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Eureka: Reading and writing in a world staurated by literature
by Joseph Gatt
2018-04-25 08:22:45
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Here's an idea for a book. It's about a girl who wanted to be a writer by then her father opposed her plans because he wanted her to be a doctor and so she constantly argues with him and decides to write a book after all. This is actually what a lot of the literature you'll find looks like. Something dealing with personal grief, personal emotions, personal breakups or failure to get a desperately wanted or needed job.

lit01_400For many writing is a way to get out of poverty, but many of the world's writers stay poor. Some of them actually borrow money to publish books that will never sell. Why don't I write a book? For the same reasons I'm not starting an online business. There's a difference between reality and fantasy. Fantasy is a world where books become instant best-sellers and where online businesses get flooded with orders. Reality is where no one buys the book and people only order from big brand companies or retailers online.

So here are a few things you need to know about readers before you write a book. In the United States, the average reader reads 12 books a year, but the median is actually 4 books a year, meaning that most people read 4 books a year or less. In France, the average is 16 books a year (most of which is fiction and is less than 100 pages) and the median is again 3 or 4 books, meaning the average Frenchman reads less than 3 books a year. 36% of the Chinese claim that they read books every day or almost every day, when only about 24% Americans make that claim. I find those claims hard to believe given the median is people reading 4 books a year. Furthermore 27% Americans claim they never read books, up from 22% a few years ago.

Let's say the 4 books a year claim is probably the norm in a lot of countries where there is a solid book industry. In the US in 2014, 35% claim they never bought a book in the last year, while 9% say they bought 21 or more books in the past year. The average person buys 2 to 4 books a year. If you're aiming for a best-seller, your book better be real good.

Let's look at the statistics more carefully. 9% people buy 21 books a year or more. These are probably mostly college students, who have to buy more than 21 books a year because it's a requirement. So pleasure readers buying over 21 books a year is probably less than 1% of the population, meaning that if you write a book, you really want to keep in mind that most people buy 3 or 4 books a year and that a tiny, tiny percentage of people buy more than 20 books a year. So it's funny that 24% Americans claim they read books every day when they only buy 4 books a year. Maybe they have access to a public library, or to a ton of free books you can find online.

So dear writer. You are competing with free books,       a ton of them, a lot of which are classics. There's also a tiny percentage of the population that binges on books, most actually buy 2 books a year. Why would they buy yours?

So Israelis and Koreans often ask me: how can we make Israeli literature more popular around the world? How can we make Korean literature more popular around the world? Literature kind of works like Bollywood. A good movies leads to another good movie leads to another good movie, leads to falling in love with an actor or actress and watching all the actor's movies and leads to becoming a Bollywood movie geek. The same thing happens in literature, except that the number of readers is a lot more restrained, and is less than 1% of the population, when a much higher percentage watches movies every day or every week.

How do readers choose their books? A lot of those who buy 2 books a year probably bought Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings or some Joel Osteen or Tony Robbins book. Some readers have their favorite authors and read their favorite authors exclusively, while some prefer self-help books, cookbooks or some kind of political non-fiction book. Classics and popular science are also popular among some, while some want to read very specialized books about gardening or some obscure business concept, while some opt for books about becoming an instant millionaire.

So why would they read you? Maybe because you're their friend. If your book was really that good, they'd pass it on to a friend who would pass it on to friends who would pass it on to friends. Or perhaps you have a good public relations team, but then a lot of times promoting your book will cost you as much as it brings in when it comes to sales. Maybe you have permanent access to a popular television show and appear there daily or weekly, and that's when people will want to read you so they can get to know you better.

So writing is a winner take all business. As for Korean and Israeli literature, you really want to popularize it in Korea and Israel before it crosses borders. Books are not beer or wine. People don't buy them by the dozen each week, nor do they read them by the dozen each week.

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