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I see an obsession with some writers about “having it last,” that thing that ensures your book has an impact. They want the physical copy everyone is reading on the airplane, the wide distribution, becoming a classic. That’s very understandable, we humans are social creatures, and we want to affect people.
I get the desire for impact. But I’d argue that many things we use to say “my work has an effect” don’t really mean we will. At least not a good one or a lasting one.
A physical paperback in stores, all over the world? Well, maybe people read it, but also perhaps no one buys it, or it costs too much. A small, cheap ebook might reach more people faster, especially specific audiences or via libraries.
Wide distribution? Well, maybe you’ll reach people and change them. Or maybe your book clogs the shelves of used book stores and library donations. Maybe your book is spread out so wide that the right people don’t get reached.
Becoming a “classic?” A longshot, but also a chance your work is consigned to dusty academia and forced on students, meaning your work is isolated, hated, or both. Taxidermy isn’t immortality.
(There is of course the chance that all you do means you get all the wide distribution and become a classic, but you wrote something that doesn’t make a difference.)
I’m not saying this is easy; I’m saying that if you want to change the world, make sure you’re doing it in a way that works for you and your goals. Following someone else’s recipe for success doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. In the writing world we’ve got so much advice that if it all worked, a lot more of us would be successful.
Serdar and I often discuss how we know people who were deeply affected by our writing. Not a lot of people, but those who experienced profound changes. Would we rather give 100 people a fun read or five people a life-changing event? It’s a question to ponder.
I don’t have an answer for you – I just want you to ask the question what is the best way to matter. Your ideas may be wrong. You might not even care and just enjoy writing so if you’re happy, you are the target audience.
In closing, let me share an experience. I do books on Worldbuilding, the Way With Worlds series. Though there are two large start books, most of the series are small, cheap ebooks that focus on very specific subjects. You grab a book for $2.99 America, read through fifty questions, and get on with writing.
These books are my best sellers by far and people seem to like them. No one is going to list them as classics, no one’s entire writing career will be defined by one book. The small books aren’t even available in print, though I’m thinking of changing that to help more people.
Apparently, they have an impact. It’s not big or flashy, but judging by reviews and discussions, they help.
Maybe they’ll even change the world indirectly. Some future hit book that makes a difference may have in its literary DNA one of my tiny guides. It won’t be many writers’ definition of success, but it definitely is one of mine.