Reading the Reader: A Guide to Figuring Out the Messy Literary Market

Open up any author’s web browser and you’ll find one heck of a history. Everything from how to kill someone with a pool noodle to how many hours would it take to ride a bicycle to Mars might show up. What you’ll also find are a dozen literary pages complete with market research and suggestive trends. That’s because, like it or not, authors do not understand what readers want. They can cater to a preferred group, take shots in the dark or be all lone wolf about it, but the truth stands on its own. Writers are at a loss to global reading habits.

In writers’ defense, not even the experts seem to know. According to Global English Editing’s The Ultimate Guide to Global Reading Habits,publishers and agents seem to be at a loss on how to follow data. For starters, the top three most literate countries, Finland, Norway and Iceland only account for approximately eleven million combined people. Even if every citizen was a reader, they’d only make up around twelve percent of ebook readers alone. Meanwhile, although twenty-six percent of Vietnam’s population don’t identify as regular readers, Asia is by far one of the top continents for book sales. In America, seventy-four percent of people have read a book in the last twelve months, yet twenty-seven percent of American adults haven’t read this year. Confused, yet?

In genres, the leader, Romance/Erotica, makes up 1.44 billion dollars per year, followed by Crime/Mystery at 728.2 million. Religious Inspiration, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Horror finish the top five genres with a combined 1.389 billion dollars. Yet, the global yearly earnings for books is near 20 billion dollars. So, what’s selling that makes up the other eighty percent of books? How does an author find out where their audience is? And why is all of the information so conflicting? 

The truth of the matter is that data is hard to rope up. For literary producers, guessing what audiences want is more alchemy than science. They follow trends rather than raw data. And trends are an ever undulating affair, like waves in an upside-down ocean. Now, before you knock book creators for being hacks that chase people rather than art, know that true artists, the lone wolves that write what they want, only sell on average two-hundred-and-fifty copies within their lifetime. That’s not nearly enough to keep any business flowing. Like it or not, there’s something to be said for understanding what’s in demand. 

So, what does this mean for writers? It means that there’s really no way to understand what a reader wants. Yes, there are trends that authors can try to chase, but they’re fickle and ever changing. Yes, you can look at last year’s sales and try to make predictions for the upcoming quarters, but the numbers are constantly contradicting themselves. No agent, publisher or researcher can guarantee an author will earn enough money to feed their family, let alone become a New York Best Seller. 

The only element the author can control is writing well. Write that perfect piece, and when you’re done, then try to take the best shot at how best to publish your work. Some of the best writers have created perfection, only to realize that their work needs to be placed into a drawer temporarily or adjusted to fit the times. Things like global pandemics, flooded markets and overdone genres all have a way of affecting the success of your latest work. 

So, if you’re writing the next great novel, and are drowning in angst because you don’t know how to sell it, let’s remember these simple steps. First, finish your story. Once you have a strong piece of work, you can decide what’s trending, who might be the best representation to support your work, and anything else that changes how you’ll present it to the world. The future is not ours to see, but having a strong piece of writing is the most vital step in reading your reader. 

Calling all writers! Check out “Add an Eye” editing and proofreading for all of your extremely affordable writing needs.

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Looking for cover art? Do you want to nail online or printed advertisements for your book, short story or novel? Look no further. Ana Cruz is the master of creating the perfect book cover, marketing art or any other contracted art you need. This talented artist works at incredibly competitive prices, and contracts all rights to the payer. How do I know? I’ve used her for both “Dim Fairy Tales” and “Consumed 2nd edition.” Get your art on the right page today!

Talk Nerdy to Me

Join me on the Webcomics Podcast where I speak with the host Jamais Jochim about comics, writing and all things dorky. 

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-justin-alcala/id1479051116?i=1000472255917

Also, check out “Add an Eye” editing and proofreading for all of your extremely affordable writing needs.

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“It Snows Here” Available in the new Power Loss Anthology

The day the lights went out is remembered as Day Zero.

It wasn’t just the lights, it was the phones, the computers and just about everything else that makes modern society what it is.

Power Loss tells the story of eight individuals, by eight different authors, each trying to come to terms with the black out and survive in a world that has changed forever. 

“Power Loss” is a BLK Dog Publishing Anthology with my short story, “It Snows Here.” Check out all of the talented authors April 21st, 2020. 

As I Sit in the Hall: A Call for Honest Writing

As I Sit in the Hall: A Call for Honest Writing

It’s late. In a few hours, we’ll wake up and leave for the hospital. It scares my wife. It scares me too. Our son is due in the morning. 

