In my humble opinion: You can't just write a book anymore . . . .
Oh heck no! You've gotta be a street-smart, tech-savvy, type-AAA+ personality; a marketing super-guru as adept at public speaking as in the smooth delivery of super-slick sales-pitches to publishers and literary movers and shakers alike; photogenic and eminently likable; and ceaselessly promoting all of your myriad books and as many unnecessary spin-off products and services that you can possibly come up with. These days, an author has to be the absolute expert in whatever field or subject she has chosen to write about, even if it's a book of pure fiction and no matter how little time and effort they've devoted to that field or subject. Being an informed observer is simply not good enough. If you are polite and offer an enlightened - yet humble - opinion, you will be trampled down like a geriatric mongoose caught in a stampede of hysterical Wildebeest in the heat of the rut on the parched plains of the Serengeti. Good-freaking-grief! Such hubris!
And as for book-readings, call me old-fashioned, call me over the hill, but I prefer to read books in private, not listen to them or read them out loud. And where in my resume does it say 'reader-out-loud'? I'm a writer. I write stuff. Not necessarily good stuff, not necessarily popular stuff, but stuff nonetheless. Whereas the act of reading can be a bit of a chore, writing for me is generally an effortless and enjoyable activity. Notwithstanding the sad predicament of blind people and the illiterate, the very act of reading is by necessity a solitary and concentrated activity (a type of activity in short supply in this superficial, attention-deficit, distraction-laden, social media-driven, popularity-contest of a world) and as such, is oftentimes a silent (does anybody remember silent?) one-on-one interaction with the writer. Listening to a book is more akin to watching a movie or a play, a much less private affair that loses the essential intimacy that is inherent to the occasionally spiritual act of reading. Most writing types that I know are not as described in the first paragraph, and are by nature quieter, more thoughtful people than the brash attention-grabbers that are constantly vying to rule the literary roost. True authors are, for the most part, observant and analytic, not song and dance people constantly trying to distract, manipulate, self-promote and confuse. Naïve as it probably sounds, writers should only be judged for their writing, just like brewers for their beer and composers for their music. Do I need to see the brewer drinking the beer or the composer savouring her own tunes? Not especially. But as usual, I'm probably out of step on that.
It seems to me that these days, the more strident the voice and the more emphatic and confident its tone, the more it gets listened to; no matter how ill-informed and drivel-laden the verbiage. Perhaps it has always been like that and I just didn't notice. It wouldn't be the first time things have passed unnoticed through my not-so-finely-tuned LIDAR.
Also, there is prevalent amongst the 'how-to-be-a-successful-author' glitterati an all-pervading notion that one's writing has to be precisely tailored to this or that target audience. Or 'curated', in the modern parlance. An author must never write for herself. One must always have somebody in mind when writing something down. I think this is a simplistic and opportunistic approach, probably realistic and not necessarily untrue. It's one way of going about things, but by no means the only way. Frankly, it seems sly and contrived to have your audience picked out before a word has ever been written. Crowdsourcing a book before it is even written reduces the process to the lowest common denominator and completely loses any semblance of true art. To me, finding out what people want you to write beforehand and then sitting down and writing it is a needy, but probably lucrative, approach. Perhaps I am being one of those stupidly naïve creative people that the brash promoters of this world have to endure if they are to make their hefty commissions. Change 'perhaps' to 'almost certainly'. Ah, what the heck, let's run with 'certainly'. This is precisely why, my dear reader, that I will die a poor and lonely person. But that's OK. It can be a hard ride into this life and it can be a hard ride out.
"Life is a warfare and a stranger's sojourn, and after fame is oblivion."
- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
How about this for a scenario: You're the last one alive on a crippled interstellar freighter. The freighter has by now drifted far from the established trade routes, an undetectable speck in the absolute darkness of the void. There is plenty of food on board and the life-support systems are robust and functioning well; and, to the best of your knowledge, there is no imminent danger. You have digital recorders available, but you feel the urge to record your thoughts the way humans have recorded their thoughts throughout the millennia: by making marks upon the surface of an object. Yes - by golly and perish the thought - by writing them down. But you're only interested in the truth, so you have to think long and hard to find just the right thoughts.
I wonder who would be your 'target audience' in the above situation. Now I admit that writers must assume that their writings will be read by somebody, because reading is the logical progression that stems directly from the act of writing. But as to the identity of the eventual reader and all of the minute details that make her or him tick, that may or may not be known to the writer as she performs the act of writing. The identity may manifest itself later, after the work is completed. Or the writer may never know who it was that read or will read her writings. Is it necessary for a writer to care who reads her writings? Is it necessary for a writer to care if her writings ever get read? Right now, as I type out my thoughts during the Covid 19 crisis, I have no idea whatsoever who will read this piece. And, to a certain extent, I don't really care. Everybody's welcome!
Commercial Breaks: from sad, starving children to impossibly-bulging hamburgers; from pathetic, tortured animals to extra-long, impossibly-thick eyelashes, the ad-men have got it all covered. Oh-yes-siree-Bob!
"OK. So let's hear your ideas for the new commercial."
"Well . . . picture a bunch of young, athletic, attractive people on the beach sashaying around in skimpy bathing suits, smiling continuously and smugly, while chatting with each other and casually checking out their mobile devices as the summer sun beats down on their bronzed torsos . . . ."
"You do realize that this is an ad for a new type of cancer pain-relief drug targeted primarily at people over the age of sixty?"
"Absolutely! This ICVC (FYI: informational commercial video collage) represents the statistically-proven aspirational goals of affluent cancer patients across the country and how much their lives might improve after they have purchased and consumed the aforementioned drug and endured - with a smug smile and a carefree wave - the multiple adverse side-effects contained therein, which are dutifully noted at hyper-speed and nano-scopic text at the conclusion of the ad, and that may or may not be applicable to their particular cases."
"OK. Fair enough. If that's what it takes to sell the product, then so be it. The board of directors and the shareholders love selling things to make lots and lots and lots of money out of sick people's adversity. But are you sure you're not painting too rosy a picture?"
"Rule #1: In 'The Land of Commercials', you can't paint too rosy a picture. There isn't enough rose-coloured paint on the planet for that. Rule #2: Most people are basically stupid and will believe just about anything that is presented to them, if you catch them in the right mood at the right time in the right place."
"That's why you advertising companies are so rich, powerful and successful, right?"
"You betcha! Now, if you'll just sign that seven-figure cheque and make it payable to: 'Filthy Rich Lying Bastard Promotions Inc.' we'll get this super-cool ICVC live on the air ASAP, along with a super-cool, wholly-insincere expression of sympathy in reference to the hardships of this surprisingly-profitable pandemic!"
"Ful ofte in game a sooth I have herd saye!"
- Geoffrey Chaucer