Are There More Writers Than Readers?

No doubt about it. There are a LOT of writers these days.

Of course, we have no way to count exactly how many people have taken up writing. But it seems like I continually meet people who are either in the process of writing a book or are interested in doing so. I realize that since I’m an author, people are more likely to confide in me their writing aspirations so that it may only seem like more people are writing.

But still, I’m amazed at the numbers of writers I meet in real life and around cyberland. In part, the growth of the internet has made the writing industry more visible and accessible. People who may have once only considered the idea of writing a book, now find that they have all the information they need for every step of the process.

Additionally, with the growth of e-books and self-publishing, anyone anywhere can publish a book about anything. As the news spreads of the ease of e-publishing and the successful self-publishing stories are circulated, even more writers step forward to enter the brave new world of publishing.

In the meantime, while the numbers of writers is increasing, the numbers of readers is at a steady decline. We don’t need NEA reports to prove that reading is at risk and continues to lose the battle to other forms of entertainment and activities. We only have to look around us at our own diminishing reading habits and those of our family to see the trend. In the digital age, electronic devices (internet, DVDs, video games, etc.) entice would-be readers more than ever before.

In the November issue of RWR (Romance Writers Report), a 2010 report cited various statistics about reader buying habits. Here a just a couple quotes:

• “Over 100 million adults did not buy a single solitary book in 2010.”

• “Domestic net sales of adult mass-market books were down 6.3% in 2010.”

• “While the e-book segment has experienced large growth in the past few years, analysts claim that few new readers have been created—the segment’s growth is due to 'siphoning' off print book readers, and the gains on the digital side are not making up for losses on the print side.”

With the ever-increasing number of writers publishing books (or hoping to) and the ever-decreasing number of readers, what’s the outlook? It appears to me that the supply of books will soon surpass the demand of readers—if it hasn’t already.

So what’s a writer to do in the face of such an outlook?

1. Make sure we know what we’re up against.

While more opportunities are opening up for writers, that also means the publishing pie is being cut into smaller pieces. More of us will get a slice and taste of publication, but our share of profits will likely be less. With all of the competition, we’ll have to accept that even with our best marketing efforts we may hit a ceiling. Even traditionally published authors like myself are facing new challenges with sales.

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, posed a question on her blog, “What if there were no money in writing?” She mentioned that it’s becoming harder for writers to make money as readers are moving toward an attitude of being unwilling to pay much. Therefore, we must indeed ask ourselves how much effort we’re willing to expend on our writing careers if we’re unable to eventually receive the compensation we long for.

2. Don’t discount writers as future readers.

As the writing population grows, a portion of writers will also become our readers. Over the past couple of years, many writers have let me know they’ve read my books as a direct result of getting to know me through social media. Writer Lindsay Harrel said this last week: “Because of your great blog tour, I am currently reading my copy of The Doctor's Lady (and loving it!)! So it at least worked to hook one reader, and I'm sure many more!”

Another writer, Karrie Myton, sent me an email saying this: “Your blog has helped me in countless ways. I like hearing your voice in your writing, but I was afraid to read your fiction. I worried that I wouldn't like it, and that I would lose faith in your writing expertise. I needn't have worried. I started reading The Preacher's Bride last night and struggled to put it down to take care of my kids.”

3. Writers can take the lead in purchasing books.

We need to be careful lest we fall into the trap of thinking that all those readers out there will take care of buying our writing friends’ books, and we won’t need to. The fact is, writers, more than any other group should know how important it is to actually purchase books (as opposed to waiting to get a free copy).

We obviously can’t buy every book of every writer we know. But we can make a point of supporting (aka buying books) as generously as we can—if not for ourselves, then as gifts for people we know.

So what’s your opinion? Do you think we’re moving toward a day when there will be more writers than readers, when the supply will outweigh the demand? What do you think writers can do to weather the changes?


  1. Interesting questions, Jody. It's weird: I keep hearing all these dire statistics about reading, yet on a daily basis (through time spent social networking), I haven't found that to be the case. In general, I sense excitement brewing over self-publishing, etc. However, within my own home, sadly, there has been a dramatic decrease in reading (with my teen daughter), and somehow the teenage connection to social media is more appealing than sitting to read a book. I think so many kids are affected with acute ADD, due to all the electronic choices out there, so I'm not particularly optimistic for that up-and-coming generation as being full of readers. I have no idea how writers can weather the changes, other than keeping our heads down and working on our books, and being open to changes in marketing.