There’s something about creation and death that keeps a person honest. My wife’s latest pregnancy framed a lot for me about my shortcomings, from my terse patience to my all too often bleak perspective of the world. At this moment though, it’s irrelevant. And yet, for as trivial as every issue in the world feels, a whisper tells me to mend my past to honor the future. It’s time to adjust my approach to everything I thought I once knew, including something that’s bothered me for a while… my writing. 

Writers are a funny sort. We begin our literary pilgrimage replicating our favorite authors. Everything starts as a photocopy. At some point though, writers reach a precipice and have to take a leap of faith. We need to bare our souls. It’s frightening to expose yourself in your works. It’s far safer to cloak yourself in the safety of familiar literary voices. Once you strip away that shield though, that’s when authors create the most brilliant, unadulterated works. 

We’re in the delivery room. There are complications. I’m asked to go in the hall while the anesthesiologist works to dull my wife’s pain. It’s quiet, sterile and bare. I want to be composed, but gravity has left my belly. I’m exposed, and it shows. Staff stare as they walk past, studying me like some car accident on the side of the road. 

I’m a strange guy. I laugh when I should cry. I think the house I grew up in was haunted. My dad died when I was a teenager and I never fully dealt with it. I pretend I’m an elf with my friends on weekends. I prefer Shelley to Austen. I’m sure there’s undiagnosed mental illnesses in my family. I don’t want this to bleed any of this onto the pages. Strange stories don’t get published. Weird people don’t sell books.

Now though, after all of this, I’m not so sure. Who we are, both at our strongest and weakest, aren’t blemishes. They’re merits. These little aspects of our lives transforms a story from good to great. Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either. If I were reading this article a few days ago, I’d roll my eyes. All it takes though is a quick look on any bookshelf and soon you’re reminded.

Sylvia Plath, best known for The Bell Jar, wrote some of her most beautiful works under the weight of depression after her husband’s affair. She used this horrible event to create masterpieces. The battle ultimately caused her to commit suicide. To this day her poems and manuscripts are considered some of the most admired all over the world. 

Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead was inspired by a reoccurring dream he had about zombies when he wrote Zone One. The Princeton teacher’s early work was labeled as scholarly and a prominent voice against racism. So when he was compelled to write about undead, Whitehead was naturally reluctant. He ultimately followed his creative passion, and while there were skeptics, it remains one of his best-selling novels.  

The list goes on and on. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender Is the Night while repairing cars and caring for his schizophrenic wife. These hardships helped thread the creative yarns for much of each story’s conflict. Chuck Palahniuk’s award-winning manuscripts put readers in the front seat of self-destructive protagonists marginalized by society. These books are reflections of Palahniuk’s unearthed struggles with homosexuality and proletarianism. Life, death, joy, sadness — these struggles dance on the pages if writers let them. 

There’s a room of doctors surrounding us. My wife is pale. I see blood all over the resident’s rubber gloves. I clench her hand as she screams. I am holding onto the steering wheel with my teeth.     

I’m not saying that authors have to suffer from some debilitating disease or fight a great social war in order to write at their zenith. You just need to be honest. Trust me, I get it. It’s not easy. Often, it’s what makes us most human, most relatable, that we want to hide most. Try it though. Take your experiences and let them flow through characters, settings and worlds. I guarantee you that if you do, you’ll cultivate your greatest works yet. 

My wife is in tears. So am I. Dr. Titus beckons Mallory to push one last time. She does. The Earth stands still. Ronan Frederick Alcala is born. Doctors work on my wife as we embrace our weeping baby. I am standing with one foot on each of our planet’s poles.

I’m weird. I’m at peace with it. In fact, I kind of like it. Maybe I’ll write a story about a man with a toaster for a tail who’s trapped on a planet without fire. Maybe I’ll create a character with a time bomb in her head that sets off a strain of madness in order to hide a secret that could save the world. Maybe I’ll write an adventure about a man who takes his children on a great adventure to achieve their destiny, but instead fulfills his own.  

Today’s Blog is Sponsored By: Add an Eye Editing Services

I don’t think I would have been a Speculative Fiction Finalist for “A Dead End Job” if it weren’t for the fantastic assistance of Add an Eye Editing Service. Try it out, as first time clients can receive an introductory discount. Tell them Justin sent you…

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Justin Alcala Writer’s Update

Thanks again for all the great support. The recent birth of Ronan has reminded me how storybook life can be. The good news, none of the excitement has halted writing production. Far from it. Below is a list of all the upcoming news for future works and events…

March 2020: I’ll be a guest interview on The Written World Podcast to discuss finding your voice in writing. Stream date to be announced shortly after recording.

April 2020: Running Wild Press will release their Running Wild Anthology of Stories, volume 4 in hard back and ebook. My short story, “A Blind and Terrible Thing” will be featured along with several other talented authors.

