Of all of the regrets I have in life, I find that more of them fall into the category of “missed opportunities” than “things I did that I wish I hadn’t.”
I wonder if most people’s regrets don’t fall along the same lines.
Some of us are compulsive examiners of our own lives. Others aren’t. Even for the latter group, I wonder if there aren’t midnight moments when they wonder, “What if I’d only…?” “What if I’d taken that job in another state, but I didn’t because…?” “What if I’d asked So-and-So out in high school, but I didn’t?” “What if I’d only dared to…?”
So it seems odd to me that so many people–many of them frustrated with the course of their lives and society and feeling helpless in the flood of events that they can’t control–why they don’t bother to do what they can do, even if that action takes little effort and seems inconsequential when taken by itself?
Sure, it often seems that the outcome is pre-determined, and in many cases it is. There’s no point in voting Republican in Southern California or Democratic in Florida… today. But it once was. What changed? Was it only that voters became so disillusioned that they gave up? Maybe your party is out of favor today, and maybe it will be out of favor tomorrow. But what if you vote your conscience anyway, and others vote theirs? Couldn’t it be that eventually the tide will begin to shift?
Moving from the sublime to the petty, I think the same thing about book reviews at Amazon.
Over the past two or three years, I’ve found it harder and harder to gather reviews for my books at Amazon. Where once it seemed that every reader was eager to present an opinion, now it seems as if they’ve taken a vow of silence even as Amazon makes it easier to write a “review.” I put the word in quotes because it’s now possible to leave only a rating or a brief comment such as “I liked it.”
Why are reviews so important to authors? Because, if you want to promote your book, you need reviews. Not just glowing five-star reviews, but a nice, credible cross-section that lets people know that the reviews aren’t all written by your relatives and friends. Sure, a five-star review is nice, but it could be the four- and three-star reviews that make the difference between being able to promote your book or not.
Why? Because promotional sites have their own, personal requirements on number of reviews before you can purchase an ad. Some require twenty or thirty reviews. Some don’t seem to be interested until you have a hundred!
An incredible number of books these days are series. Some people have said that it isn’t even worth publishing a standalone book. But how does an author know if an idea is series-worthy? Well, by sales, and also by reviews. Is the public clamoring for more, or would the author be better served by moving on to the next concept?
We are in the unique position these days when readers can actually have a voice in what books get written. They can vote by buying books, and they can vote by leaving a comment. Yet, most don’t. (It’s not just me, by the way. This is a common complaint among authors.) Yet most readers remain silent, quietly hoping for a sequel without ever standing up to say, “Hey, Author… write another one!” Or contrarily, to post a comment to the opposite effect.
I’ve never been hesitant to express an opinion, even when I knew that it carried very little weight. I feel compelled to do so on the off chance that my opinion will add minutely to the swell of others’ opinions and maybe, sometimes, change will happen in my favor. What is the alternative? To remain silent and hope for the best?
So I leave reviews at Amazon, and I vote, and I can rest easy knowing that I’ve done whatever I could, however minuscule the impact, to nudge the world in the direction I want it to take.
I feel often that we’ll be doomed, not by the wrong we do, but by complacence, yielding our fates to those who care more than we do about what gets done and what is prevented from being done. Though, of course, caring itself isn’t enough. We have to act. We have to do. We have to at least… at the very least… speak out.