Self-publishing platforms and print on demand services have made it possible for every one of us to write and publish a book. easily and inexpensively. There are more books being published today than ever before; most of them sell about 100 copies. Those of us who aspire to do better than that are told that we have to put as much effort into marketing our book as we did in writing it. We need to make ourselves visible on all the social media platforms, use every marketing tool to get our books noticed.
Maybe that’s true. But Rejean Ducharme did none of that and his books flew off the shelves all over the French-speaking world. He never made public appearances, never gave interviews, only two photographs exist of him, from his younger years. He lived as an ordinary guy in Montreal, his friends and family respected his wishes and never talked about him to the media. When he was awarded literary prizes, his wife was the one who attended the events on his behalf. When publishers in Quebec rejected his manuscripts, he sent the manuscripts for three novels to Gallimard in Paris. They bought all three, published the first one in 1966 and published all his novels from that time on.
I confess that I have not read any of his books. Evidently he had fun with words, but that in itself would not sell a lot of books. The real key to his success, from all that I read about his books, is that his characters mirrored the aspirations, disappointments and experiences that make up the daily lives of the readers.
All the stories have already been written. We cannot come up with a unique plot that has not already been used by writers like Dickens, Dostoevsky and Dumas. What we have to do is write those stories in a way that lets the reader see something that they have never seen in quite that way before. The characters must not be wooden props to illustrate our narrative. The characters are the story, the reader must be able to experience their hopes, joys, sorrows, frustrations, defeats and victories.
Writing a believable story is not an abstract, theoretical exercise. Writers have described their work as bleeding onto the paper, or undressing in public. If we can delve into our experiences, the painful ones, the ones we never wanted anyone to know about, and weave them into our story, readers will find their own deep feelings compel them to continue reading. If our goal in writing is to help others, we cannot draw a privacy curtain around the things we are ashamed of in our own past. Whether we are writing memoir or fiction, the writing must flow from the heart to touch the reader’s heart.
Perhaps we do live in an era that requires writers to put more effort into marketing. But no amount of marketing is going to sell a dead horse; first we must ensure that the horse is alive.