October 14th, 2011 / 4:46 pm
Behind the Scenes

Q&A #8

If you have questions about writing or publishing or whatever, leave them in the comments or e-mail them to roxane at htmlgiant dot com and we will find you some answers.

i have a website and published stories. i sell booklets of my stories on the streets. sometimes i feel like no one reads anything i’ve written. how do i put myself out in the public more? how do i get a broader readership?

Catherine Lacey

I’m going to be blunt, ok? I’m going to be a blunt object hitting your booklets and your website: Did Marion Jones complain that not enough people were watching her when she was running? No. She just fucking ran. So forget about your readership and do your work, which, you and I both know is the whole point of doing it– not your ‘readership.’  And on second thought, forget the Marion Jones thing and take this other thing that Sam Lipsyte told a friend: This is not a race; it’s a competition. Burn your booklets and use the ash to write that on your ceiling so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up.

Ben Mirov

 Make poems or stories that seem like miracles. The market will never measure your success.

Jackie Wang

Share your work with writers you admire. Also, I started out making xeroxed copies of things I wrote and made them anti-copyright and encouraged people to copy and distribute the writings themselves. Mysteriously, they spread. To all corners of the world. I am all about keeping it free–not just as in $0 but in keeping the writing space free. Obsessing over your readership makes the writing space feel unfree. Now I long for the days when I was writing for nobody, when nobody was looking. The joy was in the process of writing. Now I have to pretend nobody is looking.

Ryan Call

I’m not sure how to put yourself out in the public more. I like that you are selling your booklets on the street. I’ve never done that; I don’t know if I could, so in a way, you’re already getting out in the public more than I. I think maybe the thing I did that helped me was I tried to find other writers for whom I felt some affinity? Like, I really liked what I read that they had written, and in my less reserved moods, I sometimes emailed them to ask for their advice. Or I looked to them as models of what I could do, to whom I could submit my stories, where I could publish. Soon, these small relationships grew into a bigger thing, I guess, which helped me see what I was doing as a part of a great mass of readers and writers doing what they enjoy doing. That, then, was my public, if that makes sense.

M. Kitchell

my answer to this question:  master the dark arts. channel your energy, karma is not the future, but it’s the present.  learn to master time and space.  give away your shit for free to everyone ever.  walk down the street shouting your stories through a megaphone.  buy a field and spray paint the words onto the ground so your works can be read from airplanes.  learn to fly or become a celebrity and then everyone will want to read your words.  win the lottery.

Alec Niedenthal

Yeah, I was going to say: start a progressive rock band and use your stories/poems as lyrics. And I was going to say that because I think, unfortunately, there’s not much of an answer to this question besides the old three-step: publish book, get book reviewed, write another.

Alexis Orgera

Preface: I’m impatient. Shortly after my first book of poems came out (6 months ago), I thought, hey it’s in the world, why isn’t anyone reading it?  Then my dear friend said to me one day when I was complaining to him, “Hey. You have a book published. That’s more than many people can say.” And then the kicker. He said, “Just go write another one.” I’ve always hated the business end of writing. I like to write, to fashion poems into manuscripts, to have snippets tacked to my walls. Until recently, I hated sending shit out. But you have to make a decision. Write a shit-ton and keep it to yourself OR write a shit-ton and send it out. That’s all I figure you can do.

Brooks Sterritt
I think the best way might be to commit a crime then publicize it, thereby becoming “notorious.”

Roxane Gay
The best thing to do is to just keep writing and getting your work out in the world. As everyone here has said, what matters most is the writing. If you love it, you’re going to do it whether you have one reader or a hundred thousand readers. That said, I understand what you’re asking: How do I get noticed more as a writer? There’s no magic answer. Readers have a wealth of writing to choose from. There world is full of writers and a great many of them are quite talented. The only thing you really can do is write the best, truest work you’re capable of writing and then put that writing into places where it can be read. Going guerilla and printing booklets is great and like Mike said, something I could probably never do. Also target your work at publications that are well regarded and well read. Write the kind of things that will get accepted by those publications. Write a book and then another one and then another one. You might consider participating in some kind of group blog or finding other ways to participate in the literary community. Attend readings, read the work of others, share good news about the work of others. That’s not about getting readership but when you start to focus solely on yourself, you lose sight of the fact that it can be good to give as much as you receive. If you’re not into that, of course, no problem, but writing is lonely and I find that when I’m worrying about “readership,” it’s time for me to look outside of myself and embrace the awesome literary community I’m a part of. More than anything, though, take your time. Be patient. It is, in many ways, too easy to get published, too easy to put lesser work into the world. No one wants to read lesser work so take your time and write things that matter (to you) and eventually, the readership will come. If it doesn’t, you will always have the work.


