Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do Writers Have to Be Readers?

My wife Susan and I are consistent, if not avid, readers. We go to the library just about every month and typically check out between four and ten books. On top of that, we occasionally buy books that we can't get at the library or when we want to own our own copy. When we go on vacation, we often get through a book a day -- in addition to having fun recreating outside.

It turns out that we are unusual. Most Americans don't read. I found these statistics while trolling the Internet, but be warned that I have not tracked them down to their source, so I can't really vouch for their accuracy. Empirical evidence suggests they aren't far off, however.

  • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

As a book publisher, it is disappointing to me that so few people actually read books. What gets me is that these statistics seem at odds with the estimate that 80% of people claim they would like to write a book.

Can you write a book if you don't read books?

I'm guessing not. And to me, THAT explains why so few people actually become published authors. If being a reader helps you become a writer, then the pool of "candidate" authors is not the 80% figure you hear bandied about. If you believe that 80% of families don't buy or read a book over the course of an entire year, that means only about 20% of Americans are even in the pool of available authors in the first place. If 80% of that pool wants to write a book, then really only 16% of Americans are truly candidate authors who are interested in writing a book. Okay, sure, that's still a lot of people.

Yes, I'm playing fast and loose with questionable numbers and assumptions here. The point I'm trying to make is that very few of the people who think they would like to write a book ever will, and that is due in no small part to the fact that they don't read books themselves.

Here's another interesting implication of my statistically dubious conclusion: when you do publish your book, who are you writing for? Probably other potential authors!

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