Writing for the readers: A short story

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“No ideas?”

“Oh,” he thumbed his mug handle, “I have ideas.”

“Well, then. There you go. Write them.”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because. What’s the point?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” he said, “what’s the point? I start writing a paragraph, or I imagine a scene, and I just stop. I think, ‘Why bother?’”

“Doug, you’ve written ninety-seven stories and a novel.”

“Yeah. So?”

“Why did you bother with those?” she said.

“That was different.”

“Why?”

“I was doing it for fun.”

“It’s not fun, now?”

“I’m forty,” he said.

“Writing isn’t fun after forty?” She blew on her coffee. “Shit.”

“I can’t keep fucking around. I want it to be real. I need to make some money. I want to make some money.”

“So sell some writing.”

“I don’t know what they want. I’ve written ninety-seven stories and a novel and I’ve made seventy-five bucks. And eighty cents.”

“I’ve made… hm…”

“I get to a blank page and I think about agency rejections, reader disinterest, and the shuffle.”

“The—”

“As in ‘lost in.’”

“I sold an article, once.”

“You know how many indie books are out there?” he said.

“Millions?”

“I don’t know. Probably. Why should I waste my time if I don’t know what they want? If they aren’t even going to read it? It’s not just time, either.”

“You know what they want.”

“Seventy-five dollars and eighty cents in six years.”

“And you’ve been writing for the readers,” she said.

“Of course. Who doesn’t write for readers? They’re what it’s all about.”

“Well, what’s selling now? Write that.”

“It’s zombies and modern fairy tale characters. Snow white in a mini-skirt.”

“So, write that stuff.”

“I don’t know.”

“Or,” she said, “what about a self-help book? Everyone loves those. You could write a book about how to write a book. Lots of bestsellers are made that way.”

“It’s…I don’t know.”

“Or you could write romance novels like Nicholas Sparks,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of male romance writers, but a ton of readers love romance. You’d have the best of both advantages—romance, and you’re a man, so you’d be just different enough to have the ‘weird’ factor.”

“Yeah. It’s just…”

“You like traveling. Write travel pieces. You’re into swords. Write an article about swords. You have a dog. Write something for Pet Fancy.”

“What, to make money? I don’t like writing articles.”

“You said it was about money.”

“Readers. I want the readers to like my fiction so much that they pay for it and I make money that way.”

“So, you’re like a writing altruist,” she said. “You care about them. You just want to make them happy, to give them something they’ll enjoy and feel good about.”

He shrugged. “Uh…sure. Yeah.”

“Well, may I direct your attention back to—what did you say? Snow White in a mini skirt?—and zombies? Romance? Readers like it. They like crime novels and mysteries, sci-fi…all of that stuff would be fun to write. Do that.”

“I don’t want to write that stuff,” he said. “I want to write my stuff.”

“Oh,” she said. “Because I thought you said y—”

“Shut up, Mare.”

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Kristen Tsetsi is the author of The Age of the Child: a birth control ban, vigilantes on the hunt for unfit parents, and a birth explosion in one generation; parent licensing as a consequence in the next. Kristen’s 5On interview series at JaneFriedman.com offers behind-the-scenes insights into all things writing and publishing.

4 thoughts on “Writing for the readers: A short story

  1. Procrastination also comes to mind. All types of artists are full of it. Big dreams, big ideas, big money…but little time and little fire in the arse.

  2. I laughed out loud when I read this in my inbox this morning. Loved the line: “I don’t want to write that stuff, ” he said. “I want to write my stuff.” And then the whole cycle starts over again. And again and somehow stuff gets written and hope stays alive.

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