is not child’s play–no matter how poorly worded or formatted it may be.

    I think the concerns over self publishing and print on demand publishing, by traditional publishers and authors is not much more than a means to try and justify individual (or group) lack of success. If nothing else, it gives readers more from which to choose. After all, is choice one of the driving forces of a free market system?

  24. Alberta Sequeira Says:

    24. Alberta Sequeira wrote on 23 August 2009 at 22:23

    I have gone two different ways with my two memoirs. My first book was through PublishAmerica because another author recommended them. Since her book was published by them, I trusted her knowledge. The wonderful advantage was that I paid nothing to get published, although, we all have to pay for ordering our books.

    After two years of problems with my publisher, I decided to put money out (Ouch) with Infinity. Receiving something for free doesn’t make it a good step. They were highly recommended on Preditors and Editors. The manager of a bookstore called “me” to have my book put on their shelves.

    I think there will always be readers who want to buy books and not write. I’m sure the percentage is high that people debate over writing, especially a memoir. We do have something to offer society with our history. I believe the economy is one of our biggest problems with selling our books.

    Self-Publishing is looked upon from bookstores as companies that will publish anything. I know, I was told that by a manager of one of the Barnes and Noble stores. They looked at PublishAmerica as my publisher and made that remark.

    I think if the author “pays” for a self-published book, they are taken more seriously. I believe the traditional publishers will be changing their way of thinking because of writers wanting more control of their books in decision making and royalties.

  25. Micki Peluso Says:

    25. Micki Peluso wrote on 24 August 2009 at 2:26

    I been writing and publishing for over twenty-five years. However, I neither live to write nor write to live–I write when I have something to say. I am a journalist, essayist, writer of non-fiction and fiction short stories and have finally, as a death bed promise to my lost child, published. . . AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG, a funny, poignant, sad memoir. I have no desire to write another book, but am publishing a collections of all my short works, due out the end of this year. If an idea or reason to write another book presents itself, I will write it. Yet, if given a choice as to whether to write or read, reading enthralls me far more than writng. I don’t think we need fear losing readers who may become writers as I don’t believe writing dimishes ones love for reading–which came first in our lives.

    Micki Pelsuo

  26. Enjoyer2 Says:

    26. Enjoyer2 wrote on 24 August 2009 at 3:03

    Sadly, we have become a society in which each individual tends to be fixated on his/her own experience rather than on developing and understanding a shared culture. Still, there is room for those of us who read and those of us who write for readers. We may not have the impact of a Dickens, Tolstoy, etc.; but we do matter. Today I got a contract for a second novel. My first, “Widow’s Walk,” just came out. It isn’t even listed on Amazon yet, but here we go again. There must be something to all that effort – or at least there should be a pony after I shovel away all the manure. So, since we are the choir, let’s keep reading (and writing).

  27. Linda Bond Says:

    27. Linda Bond wrote on 24 August 2009 at 3.03

    The advent of the internet and POD publishing has been a liberation for writers that have in the past felt overwhelmed by rejections from publishing houses. These big companies are not necessarily interested in art for art’s sake but in what can make them a good profit. Hence the number of ‘celebrity’ authors.

    The disheartening thing about being a POD author in the UK is the suspicion that most readers these days pick up a book at the supermarket checkout, especially if they live in a rural setting, miles from a decent bookshop. I haven’t yet heard of a POD author that has tapped into this lucrative market. If any of you know better, please pass it on!

  28. Henry Davis Says:

    28. Henry Davis wrote on 24 August 2009 at 16:13

    I think that everyone does have a book in them but will it truely be interesting to anyone else. Can you make a subject that has been written about a million times and make it fresh again. I self published because I discovered rather quicly that I wasn’t going to have the patience to deal with lit agents and big publishers. POD is simpler but the only problem with that is it’s just about the POD’s making money. I dont think they really care about the content of the book or whether or not the author will be successful as long as they get paid for there services. Yes I know business is just that, business but I do think that we are being flooded with mediocrity which is making it more difficult for good work to grab attention.

  29. Shelagh Says:

    29. Shelagh wrote on 24 August 2009 at 17:50

    Most “long tail” authors suffer from the “not me” syndrome: everyone else is a mediocre writer but I am one of the few worthy writers whose work isn’t commercial enough to attract an agent/publisher.

    Unknown writers, who gain enormous pleasure out of writing, fool themselves into believing that thousands of readers would love to read their novels.

    The first print run of the final book in the Harry Potter series was twelve million but the initial print run of the first book was just 350 hard copies (mainly sold to school libraries) and 150 proof copies:

    It is extremely difficult to persuade readers to try something new. Without a big push to bring books to the attention of new readers, sales will not take off the way the HP books did. For the majority (mediocre books), it is impossible.

  30. myaggie2 Says:

    30. myaggie2 wrote on 24 August 2009 at 22:29

    One of the concerns that seems verbalized by everyone here is the mediocre writing out there, and that POD and self publishing makes it worse, which I don’t believe it does. Mediocrity will always be with us. I’ve watched since the 70s as terrible books become best sellers. That is not going to change.

    The biggest drawback I find from POD is the amount of work Shelagh just spoke of to get our work out there and keep it out there. Publicity is hard, time consuming work. And fewer are willing to do it than are willing to actually sit down and write, and write well.

    What do YOU think?

    Something else I’d like to hear more from you all about is the arrogance I spoke of earlier. I can’t imagine a higher conceit and arrogance than to believe that, world wide, people will not only want to read our words, but actually pay to read them. Thank God we are given this gift of conceit and arrogance. What would the world be without it? Be it traditionally published or self published.

    What do YOU think?

  31. susie hawes Says:

    31. susie hawes wrote on 25 August 2009 at 11:41

    Most writers are avid readers.

  32. Shelagh Says:

    32. Shelagh wrote on 25 August 2009 at 15:41

    What are you saying, Susan? That writers read as much as they write?

    These writers don’t:

    “In Groundreport we have fewer reader of our news/articles.
    Because we don’t read the news/articles. (I think)
    Every member in GroundReport should help each other by reading the articles and leaving valuable comments about the news/article.
    Most of members come here to write only.”

    … and reading is in decline:

    “For the past few months, literary writers, editors, and critics have been using some strong adjectives while discussing To Read or Not to Read, a report released last November by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). “Scary,” “sad,” and “downright depressing” have been common responses—and for good reason. Reading in America is in serious decline, according to the NEA, especially among the young. Fewer than one-third of thirteen-year-olds read for pleasure every day—a 14 percent decline from two decades ago—while the percentage of seventeen-year-old non-readers doubled over the same period. Americans between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four watch television about two hours a day, the study reveals, but read for only seven minutes.”

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