Today there seems to be a market for books that accommodate to a group of people I’d call “one-pagers.” Namely people who only read the first page of a book and then decide to toss it away or read through it. One page. That’s around 240-250 words or so. When I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, I read the first 100 pages that were unbelievably boring, but after that, I was hooked, and it turned out to become one of my favorite books ever. If I had wallbanged it after the first page, I would’ve never gotten to enjoy the abundance of amazing art that followed the first 100 pages.
Maybe I’m just reluctant to let go of the ideal that readers would be patient enough to at least read a few pages, and I’m likewise reluctant to start catering for the one-pagers when I remember myself how tedious it could be to trudge through the first few pages (or a few dozen) to get to the good stuff, but I also remember how, when it did get good, I was glad to have read the set-up because it gave me perspective I would have otherwise lacked.
Now, I realize Tolkien’s book is by no means contemporary: times have changed, and many people are more and more reluctant to put in the effort to truly understand a piece of art. They want instant gratification, and that’s how we end up with the myriad of artists who decorate the MTV top 10 even though most of them will be forgotten in a few years. Few will be remembered, and even then it is usually those who have been able to somehow separate themselves from the mass of fast-food music, i.e. they did something differently.
I see a similar trend in literature: people want to feel after just one page what I felt with LOTR after 100 pages. They want it all, immediately, not in a moment but right now. But does this force authors to alter their works to fit the demands of the literary equivalent of MTV if they ever want to make writing into a living? Do we, as authors, want to push literature, once a noble art form, to become the proverbial quickie in the back alley? Or should we insist on retaining our vision even if it means fewer one-pagers will like it?
Maybe writers have to adapt to the times as well or get left behind. It’s just that… well, I also write songs for my band, and although our music (a mix of rock, funk, metal, and renaissance music) is a little more on the weird side than Justin Bieber, so far many an audience has liked it. I suppose it’s too weird to ever be mainstream, but I have zero interest in being mainstream if it means I have to turn my vision into something I don’t give two shits about (pardon my ending a sentence with a preposition).
My attitude as a songwriter has been to never, EVER compromise my art to please an audience: I don’t do it for a living, so we don’t need the money, so if someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine, I just present my art as it comes from the ether or wherever.
I know, all this stuff about artistic integrity is very cheesy but bear with me: I try to bring that integrity and attitude to writing as well. That’s because when me and K.Trian first started writing, it was just for our own pleasure. And the whole idea stemmed from the fact that we had a hard time finding books we liked, and even when we did, we often felt “well, I would’ve done this bit differently.” So we decided to start writing books we would like to read ourselves. Just like I started my band in order to create music I liked. And to alter our works just to get them to sell more copies… well, I’m not sure if I want to do that.
Again, we don’t write for a living so I suppose not making it big doesn’t really hinder our lives that much, but I believe in what we do, I believe in the stories, truly, so it’s a little difficult to start cultivating the attitude that we have to change the works according to what the public is most likely to like in a given era. I know this may come off as cocky, but that’s not it. I’m just hesitant about altering something in order to make it sell better.
Maybe it IS possible to write a story that grabs the reader from the first sentence onward and never lets go without making it into another Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey, but I need to take a moment to wonder how to go about that and still have the book be what I want it to be (art-wise).