May 2020: The Hide & Seek anthology will feature my work, “The Dilemma of Old Furnaces” in their collection, in addition to being featured in the University of British Columbia’s cIRcle digital repository for UBC literary research.

June 2020: DLG Publishing plans to release my ebook short story, “A Forest Only Whispers” on amazon for kindle and kindle unlimited.

July 2020: Czykmate Productions presents their first Haunted MTL anthology, featuring “The Lantern Quietly Screams” along with several other haunting shorts on amazon and kindle. 

September 2020: BLK Dog Publishing projects the release of their Power Loss anthology, including my full length story, “It Snows Here.”

Fall 2020: I’m looking to have updates on my latest novel, “A Dead End Job” as well as publication details.

Winter 2020: I also am looking forward to announcing new details on my latest MG novel, “The Last Stop” for future markets.

“A Forest Only Whispers” to be released by DLG Publishing

Exciting news! DLG Publishing and I have just agreed to contract “A Forest Only Whispers” for e-book release. Future release date to be announced…

When Melissa, a widowed witch who’s as shy as she is brainy, looks to celebrate Mabon with her sisters, she doesn’t expect much more than a night of praise to forget her missing boyfriend, that is until the forest visitor comes and offers a chance at redemption.

            A Forest Only Whispers is a romantic witchcraft story about Melissa, a contemporary witch that lives with her mother and Nanny in a charming New England village. Years ago, her high school boyfriend, Rían, disappeared in the nearby woods, and since then Melissa has never been the same. Now a college student, Melissa spends time with her family, the O’Phelans, her coven sisters and best friend, Hellwise. While the story starts off with a simple family tradition of baking Nine Maidens Pie during the Autumn Equinox, the reader learns that Melissa is sneaking off to join her sisters in praise. As the plot continues, Melissa joins her modern day coven as they go into the legendary Limingdover Woods, where Rían disappeared. 

DLG Publishing

You Get Three Wishes

Ask any best-selling author where they were before their first book became a New York Times bestseller or before their big million dollar publishing deal and their answer is the same. They were struggling. They were getting rejected. They were climbing the hill like everyone else. Most of these acclaimed authors will also admit that the struggle is part of the process. It’s a measure of development. It inspires the mind and soul. Just stick with it and the cream rises to the top. 

So if the struggle is just part of the development, then what can a budding or intermediate writer hope for? If the pain is part of the pleasure, what do writers need to continue towards their aspirations of creating that next great American Novel, winning that Pulitzer Prize or becoming one of the most respected authors of all time? Well, if you found a literary genie, and they gave out three wishes, here’s what they should be.  Writers need to be one with rejection, grow with their work and never lose the swagger. Confused? No worries. We will walk through it together. 

The first piece sounds simple enough. Be one with rejection. Don’t let the man get you down. Keep trudging along and not taking no for an answer. A writer needs to understand that most submission-rejections and uninterested replies stem from time tables, undisclosed publishing goals and reviewer preference. You could write a perfectly good story, better than most, and still not make that anthology or get that novel accepted. It’s literally not you, it’s them. Rejection is like bad weather. You can’t avoid it, and occasionally, when an agent or publisher is superb at telling you why they’re passing, you can even grow from it. 

For example, I’ve had agents tell me that my writing is great, but the genre I chose just isn’t selling. Some publishers let me know they’re just tiring of first-person narratives, even if the manuscript is seamless. These bits of commentary remind a storyteller that there is progress, but today is just isn’t the day. Even the common This just doesn’t work for us reply given by many publishers is an indicator to how subjective the industry is. Your work could fit perfectly with other distributer.

The second wish is that a writer grows with their work. All too often, starting authors try to perfect one topic, one idea, one concept, and drive it into the ground. This is a great method for starting out. You can’t be a good writer until your work speaks for itself and focusing on a horror genre or type of dialogue is the perfect way of getting your name out there. As you grow though, and as you master more writing tools, it’s vital to challenge your work. Go out of your comfort zone, write new types of stories and learn to write in first, second and third person perspective. Most importantly, challenge how you look at everything that you write about. 

Long ago when animals could talk, I was an overworked writer living in downtown Chicago with barely a penny to spare. My characters were gritty. My scenery was destitute. My point of view leaned on a survivor’s demeanor. As I grew, advanced my career and had a family, I became happier. I started to understand that not everything needs to bleed noir. You can have genuinely kind characters. You could build honest scenes instead of glum gutters. You could tell a story that makes the reader think about the merits of life, love and everything in between. Challenge your writing in order to broaden your perspective and challenge your perspective in order to improve your writing.  

