Writing Anxieties: The Fear of the Bookstore

A regular reader of Writing Anxieties asked if I would talk about the fact that there are just too many books to read. I will. But not today. 😉 Instead, I’d like to focus on a related issue, one a bit more pertinent to the fears of a writer. And that is the over-crowded market.

For me, it’s why I don’t like going into a book store, or these days, browsing titles online at places like Amazon (the same applies to libraries and second-hand stalls at markets). For right in front of you is the constant reminder of all the other people out there who a) have had something published, b) are trying to make it too, and c) are vying for the same attention as you are.

Well, not always the same attention. I can’t say I’ll ever be in competition with the writers of flower manuals and books on deep-sea fishing. Even in fiction, I’m not really in competition with the likes of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, or the other classics that have been around for years (me and Homer have no quarrel… or comparison. Anyway…). Children’s picture books, religious texts, tracts on thermodynamics are, likewise, no cause for concern. There are whole shelves of the store, in real life and virtual, that I can safely browse without the slightest anxiety bubbling up in me.

That leaves the rest of them. The popular fiction writers, the literary fiction writers, the other erotic writers, the speculative, the mystery… each of these I look at think ‘well… shit.’

There are a couple of things going on. One, the gnawing feeling of ‘why aren’t I there yet?’ Two, the overwhelming sense that there are so. many. names. that you just haven’t heard of, and the fear is that ‘well, even if I make it to publication, what if I become one of those names? And ‘also ran’, the one that maybe a handful of people read but is just not, well, read all that much?’ (To my mind, at least – one might hazard that these writers must have readers in order to have more than one novel out.)

I suppose there are a couple of tricks to this. Learning to be happy for the success of others, perhaps – but I think I’ll save my generousity for those I know personally, rather than Jane Doe, writer who I’ve never heard of but dang namit, has gone and managed to get herself out there. Another way of thinking about it is that it takes some of the awe and mystery out of publishing, that it turns out, rather than being something only a veeerryyy special select few can do, there are more people at this game than you might realise – so if they can do it, so can I.

In terms of getting the attention of a J.K. Rowling or a Stephen King (or in erotica, an E.L. James)… not sure with that one. On the one hand, having a name with that kind of impact would be awesome, but I’m slowly getting drawn to the appeal of not having that kind of following. Of having my name know by a few people, enough to keep me writing, enough people who appreciate it, and that’s it.

Of course this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff – need to actually get a novel, you know, finished, before any of this becomes relevant. But it is the kind of thing that can threaten to overwhelm a writer, and worth watching out for so it doesn’t ruin what should be pleasant experience, that of browsing and looking at and enjoying books.