Reading is an Act of Trust
I was thinking about writing as an art and how it differs from other forms of art and I recognized something that I had never really articulated to myself before. I think writing is one of the only forms of art that people pay for before they know if it’s good. Even other forms of story media generally give clues to the quality before you pay.
It’s hard to imagine any way it would work with any other form of art. I have a painting here, no, you can’t remove the curtain before you buy it. My music is great, so please buy it before you listen to it. And so on. A movie is a bit closer but they give us previews that are the best parts and with a comic book you can know if you’ll like the art before you give anything for the story.
It’s not just money though. I give away a fair amount of writing and most books have preview chapters. But there is still far more cost in time and effort before you have any idea if what I wrote is good. Sure the back cover might make you chuckle or the first line is great, but buying or even deciding to read a novel is agreeing to spend the next ten hours with someone. Sure you can always leave, but you don’t want to have to.
This dichotomy is most clear to me at comic book conventions. I have two novels which I bring and sell. They sit next to posters, comics and the offer for hand drawn sketches and the reaction to them are very different than any of the other art. There are naturally the people who just don’t read books, but even the people who do have a much different reaction to a novel than a comic book. They ask what it’s about something they almost never do with a comic book. They’ll turn it in their hand and flip through the pages without reading anything and rarely will they read the back. A tiny summery text that attempts to represent a two hundred page story in two paragraphs of writing that has a different tone and style than anything inside the book and rarely they’ll decide the premise is interesting enough and buy my book.
But in the end it comes down to trust. They know almost nothing about my book. They are simply trusting me with their time and possibly their money with no real evidence that I’m a good writer besides two paragraphs on the back cover of a book. And beyond that they are trusting that I’m someone who they want to spend many hours listening to tell a story. They trust that the painting is good before the curtain is pulled back, that the music is good before play button is pushed. Of course if they have already seen my work then that trust is easier. If someone who does music I love has a Kickstarter I’ll give them money before I hear the song and the same is true of a book from an author I love, but in the case of the author there was still a first time when I had to give them a chance.
In the end I give people that chance for the same reason anyone does. Fiction or Nonfiction, short or long, happy or sad, A good book allows me to see the world in a different way. I step into the mind of someone else and understand them a bit better. I learn to care about kids making rockets in their back yard, about hobbits and wizards, about living statues and alien creatures. It is art and for me at least it is the art that reaches in the deepest and changes me the most. So I’ll keep looking for the people I can trust. The writer I can enjoy a long evening with. The ones who help me to see a bit more clearly, to think a bit more deeply and to care a little more and I will continue to endeavor to create stories that will do the same for someone else.