Against Obscurity

by Doc Coleman on July 17, 2013 · 2 comments

in Asides

Time for a little mid-summer ramble.

Sometimes, when you’re a writer among a group of writers, it seems like you have the most fantastic community of like minds to draw upon. Other times, it seems like everyone is totally ignoring you. The oddest part is that, on the average, both of these extremes are true. We are writers, so we are a community of like minds. We support each other. We will promote each other’s projects. We’ll give up our blog space to guest posts and promotional opportunities. We’ll give advice, and share techniques and resources. We’ll challenge each other to friendly competition. We’ll even buy each other’s books, or pledge funds to each other’s Kickstarters. But do you know what is the single most difficult thing to get another writer to do in support of your project? The single thing they are least likely to do?

Read it.

Sounds insane, doesn’t it?

The grip of obscurity is strong, and it relinquishes what it has grasped very grudgingly. It is obscurity that all writers are truly fighting. So why is it so hard to get us to read each other’s work? Because it cuts into our time. Our reading time. Our writing time. Our family time. I’d say our sleep time, but we’re writers, we gave that up long ago.

So what put me on this tear?

One of the Alpha readers I sent the first chapter of Perils out to responded to me this week, saying that they had no idea what they were getting into when they offered to read, and that they were pleasantly surprised after reading the first chapter. This was good news, but it got me thinking… How many of the people in the community are encouraging my writing, but have never read a word of what I’ve written? How many can I think of that I KNOW have read my work? Less than two handfuls. Possibly less than a handful. Heck, I’ve sold stories to people, had them edit the story and ask me for changes, and I’m STILL not sure if they’ve ever actually read the story.

Yeah. This is a strange business.

So how do you fight Obscurity?

Good question.

At one point, I thought that doing readings at cons would be a good way to get my work in front of people. If I couldn’t put it in front of their eyes, I could read it and put it into their ears. So how did that do? I had one fellow writer at one of my readings tell me that they loved the reading. I asked what they thought about the story, and they said that they didn’t pay attention to it. Loved the performance, but didn’t pay any attention to the actual material. What’s a writer to do?

Of course, not all writing is created equal. My first short story, The Gift, I will admit isn’t my best writing. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bad story. In fact it is a very touching story. But it is still a first story, and I did make a number of rookie mistakes in it. I learned from those mistakes, but I had to put them out there before I could really see what they were. It doesn’t help that I don’t have very many finished stories, and that some of the best of them haven’t been released yet.

I guess when you get down to it, the way to fight obscurity is just to keep writing, keep publishing, and keep encouraging people to read your work. Win over readers one by one. And writers. And hopefully editors. Maybe someday publishers.

Obscurity is still the enemy, but fame isn’t the answer. Infamy is a lot easier to achieve than fame. And there is the real answer. No, not infamy, but reputation. Obscurity is the lack of reputation, and the only true counter to it is to build a reputation bit by bit. And that means patience and perseverance.

So where am I in all this? Ironically, what set off all this impatience is the fact I’ve actually made a step forward against obscurity. I wouldn’t say that I’ve won over a new reader, but I have a reader now that I didn’t have a few weeks ago. If I can keep up the level of quality, I’ll keep that reader, and perhaps that person will encourage others to give my stories a try. At the very least, the feedback provided will help me to continue to improve my writing. I have to take it from there.

Patience. Perseverance. And nothing sells like a back catalog.

It is just a matter of building the catalog into something respectable. Write, publish, improve, repeat.

And try not to think about how long it takes.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David in Adelphi July 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Finding readers has long been a problem for my writing. Currently, I have a large history book out to alpha readers, but don’t expect even one of them to make it all the way through, and in fact, a couple have gotten back to me, less than a week after sending them the chapters, to tell me they don’t have time to read more than a chapter. I had asked them just to make note of apparent typos and inconsistencies or redundancies they might spot. One has already complained that I am trying to make him copy edit the work (I was not asking that), and another complained that I should rewrite and restructure the book (despite my caution in advance that I don’t want someone to play development editor, or top editor). When I was in house at Old Yeller, we read each other’s work because it was required, one could not go to final edit without having at least one cold reader read every word and give comments. Freelancers don’t have the advantage of a pool of readers to tap into.

And yes, I’ve read a couple of your works, and enjoyed them. 🙂

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2 Doc Coleman July 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm

David,

Thanks for commenting! Glad you’ve enjoyed my stories.

I think part of working with Alpha and Beta readers, especially ones who haven’t ever done this sort of work before, is to give them an idea of what kind of feedback you’d like to get from them. That way you’re not sending your work out to someone, and then having them turn around and accuse you of trying to get them to do something else. Most readers do some level of copy editing, but usually they don’t do as detailed a job as a paid copy editor.

As far as the person who wants to give you too much editing detail… Well, even if you won’t be restructuring the book per that bit of advice, that doesn’t mean you can’t get them to give you useful detail at the level you want. Just ignore the comments that are out of scope.

Good Alpha and Beta readers are like gold. If you find one, hold onto them as best you can.

Good luck with getting your history book read.

Doc

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