    P.S. Happy Tuesday posting :D

  2. Hi Barb,

    It does feel slightly weird to be posting on a Tuesday!! :-) I think there are a lot of mixed-messages out there about the changes happening in industry. I've been reading article after article to try to get a grip on the statistics and to make sense of what it all means. When I talk with my publisher and look at my sales and then put it together with what others are saying, I'm starting to get a clearer picture of what's going on. But I still am searching to understand and think it's just going to take some time to see how it all plays out.

  3. The information I've been reading about the declining book market makes me nervous to be sure. But what can I do? Get up early in the morning and keep writing and learning. I can strive to learn the craft and write to the best of my ability, and I sincerely hope the best of my ability will be good enough that I can keep writing.

    I think the changes in the book market are also a reason to get a really savvy, hard working agent. A good agent can help navigate his/her clients through the current publishing trends. For example, my agent has helped her writers earn money from backlist ebooks and also sells to foreign markets.

    But still, as far as it concerns me, the biggest thing I can do is make sure each book I write is better than the last.

    Thanks for the post, Jody. How fun to see you on a Tuesday.

  4. I blogged about this recently. I think it's great that there are lots of writers. In a society, where adults are amazed and disconcerted and the lack of writing skills in high school graduates this is great news. More writers means better writing skills to teach and pass on to our children. Even if we don't all make it!

    And due to ereaders I've heard lots more people are reading than were before! I guess it depends on who you talk to.

  5. Hi Naomi and Laura! I agree that we have to just keep writing the best books we possibly can and continue to take a long term view. If we allow ourselves to get discouraged in the short run and quit, we may miss out on some great things that the future will hold!

  6. At a writer's conference last year, I heard several people say, "Well, I lost my job ..." "I couldn't find a job after college...." "My hours were cut ...." then finished with ", I decided to write that book." I think people have a lot more time on their hands due to the economy. I'm reading more due to social networking and the ebooks.

  7. Everyone wants to write a book. Everyone wants to have written a book.

    But this business is not for anyone except the tough and persistent.

    It just sounds easy. If brain surgery could be done without a degree everyone would be claiming they were going to become a brain surgeon too.

  8. Stacy, That's another great point. I think there are those who falsely believe (possibly based on Hollywood stereotypes) that writing a book can be a quick way to earn money--the philosophy of "When you're out of a job, then write." But sooner or later reality will hit! :-)

    And Tina, I have to say, that with the ease of e-publishing, many writers don't have the tough, persistent outlook. All too many jump into e-publishing without considering how difficult the journey is. Whether they last for the long-haul, will remain to be seen. Btw, I just saw an ad for your book Okalhoma Reunion in the RWR magazine! Very cool!

  9. Hi Jody. Thanks for quoting me in your post. :)

    As others have said, I don't think people understand how difficult it is to pull off a book successfully when they first start out to write one. It is not for the faint of heart. So there are a lot of people "writing," but are there really that many "publishing"? I suppose anyone can write something, upload it to Amazon for Kindle sales, and then try to drive marketing toward that. I've actually heard people argue they'd rather do that because they'll make more money that way (since they get a larger percentage of the final cost). Some will be successful. But many won't. The same thing goes for those getting published traditionally. Technology has changed and opened opportunities for people who might not have had them before. But does it mean a higher number/percentage will be successful overall? I'm not sure.

  10. Interesting thoughts, Jody! (And fun to see you on a Tuesday, by the way :))

    I think the market will reach a point of oversaturation, but ultimately the cream will always rise to the top. It just reiterates the importance of improving our craft so we stand out amongst the many.

  11. It does seem like everyone is a writer these days, though I think a lot of people write one or two books and then stop. I know many people who never used to read, but since they got an e-reader, they read all the time. I have several friends who now call or email to recommend good books they have read. The buzz is certainly out there, but there have always been people who read and those don't.

  12. Here is my two cents. 1. Writers read too. 2. We don't all write to get published.

  13. I suppose writing and publishing take on a Darwinian rule where only the strong will survive. The only real difference self publishing offers, is the control that many entrepreunrial spirited people crave, instead of leaving it to a traditional publisher; giving them a better shot at success. Like any winning venture, creating it has to come from a place of passion and determination. You have to believe in it and care for it when no one else will. Making money is important, but it can't be the driving force.

  14. Thanks Jody!!

    I was surprised to flip the pages and see it myself. LOL.

