How do you get readers?
Ronald, this is the one question I have no answer to. I have been on Medium for over a year now and if I get more than 2 or 3 views on one of my posts it is a miracle. I can get scores or even hundreds of views on responses I leave to other people’s posts but it is a very rare event if I get more than 3 views to a post I make. I have published several articles and stories on Medium that to this day don’t have a single view.
I don’t know how to get readers. And, thankfully, I no longer care. The first 6 or 7 months on Medium I was obsessed with getting readers. I have been writing for decades and I’ve always had readers. It is only on Medium that readers have totally, utterly eluded me. I have come close to the conclusion that Medium simply isn’t the right place for me. But then I stopped caring about readers.
And then I realized that Medium might be the perfect place.
Decades ago I wrote my novels on an electric typewriter. That was before the internet. I fed my first two novels into a bonfire. THEY WERE NEVER READ BY ANYONE! Not one single human being.
Writing on Medium is a lot like that. And that’s a good thing.
Picasso never sold a painting in his lifetime. Now his paintings sell for millions. A friend of mine keeps reminding me of that and it pisses me off every time she brings it up. I don’t want my books to sell after I die. I want them to sell now so that I can pay the goddam rent!
But as long as I equate the rent with my writing I am doomed. As long as I equate writing with being read I am doomed. Writing is a one-directional thing. When writing you project outward that which comes through you. The second you expect anything to come back towards you, you have cut off the conduit that is spilling stories out into our world. Those expectations are the peril every writer faces. Those expectations are what kills good literature.
I’ve worked in numerous bookstores throughout my life but one of my favorite bookstores was one in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. Back then, Santa Fe was the “go to” place for writers and Hollywood celebrities. The clientele of that bookstore was a who’s who of famous people. But my very favorite of all those celebrities was Jack Schaefer.
Most people today don’t have a clue who Jack Schaefer was. Jack Schaefer wrote one of the most incredible best-selling novels of the last century, Shane. Shane was on the New York Times bestseller list for years. It is a book that has been credited with starting an entirely new genre (the western). It was made into a blockbuster movie.
Jack’s wife would drop him off at our bookstore while she went and did shopping. He was well into his eighties. We were his babysitter while she shopped. There was no place he liked better than being in a bookstore.
Invariably, he would end up telling stories with the bookstore crew and several customers gathered round to listen. He was a consummate storyteller. One day we asked him about his books and his writing. He had written one of the most popular books of the 1900s and we figured he was rich. He dutifully corrected us.
“You know how much money I made from Shane?” he asked as he looked each of us in the eye. He was met with silence.
“For every copy of Shane that sold I made one goddam penny! One goddam penny! Sure, the book sold millions of copies but the sale of those copies stretched out over 40 years! I never, ever made enough money off of that stupendous New York Times bestseller to quit my day job. And since then I’ve written over 20 other books, none of which made the bestseller lists, and I was never able to quit my day job. I was never able to quit my day job until I was finally old enough to collect Social Security!”
I was deeply dismayed to hear this.
He continued, “And I suppose you all want to know about the movie rights to Shane. Yes, I sold the movie rights and the movie became a blockbuster hit. You know how much money I made? I made enough to buy a brand new car. It was a good thing because the car I had was on its last legs. After buying the car I had about 50 bucks left.”
An eerie silence fell over the bookstore.
And then someone asked why he kept writing.
He snorted, “Why do I keep writing? Because if I stop writing I will die!”
He really did die a few months later. When I ran into his wife I asked about it. She said that he was still writing the morning of the day he died. He never stopped. He was working on a non-fiction book that she and he were co-writing about the flora of northern New Mexico. (He was also a naturalist.) When I asked her if he had any regrets she said, “Oh, God no. He considered himself one of the richest writers alive. He loved his writing as much as he loved me. He died a very happy man.”
Jack Schaefer’s stories have outlived him and no one reads them anymore. But his imprint upon the skein of time and space was powerful and undeniable and that is far more important than mere words. It is the energy that stories put out that impacts the world more than the actual words. The words are simply the conduit through which the energy is imparted.
And that is why our words are so damn important. And why we cannot ever stop writing.