  1. gene

      re: the lipsyte thing. “it’s not a race, it’s a contest.” sam has said this and also dropped it in “i’m slavering” from venus drive. i take those words to heart and also figure mostly the contest is w/ yrself. 

  2. Wallace Parker

      Does anyone have a perfect binding machine for sale? Something between ~$300-~$500+ (including shipping)? 

  3. marshall


      “contest” is way different than “competition”

      anyone who was thinking it was “competition” is fucked

  4. Karltaro

      you work like hell on your book and when it’s all finished and accepted and published you realize you’ve spent years writing a lottery ticket

  5. shaun gannon

      it’s not a race, it’s an ethnicity

  6. jesusangelgarcia

      pretty much. still okay if you mostly like what you’ve written though. i just want to write the kind of books i want to read. there will always be some readers. they will never outnumber the stars in the sky.

  7. M. Kitchell

      you can perfect bind with two hardcover books of the same size, a couple rubber bands, and archival glue that you can actually mix from common materials

  8. M. Kitchell

      in other words; “yeah, i’ll sell you a perfect-binding machine for $500” 

  9. Wallace Parker

      Ha! I like that idea (two hardcover books, rubber bands, glue, etc.). I’ll try that.  

  10. elizabeth ellen

      shoot yourself in the head. 

  11. BAC

      yikes. sad. and true. and sad. and don’t it’s not worth it.

  12. werdfert

      this was my question and i’m grateful for all the thoughtful responses. sometimes i think that maybe what i really need to do is write better stories. i think there are times when the mere act of writing is enough and i will continue to write regardless of a readership. and then there are other times when it is just not enough, like i’m tired of just pissing into the wind and i want to feel some kind of external validation. i don’t think there is anything unusual about that.

  13. herocious
  14. Pipp

      Get an agent. Then get a better agent. Then have kids.

  15. Gilbert

      If you think no one is reading your work, well, you’re probably right.  The indie lit universe is tiny and of that universe you can guess only a small percentage is reading your work.  Want a wider audience, write non-fiction, memoir or genre.  Literary fiction’s a tough road that has gotten even tougher in recent years.  Sure, success stories are celebrated, but they are few.  Definitely keep writing, but take a good look at what you’re writing and be realistic about what kind of audience it will have — not what it deserves.

  16. Roxane

      No, there’s nothing wrong or unusual about wanting external validation. Most writers (people) want it.  Some are more honest about that desire than others.

  17. MJ


  18. MJ

      Then get life insurance, a trust, then shoot yourself in the head.

  19. Pipp

      External validation is helpful because it makes you feel less ridiculous. It’s important that writers aren’t crushed. But validation does not significantly alter your relationship with your writing: that will always be about you trying to overcome your shitty imagination. It ain’t that far from ‘will anyone like this?’ to ‘will my agent/publisher like this?’

  20. werdfert

      i think, when it comes down to it, i’d rather write with my own standards and values even if it means very few people read it than to tweak those for a particular audience and be popular. also, i’m going to see nicholas sparks read today.

  21. deadgod

      it’s not an ethnicity, its an ethniconurbation

      and the hipoisie call it an ethniburg

  22. Dawn.

      What Catherine Lacey and Roxane Gay said, particularly: the work comes first, submit to well-regarded and well-read publications, and don’t rush to publish because no one wants to read lesser work. I’ve made that mistake more than once–all you’re left with is an awkward ball of regret in your throat and a credit you’re embarrassed to claim because you know, you know you could’ve done better.

      Also, define “no one.” Is it literally no one, or is it five people, or nine, or twenty-five? Would you be happy with six readers, thirty readers, or does it have to be at least one hundred? What is a “robust readership”? And considering the ephemeral quality of online publications, how do you know for sure how many people have read and/or enjoyed your work? I, personally, have no idea exactly how many people have read most of my stories that have been published in online magazines (except for the people who’ve contacted me about them, of course).

  23. Mittens

      I dunno, I think that “focus on the work” etc is good advice, but has little to do with how many readers one has — there are plenty of writers who are not very good who have plenty of readers, and I’m not just talking about Stephanie Meyer, but writers who have more or less figured out how to successfully promote themselves on the internet. It is not hard to publish hundreds of 200 word short stories in fledgeling online literary magazines as a way to make your name recognizable. Just google “Mittens fiction” and you will see what I mean. I mean, when’s the last time you read a contemporary short story that “seemed like a miracle?”

      Yes, sometimes good writing leads to an audience, but there are also people who are ok writers who are really good at self promotion, really good at getting work into a lot of places, really good at coming up with ideas that are saleable to publishers. What “seems like a miracle” to me is when a really good writer gets the audience he or she deserves. So yes, keep focusing on the writing for sure because the world really does need good writing, but I think it is also helpful to acknowledge that while ‘good writing’ might get you a small audience, ultimately, if you really want to build an audience there are other skills to learn. 

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