Latest tectonic shift in the publishing industry and another huge empty space at the Mall. Not that we didn’t feel it coming, but now that the Richter needles are trembling, what are we going to do as consumers? As writers?
First to admit I’m not a fan of the glam and frenzied consumerism that is an American shopping mall. I feel cheap walking into one. B & N is the only store I enter with any regularity and only because it has a separate entrance on the end. I also confess I use it as a hang out and for scouting expeditions; a place to bring the grandkids, have a coffee and cheesecake, then search out what’s new in the SF/F section before Carting it at Amazon. (for less $$ plus free shipping) It never became the ‘den away from home’ that Borders was, but it was decent. And now it’s collapsing into the sea.
So the question is where are readers going to hang out now? Are we going to see the rise of Independent Bookstores/Cafe’s again. I hope so because I think the need to congregate, to browse, to socialize over coffee and a magazine is hard-wired in us. I’d open a place in a heartbeat, but for that damned overhead. Who can afford space in a decent location, with parking, insurance, utilities, staff, all the attendant expenses of a Brick and Mortar and still have a few bucks left over when the smoke clears? Especially when online competitors offer merchandise at cutthroat rates. Who’s gonna build a bridge over the Amazon?
As a writer, I have mixed feelings. So I don’t have to compete with massive marketing budgets, shelf placement charges, kickbacks, etc. in a store now. Not that I did or can anyway, and not that those same $$ aren’t going to be loosed on consumers over the Internet, but if traditional venues (chain stores, publishing houses, agencies) are the stop gates in the dam, adjusting, controlling the prose released into the market, now it feels like it’s all coming down. (I guess waters have been spilling over the top with self-pubbing for a while now, but still…)
It was John Gardner who said “Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.” I don’t believe in the knockout punch. There’s no one-shot silver bullet for success. Slow and steady wins the race, is my motto. (Has to be, walking with a cane, right?) A good book never read is the same as a bad book, so what can I do to genuinely raise awareness of my work without taking out a second mortgage, resorting to shill and gush techniques, or hiring a full-time publicist? How to get my books in front of potential readers and distinguish them in the clamor of the other million books surging into the market each year?
I have no frigging idea right now.
But I have to keep going. Like that invisible bridge in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I write because I have to go forward. I need to. And I have to trust not only will I eventually write something worth reading, but that good work is worth it in and of itself.
Courage, Passion, Imagination to all of you.