  15. Hey everyone!! I'm really loving the comments today! This is an issue that no one really has the answer for. But it's good for us to think about the implications of what is happening and how that will affect us. And it's important to hold onto the hope that eventually the cream rises to the top, that if we work hard enough and produce quality books we'll have some success! (Thanks for that reminder, Sarah!)

  16. I am a reader ONLY... I am not great at expressing things on paper very well but I try really hard to give a great review. I wish that god had given me that talent to write a story but I am not that talented. I have other gifts that god gave me which has been nursing others. I love to read new authors and I also have my favorites. I have noticed that there are alot of new authors that are trying to get readers to read there books and I am sure it is very tough to do. I know that I follow quite a few authors on my facebook as well as twitter. I think without the internet it would have been much harder to get things published.I can only imagine that you would have had to type it all out on an old fashioned typewriter.. Lol some do not even have a clue what that is.

  17. I'm going to take a slightly different track here and say I'm not really concerned at all.

    I write YA. The market for YA has exploded over the past decade in ways that I don't think can be easily articulated. It has been an amazing thing to watch - and a huge boon for YA writers.

    The thing is, these readers will age up. And while that doesn't mean they're going to stop reading young adult fiction (I'm *coughcough* and still read it almost exclusively), they will likely expand their tastes - and their buying habits.

    Harry Potter and Twilight, regardless of internet disputes over 'merit', are both great examples of books that age with their readers.

    I think this trend will continue. The 14 year-old who buys my book someday (knock on wood!) will be searching for a copy of The Doctor's Lady ten years later. If not less.

  18. I consider myself a writer, but I read WAY more than I actually write. Without being an avid reader (of quality books), I don't think you can truly be a great writer.

  19. Well, there can only be more writers than readers if a significant portion of those writers aren't reading. Which is not a very good way to be a writer. So I would hope that there's more readers than writers at the moment. Or at least an equal amount.

  20. Whenever I get discouraged about the state of books, I head to my library or a bookstore and watch people check out or purchase books. The numbers may be declining, but it's nice to see real people who do appreciate books!

  21. Interesting thoughts. But I agree with Sarah, the cream will float to the top and in all reality, I can't see readers declining THAT avidly, otherwise we'll have a lot of stupid people running around the earth. Ok - so that wasn't PC... sorry :)

  22. You're so right: writers are also readers. In fact, I think they are more likely to be readers than the general public.

    Perhaps it is petty of me but when a children's bookstore in my neighbourhood refused to take even one copy of my self-published middle grade fiction on consignment I made a choice to purchase my reading material at the other local bookstore that took 12 copies.

  23. I think there will always be a market for good writing, and as writers we have the most control over this factor.

  24. Very interesting questions, Jody. In the blogosphere, it certainly seems there are more writers than readers but in my 'normal' life, I come across lots of readers but few writers. Perhaps there are less writers per capita in Australia? ;-)

  25. This topic reinforces what I've been told by many: write for you, not to get published. That's so hard to get my head around because I want my hard work to pay off. But if I get too caught up in the desire to get published, that hinders my ability to relax and enjoy the writing process, which was what got me into writing in the first place. Sigh.

  26. Hey everyone!! I'm loving the discussion! Heather, thanks for bringing up going back to the REAL reason we're writing--because we LOVE writing. That has to be the driving force behind why we do it.

  27. Wow, great discussion going on over here! Hmm, I cannot imagine a world without books, electronic or paper. I realize there are those who for whatever reason don't enjoy reading - but I have to tell you that a 72-year-old woman came up to me the other day and said, "I have never enjoyed reading, but your books have suddenly turned this switch on in me, and now I can't stop!" She went on to tell me she had read all ten of mine and between my releases she reads other authors (you included). I think at last count she'd read something like 75 Christian novels this year alone. She said she's making up for lost time!

    This does my heart good. I would say to all writers - "Hone your craft; attend workshops, join a critique group and writers' organizations, keep the fire of your passion burning, persevere through heartache and disappointment, pray for strength and courage, and above all ask God for divine guidance. He has amazing plans for each of us, whether in the world of writing or otherwise. If His plans include publishing then it won't matter what the market looks like or what the statistics are saying about the declining number of readers. He will build a niche for you that will fit your talents to a tee. And if only ONE reader is affected in a positive way for eternity then you have done your job.

    Love and Hugs to ALL! And thanks, Jody, for an excellent, insightful article. You ALWAYS deliver!

  28. Hi dear Sharlene!

    Thank you so much for your sweet words of encouragement! It's always refreshing to hear that there are avid readers out there who are still devouring our books! Love that!

    Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks at the conference! Hope you're feeling better!

  29. What I hear from my readers is that they are buying more books with the advent of e-readers.

    Though those of us with e-readers are buying fewer paper books we're buying more e-books.

    I haven't suddenly split and divided into two readers but I do buy more books than I have bought at any other time. Why? Because ebooks are easy to store...I don't have to worry about whether there is space on my over-burdened shelf. Ebooks are inexpensive. I can buy several ebooks for what a single paper book costs. I also read quite a bit more since the advent of ebooks.

    I was a fairly early adopter of ebooks, but the thing that really spurred me to read more was when I put aside the Kindle reader (sorry Kindle -- I do love the device) and started reading predominantly Kindle format books on my Android phone.

    The reason that I read more on the Android phone than I did with paper books or the Kindle reader is that the Android phone is always with me. If I have a few minutes waiting for the oven to preheat, or the water to come to a boil, or something to brown, I can read a few pages of an ebook. If I'm in line at the bank and the line is moving slow I can read a few pages. All of those pages add up. Someone once had a tally of how many books a person would read in a year if they read for just 15 minutes a day. I don't remember what the figure was, but I remember being surprised by how many it was. I do average at least 15 minutes a day reading now just in stolen minutes...while I'm waiting for the computer to boot, the hubby to pull up the TV program, something to cook, an appointment, etc.

    As authors, publishers, reviewers, and others with a vested interest in a healthy future for books and reading I think what we should do is encourage reading IN GENERAL. Not just encouraging people to read the books we write or the books we publish, but encouraging people to read what they enjoy reading...and to share what they are reading with us and with others in our circle.

    We try to do this on the Black Velvet Seductions Blog by having guest authors and with things like our Million Pages Challenge.

    I think we have a good opportunity to gradually bring people back to reading via social media simply by sharing what we are reading, what we like about what we're reading, and what we like about the experience of reading in general.

    I think there's a new generation of readers who are discovering books...and ebooks as well. Kids love electronics...but now books are electronic...and we can get kids engaged in books quite early in life.

    My niece who is four has her own collection of ebooks on the iPod Touch and the Android phone. The latest books for kids read out loud and turn the pages. Some of them underline the word as it is being read...which all help teach children to read. I think the generation of kids brought up on ebooks will be our next generation of readers.

    I think the focus needs to be on spreading the word about something enjoyable...not necessarily selling a specific book if we want to create more readers generally.

  30. Hi Laurie,

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I appreciate it. It's great to hear your positive outlook on the effect of e-readers. I hope that the tantalizing aspect of reading on something electronic will truly draw new readers. My kids are already pretty strong readers simply because of the priority I've put on reading. Nevertheless, they tend to want to play Monopoly on my Kindle rather than read books on it! :-)

    I really do agree that we all should be encouraging more reading across the board, and I believe that starts with our own families and the habits we instill in our children. We need to set the limits with their entertainment and then also allow them the time in their schedules to read. Sometimes they get so busy with activities there's not much time left for reading!

    Anyway, thank you for all of your input!!

  31. Dear Jody, books have been in existance since time began. Written on the temple of Delphi are words to live by. "Know Thyself"

    It is clear that our society is steeped in multitasking which leave less time for reading. But the beauty of books like yours is the chance to escape, and however damaged our fight or flight mechanisms have become in a busy life, I love books. I love the feel of them, the look of them.(Even the smell of them) I'd hang them on my windows instead of drapes if I could.

    I have serious doubts about seeing the end of readers.

    In spite of todays technology, and the many ways to get our stories out into the universe, word of mouth is the mainstay of growing a readership. The passing of books by way of - human to human has brought hundreds of books into my life.
    Not to say I don't appreciate social networking. That's how I found you on facebook. Keep writing.

  32. Hi, I found your post after Googling "more readers than writers" and found it interesting.

    I'm coming into this discussion about 7 months later, so I'm not sure how relevant my remarks will be. Suffice to say, this is a keen area of interest, and I've unearthed many disturbing trends. The NYT just featured an article on the decline of picture books for children.

    To me, the current "boom" area of publishing, YA, is dominated by those hoping to replicate the cross-over success of "Hunger Games." About half those who purchase YA books are adults, and I suspect "Hunger Games," with its bleak dystopian outlook, reflects the dismal world economy.