Finally, never lose your swagger. It’s easy to be confident in a character, plot or manuscript for a short while, but the gods cursed writers to question everything, including themselves. Doubt tethers itself to artists before dropping its anchor in the ocean. Most writers don’t last more than three years before throwing their work in the air and going back to their normal lives. Whether it’s bravado, confidence or just an understanding that you have stories that demand to be told, a part of you has to find that thing that makes you a special writer and run with it. 

Just remember, confidence is the ability to meet life’s hurdles and know that you’ll succeed. An author, someone who typically works alone, gets all the pains of being alone, but none of the encouragement that other careers provide. An author must be self motivating. If they can learn to continue to believe in their work, even when it’s not paying the bills, even when it’s getting dumped on by editors or isn’t meeting personal expectations, they will succeed.

So the next time you’re digging in your backyard and find a rare lamp with a genie’s initials, think about what you will wish for. Success comes with time and dedication. The struggle is part of the process. Still, there’s three major elements that can help you become a master of writing in that span. They are the foundation for anyone who aspires to create greatness in their work. Why not work on making those wishes come true?

“The Dilemma of Old Furnaces” To be Added to University of British Columbia Archives

Delighted, ecstatic, thrilled- I can’t say it enough how happy I am to have a short story of mine, “The Dilemma of Old Furnaces,” published in “cIRcle,” a digital library for research, theses and dissertations at the University of British Columbia. Check out this future work and others at the link below.

https://www.justincalcala.com/theplentydreadfulseries

When Eden, a handicapped boy with a brain that’s as sharp as his insecurities, goes to his offbeat Grandmother Irena’s cottage one frigid winter morning, he begrudgingly thinks back to all the tall tales she once told him about fairies and monsters. However, as revisits her old home, Eden looks back on all the adventures the pair used to enjoy, and wonders if he’s being too hard on his strange but loving Grandmother Irena. Then a dragon tries to eat Grandmother Irena’s cat, and the only one that can stop it is Eden. 

Support the ArTs: It’s a David Versus Goliath Thing

Well, it’s a bummer to have to share this, but for those of you that aren’t in the know, amazon rules the world. You pay to play, and those with the most money, connections and marketing often somehow mysteriously make it to the top of all amazon’s author lists. Those who speak Pig Latin would say, “isthay uckssay orfay uddingbay authorsyay.” As a mid-career author, I not only feel the pain, but talk to a lot of other talented writers who do as well. So, we reach out to you, the wonderful reader. The person who spends their few pennies on making our wonderful works come to life by enjoying our little stories. Thank you.

Now I ask one other favor. Please, instead of checking out a mainstream book this month, instead, buy a budding author’s work. Let me tell you, I’ve made it a personal quest to do the same (a sort of put your money where your mouth mission) and I’ve been so surprised by how little attention some of these great books have received. Many of them are just as good as the market giants if not better. So, along with the shameless promotion for my recently released books, I’m also adding some recent reads that have blown me away. All of them are from incipient writers who need your help to take down the amazon Goliath by buying their books and leaving reviews where ever you can. 

Justin Alcala Recent Releases:

Scarlet Leaf Review (Article): “Urban Fantasy: The Modern Fairy Tale”

https://www.scarletleafreview.com/short-stories15/category/justin-alcala

Unfading Daydream Anthology, Issue 9: “Time Will Tell”

Castabout Literature Anthology, October 2019: “The Lantern Quietly Screams”

All Things That Matter Publishing: “Dim Fairy Tales”

Other Great Authors

Tonja Drecker, Young Adult Supernatural Novel: “Music Boxes”

Jeannie Sharpe, Faith and Romance Novel: The Baker’s Husband: A Second Chances Book

Edward M. Erdelac, Historical Scifi Series Continuance: Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel

halloween short stories that will scare your pants off!

Looking for a frightening short story? It’s been a busy October, but I’m overjoyed to be featured in these scary story publications just in time for Halloween. Please help support all of the great authors by picking up some of the following books/magazines and leaving a review. 

Castabout October Magazine: “The Lantern Quietly Screams” by Justin Alcala

Hard Copy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1702629465/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=castabout+literature+October&qid=1572270678&sr=8-2

E-Magazine: https://www.amazon.com/Castabout-Literature-October-Nathan-Dantoin-ebook/dp/B07ZLLH63J/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=castabout+literature+October&qid=1572270678&sr=8-1

Drunken Pen Writing Podcast & Literature: “A Blind and Terrible Thing” by Justin Alcala

E-Release: https://drunkenpenwriting.com/2019/10/26/a-blind-and-terrible-thing/3/

Inlandia Journal: “Time Will Tell” by Justin Alcala

E-Release: https://inlandiajournal.com/justin-alcala/

Storyteller