The Value of Words

Words are everywhere. We don’t realise just how much we use them, even when there aren’t any actively visible. We need them to communicate, to talk and of course, to insult one-another on Facebook. They are the hidden force behind your favourite TV Drama and the real menace in the mobile contract.

And the writers of these words? It’s common knowledge to those who work with words that it doesn’t pay much, bestseller or not. Anyone can string a sentence together, right? Not everyone can do it with finesse needed to make a business stand out from the crowd or make you believe in the character setting out to save the world from impending doom. It’s a talent. Grammar and punctuation is only one part of the tale. Creating awesome fiction is a skill which cannot be taught. It doesn’t much help when those who are published vie over whose publication format, or words on the pages are best.

Novel, script, play, game or story – the authors will tell you there’s no money in it. Regardless of book deals, acceptances, and best sellers, the financial aspect is a massive factor in a writer’s self-worth and therefore lifestyle and mental health.

A Reader’s Measure of Success?

Perhaps we should stop valuing the stories we read by the money it brings, and the format it’s presented in. Yes, I know it’s an utterly idealistic thought.

Sure, a good review won’t buy a can of beans any more than an “I loved your story” will pay for the heating, but what if your story stopped a person from committing a crime? How does that measure on the scale of worth? There are plenty of novelists out there who point to readers who have claimed their book has changed their life for the better, provided support through the loss of a loved one or simply made them feel less alone in the world. Wouldn’t it be great to pay the mortgage with ‘amount of laughter caused’?

All right, it’s a tricky currency to measure, but can’t we value it? Why isn’t there a national award for “Most Read Book in the Library”? A celebration of the work inside the cover not selected by an award panel, voting system or committee, but purely on the number of times it has been read?  Would winning such an award make a difference to how a book is received? Sheffield’s certainly trying to acknowledge the effort! There’s the Reader’s Choice Award, but this award is based on voting from a nominated list. The National Television Awards uses viewer numbers to propagate the longlist for a public vote.

Less numbers, more words!

While we as writers continue to measure our success by the money we earn, we will continue to come up short in system not designed to value the creative individual. Amazon’s system is designed around numbers, not words.  Words don’t fit into databases and percentages particularly well, they don’t follow the same rules as numbers. Bookshops offer more of a personal buying experience by engaging with readers on behalf of the publishers and authors, but these outlets still have to sell to cover costs. If you write for the love of a story, tailoring your words to fit sales predictions and best seller charts lists isn’t likely to produce you any sense of achievement. I know it doesn’t work for me. Writing for the reader and valuing their praise is still hard to measure because goodwill is no longer a bankable asset. A satisfied readership is something money can’t buy. Their genuine, passionate word of mouth recommendation is irreplaceable and outstrips any marketing budget.

If reaching ‘bestseller’ accreditation causes the stress and anxiety that it appears to, I’ll take the feedback from my readers, thank you very much. I’ll repay that loyalty the way they want-more adventures with words. For those books I read and love, I’ll let others know about it. Loudly.

I’ll also research rice and potato meal plans, I hear they’re a good cheap store cupboard staple.