The Books That Pass From Hand to Hand

I’ve reactivated my ReaditSwapit booklist since I can now afford the postage (for new readers, I was piss poor before I got my nice job) and do you remember the review I wrote on Martina Cole’s The Family? Well a member of the site requested a swap with this book!

Not surprising, really. The member has a list themselves filled with garbage just like Cole’s book, so it was difficult for me to choose a book from their list (you can opt to say “I don’t want to swap” but I really want rid of my list of unwanted books by the time I move) but I finally settled on something from Dean Koontz, which sounded alright so off we unloaded our unwanted books on each other.

What got me thinking, and inspired to write about the swap, was that I had received The Family from a swapper a while ago…and here I am, swapping the same book on the same site.

And I started to wonder…how many unwanted books have passed hands around the country – the world – back and forth across websites like this, across eBay and Amazon and by some little old lady picking up a tattered novel from a charity shop? That the orignal book was printed and sold in a bookshop (or section in a supermarket or something similar) and bought by someone who either loved it, liked it or hated it – and then decided they didn’t want it anymore. Shit books have probably been passed through more hands than great or good books, but each reader reads one book differently to the next reader  – whether both readers of one book think it isn’t very good is irrelevant, it is the difference in why they think it is terrible that fascinates me – that some people dislike the books I love and many people love the books I hate.

This swapper will get my book I’m sending and might think of it in similar ways to how I see it, or they may get it and really, really like it.

But this got me thinking further. That the genre author – authors who write in a specific genre – are limiting themselves by targeting specific readers, yet authors who don’t write in a specific genre may also be trying to achieve the difficult task of writing something that will gain readership – if any.

And this is probably the pinnacle of why some writers fail and others do not. For the majority disheartening as it sounds, authors aren’t writing for themselves anymore, but for their audience. Once they write themselves into a corner, where they only write romance, or only write horror, the reader expects a certain set of rules, and when they are not met or met in poor judgement, writing can either fail or flourish – depending on the demand from readership, in wanting something different or wanting something typical.

Are writers just kidding themselves? In some ways, writing for publication is like hanging yourself with your own noose – that writers give themselves the impossible task of trying to reach out to someone who will listen. And yet, we don’t. Readers concern themselves with what they think the author means, to the point where entire university degrees discuss this at great length. There are so many personalities in the world, writing for one of them is incredibly hard, because more likely than not, you will get someone who absolutely hates your work. Of course, good writers will gain fans, a readership, a following, because those readers understand their work – what they are trying to tell them.

This is particularly easy for children and Young Adult fiction. Children are impressionable, and most teenagers are too – perhaps just starting out reading, so to them, why wouldn’t Twilight seem amazing? Why does stuff like the Twilight series, The Hunger Games (whilst still quite coherent as a “good” book) and Fifty Shades of Grey even get a look in, nevermind a following that soars into the millions?

Perhaps it is the ease of reading these books that makes people forget reality – and therefore good writing – and lose themselves in a world. Perhaps not, if you consider the common reason people read trash – the book makes them feel special. The main character appeals to what they want, or what they think they want. The main characters are then put into situations of either dangerous peril or where it requires them to become an unlikely hero or, in the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, the appeal is fantasy – readers want the fantasy these types of books bring. The books offer them difference, romance and drama, and in turn they demand it. Readers want to feel like this world was made for them, that they can read it and feel unique, feel important and fulfilled. Consequently, readers also seek familiarity in fantasy and YA fiction, the same reason Katniss and Bella are roughly the same age, the same height, the same characteristics as most of the readers picking the book up. They want to feel that they can relate to the main characters, because to them, they are the main character. And thus why teenagers go all hormonally crazy over Edward. Edward isn’t real, but Meyer makes him real through his human reactions and feelings – the sheer fact that his main weakness in his species, burning from the sun, turns into some bullshit pretty-boy fantasy where he shimmers in sunlight instead. To well-establish adult readers, this just looks silly. But for the average female teenager, this is serious stuff.

Authors like Meyer aren’t selling millions of books because they are good at writing, or even storytelling, but because they understand their demographic. They know what they want, what they hate and what they feel because we were all teenagers once. What great writers find challenging is that the demographic they are writing for may not even exist. When writing something niche or experimental or challenging, it is hard trying to understand who your readers are – this works similarly with films that flop in the box office but then go on to become cult classics i.e. Pulp Fiction) – and therefore writing becomes hard, the more you ask yourself who am I writing for? The more difficult the task set out in front of you.

But those among us who write for no genre, for no readership aren’t at a disadvantage to those who do – on the contrary, these writers become well-established in their own right. ReaditSwapit is a great example of bad books wafting around the internet, begging for someone to pick them up, begging for a reader to say “I understand you.” But most of these books are never understood, not because they are complex, but because they don’t tell us anything, they don’t even attempt to reach out to an audience, so the message – if any – gets lost among bad syntax and terrible characterisation, and most importantly, sheer laziness.

Write something worth keeping. Don’t become the charity book, being forever handed around, from person to person. Don’t be the writer people read once and pass along – be the writer people want to hold on to, to hold out for and your readership will follow. No matter how many, what matters is those few who love you, understand you and what you’re trying to tell them.




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