    Boomers usually represent the largest chunk of readers, many who are unemployed are looking to "publish the book they always wanted." I suspect Boomers may be fueling YA costs as much as any other demographic group. YA sales have had a bump because adult readers who are tired of the same storylines in adult fiction, so they switched over. I for one still don't see young people reading with real zeal, only texting, Facebooking or Twittering.

    Romance book sales have flatlined, too, and it seems to me that major publishers are clinging to their tried-and-true, their big name authors, because that's where the money is. It's what businesses do in times of peril -- hunker down and hold onto what is profitable. The thing is, innovation is necessary to keep any company and industry thriving, and yet, that risk is something few agents and editors want to take. I think they'll watch for rising stars among the self-published, those who can sell books on their own. Newcomers will be a rarity to publishing now.

    To me, what's at stake here, is our attention spans. Any time you speak out against the potential dark side of technology, thousands converge on you with their swords, determined to gut you like a fish. "Dinosaur! Technology is the future! Stay in your cave, Cro-Magnon, we love our iPhones."

    A carefully researched book nominated for a Pulitzer far covers this subject better than I -- it's called "The Shallows," and follows a groundbreaking article on Google, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Our addictions to the Internet and to our gadgetry is making us more reliant on technology, and at a possible sacrifice to our own cognitive sensibilities, Evidence of our decreasing attention spans is in our popular magazines. Pick up a People magazine. It resembles a coloring book, with oversized photos and brief cutlines. The articles are short. For a meatier article, one must read "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," "The New Yorker," others. But these magazines have declined in readership. People will sneer, say, "I don't waste my time on that garbage." Yet they will read Twitter feeds about the most inane of activities.

  33. (continued)

    What I notice about myself, is that the longer I'm on the Internet, the more I cannot read a printed stationary page. Others share this experience. If science can bear this out, and there are inklings this isn't just me, there will be data to back it up -- what is this addiction doing to us neurologically?

    Newspapers, magazines and books are dying, because reading is dying as a cognitive skill. Kids today are weaned on computer games and expect to push a button on a book, expect it to entertain them. They feel reading "the old fashioned way" -- is WORK. That it's hard work, and they don't want to wait for the end of the story.

    There are many fascinating sources that are beginning to validate my hunches. Information available on Scientific American. PBS (Frontline) had a fascinating documentary called, "Digital Nation." A MIT professor said, "Kids are drinking the Kool-Aid, thinking they can multi-task. They can't." What's leading to these misconceptions about multi-tasking (and again, splintering our attention spans, making it harder for us to focus, because we're trying to do three simultaneous things) -- what's sparking these delusions we can multi-task, is because our gadgets can seemingly multi-task. In "Digital Nation," young people were tested on multi-tasking. One young man, very bright, was 100% sure he could multi-task. They tested him. He couldn't.

    A 2008 (or thereabouts) test on fluid intelligence indicated that when we humans do things the old-fashioned way -- find a location on our own, without a GPS, read a book, do long-division on a piece of paper as opposed to reaching for the calculator -- that this stimulates our brain in a deeper, more profound cognitive way. It keeps us intuitive and imaginative -- it stimulates our ability to reason, to draw conclusions. When technology does this for us -- on a continual basis -- what will happen to us?

    If we cannot reason, if we cannot focus, we cannot engineer, we cannot invent, we cannot theorize. Deep (book) readers are able to concentrate, those who surf the Internet and punch on links constantly -- they cannot focus.

    I've heard that reading an eBook on an iPad or something akin -- is subject to interruptions, such as instant messaging, etc. This is not like sitting in a chair, absorbing a stationary book. Or, perhaps turning off interruptions on an eReader is the way to go.

    The Guardian has featured a number of unsettling articles as well. I tend to gravitate toward the smart, researched stuff and try to process that information. As you say in your thoughtful blog, it's good to be aware of how much publishing is shrinking, and really, how alarming it is. I worry we are becoming a spastic, "I want it NOW!" culture, unable to focus on anything except what entertains us at the moment -- before we move on in 30 seconds to the next thing to entertain.

    I hope I can stay a writer. I pray I can. Persistence and talent play a big part, a little luck, too, but increasingly, I feel that reading as an activity is dying out, across the board – from newspapers, magazines, books, and until we address this dying literacy issue, we can’t address publishing’s decline in sales.

  34. Hi Anon! Thanks for chiming into this post! I enjoyed reading your comments and thoughts about some of the possible causes to a change or decline in reading habits. For now, I'm continuing to push forward optimistically, praying that I too can continue to write and that readers will find enjoyment in my stories. I wish you all the best too!

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