How do you get people to read who claim they “don’t read”?
I have struggled with this question for a long time. As someone who grew up reading dozens of books every year, it has always amazed me that my younger brother just isn’t a reader. He’s a great student and writer when he puts effort into things, but the only time I’ve really seen or heard him read or talk about a book he was reading was when he took a nine-hour flight to Europe and bought a book at the airport to give himself something to do.
In the back of my mind, I have always wondered if it’s possible to write a book so intriguing, so inspiring and appetizing, that someone like my brother, who never reads for fun, would pick it up and read it anyway.
Earlier this week, I finally figured out the answer to this question.
Q: How do you convince non-readers they need to read books?
A: You don’t.
As writers, it isn’t our job to convince people to start reading. Not exactly. It’s our job to write good stories, with round plots and characters and relatable conflicts and exaggerated actions and consequences. It’s our job to read books written by other writers and show our support for them. It’s our job to show, not tell, how meaningful reading is to thought, opinion and existence.
This all started when a frustrated Facebook user commented on an article with a vague headline something to the effect of, “Nobody reads articles anymore. They read headlines.” I responded, with no chill as always, “I read articles all the time (smiling emoji).” It made me feel better, but it didn’t change anything. That person is still going to whine about not wanting to read anything on her own time. It’s a similar idea with books. I can talk all I want about how much I love to read fiction. That doesn’t solve the problem.
Do you know what else doesn’t solve the problem? Thinking a story we write is going to instead. We all want our stories to matter. We all want them to have a huge impact on the world. It’s a completely normal aspiration. And it might have great influence on people who already love to read. It isn’t necessarily the same case for people who already don’t.
Nothing you write is going to make people who “don’t read” suddenly want to start reading. That doesn’t mean you don’t have an amazing story to tell or that it isn’t well-written. You can’t waste your time, resources and energy on people who aren’t interested.
Your main focus should always hover over your audience. Your target audience might be teenagers, but instead of focusing on all teens, you should instead focus only on teens who read. This might seem a little backwards, but stick with us, it makes sense.
I don’t know why people don’t read. It is something I will never understand. But that doesn’t mean I can, or should, or do, spend all my time running around begging people to read if they don’t want to read. People are influenced by their friends and acquaintances much more than they are by authority figures (it’s a marketing thing – see, school does teach you stuff you never thought would be useful). So people who don’t usually read aren’t going to rush to buy my new book if/when it gets published. However, their friends who read might say, “This book is amazing!” And they might reply, “Oh, I don’t really read, but everyone’s talking about it. Maybe I’ll give it a try.”
(That’s not to say anything I publish will ever be that amazing; I haven’t even finished writing my current novel yet, and judging by the first draft, I’m not sure how far in the process I’ll get.)
You have to let the story do the talking. You have to live the life of a bibliophile and live it proud. But don’t waste time trying to bring non-readers away from the dark side. Let your book-loving audience carry that urgent need to read everywhere they go. And keep on writing.