If No One Reads Anymore, Why Am I Writing Books?

Over the summer, I was a literary streetwalker. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Or maybe it is, depending on whether you’re buying what I’m selling.

“Hey, baby, are you looking for some good misdirection?”

I’ve been part of the Authors Under the Awning program at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, IL. Once a week all summer long, mystery writers hang out in front of the bookstore, talking about books to whoever passes by. One of my frequent partners in crime is writer Sue Myers, who might be one of the ballsiest ladies I’ve ever met.

“HEY, DO YOU LIKE TO READ MYSTERIES?” she shouts at a girl 20 feet away. Granted, Sue is deaf in one ear, but her volume and engaging nature is impressive by any standard.

“Sorry, I don’t read,” the girl says, walking away with her face already buried in her cell phone.

Wait, what?!?

Sue and I gape, open-mouthed, at each other. The girl doesn’t read? What does that even mean?

Sure, I’ve seen the infographics…You probably have too.

83% of facts on the internet are made up.

And the countless articles:

Smithsonian: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/27-percent-american-adults-didnt-read-single-book-last-year-180957029

Huffington Post in 2013: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/07/american-read-book-poll_n_4045937.html

Okay, maybe it’s true.

But there’s a counter argument to make here. Look at this:

This infographic needs more eagles.

Aside from the fact that I’m uncomfortable with their use of the word “penetration,” the fact is, some people are reading. We’re just asking the wrong question. No, they don’t want to sit down with a book. They want something dynamic and mobile, like Twitter or Facebook.

So when the girl walks by again, on her way to the Brown Cow ice cream shop a few doors down, her face still buried in her smartphone, I say, “What do you mean, you don’t read? You’re reading right now.”

And she’s embarrassed, because somehow, I’ve acquired the skill of being able to fluster other people (which is a weird topic for another time).

She says, “Yeah, I guess so, but that’s different.” Then she admits to having ebooks on her phone.

“An ebook is a book,” I tell her, and she shrugs because I’m totally nagging her, which is not really the way to get her to talk to me, but I can’t drop it now. I end up giving the poor kid my ebook info before she flees down the sidewalk.

So people are reading, but they’re calling it something else. They’re not recognizing the fact that they read every day. Every scrolling headline on a webpage, every Facebook status, every BuzzFeed article, every ebook…

Maybe it’s not Tolstoy, unless you’re talking to a hipster or a person who wants to ride the bus for free. Maybe it’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight—which, incidentally, I will never mock you for reading—or Harry Potter, because I know how many people started feeling like they were reading again because of those very books. And the more people who buy books, the better it is for me.

But for whatever reason, people are not admitting that they’re reading.

Or realizing that they are.

“I tripped and fell and this book was just sitting like this.”

Information Overload?

I’m willing to concede a point. Most of us have information overload. Every frickin’ flashing thing has words on it. Instructions. Headlines. Dashboards. Public walkways, airports, restrooms, webpages. And heaven forbid you work at a desk all day long, reading…stuff. How many words do you think you read in a day? I’m willing to bet, more than breaths you take or beats of your heart. Too many to count.

The question is, am I, as a writer, competing with these flashing ads and billboards for a finite amount of space in your daily word consumption limit? Is it up to me to make my words even better, even more entertaining so that they’re worth your while?


TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

Make good words; people are still reading.


I write totally consumable, humorous mysteries. Like a bag of chips. Try one.

The Bride Wore Dead (Josie Tucker Mystery)

Dim Sum, Dead Some (Josie Tucker Mystery)

14 thoughts on “If No One Reads Anymore, Why Am I Writing Books?

  1. I once hosted a writer from New York and went with her to a signing. She asked everyone who entered the bookstore if they read mysteries. It made me cringe. That’s something I could never do and don’t, but that’s because I choose not to do signings. Granted, there are no bookstores in my city but Barnes and Noble, but I don’t feel comfortable even asking, which would probably be met with a rejection anyway. People are reading, or at least they’re buying books. Not as much as in past days, but that’s because they’re waiting for them at a discount or free, both from indie writers and those traditionally published because the publishers have caught on to the game indies have been playing for awhile.

    1. It’s a challenge to get out and talk with people, especially if there’s social anxiety involved, which is the case for many writers. For instance, my husband (author JD Kaplan) hates it. But every so often, I meet the one reader who is thrilled to talk with me. And that makes it worthwhile for me.

  2. I once kept a file for a solid year on how many people were projected to die in car crashes, fires, floods and of starvation and diseases. Scary statistics. At the end of the year, I added up all the deaths, and discovered I was the last living breathing person on earth. I was once told 98% of American children can’t read. Well, hang fire! Close all schools, lower our taxes and insist all parents homeschool. So what if 70% of adults haven’t been in a bookstore in five years? Where are those bookstores we used to frequent in our neighborhood shopping centers and malls? Closed! I buy books an Amazon and in the grocery store. Works for me. Great blog. Love the irony.
    Jackie Weger
    The House on Persimmon Road

  3. So funny. Nice one.
    I could try doing the calling out thing, but as I live in France I don’t thinks it’s worth the while until my first book is translated into French.
    Should be later this year – sooooo excited.

    What’s the French for “please buy my book?” 🙂

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