My friend Sonia is writing a very intelligent blog you must read if you are interested at all in communication in the new era. Her post, What a Toddler Can Teach You About Success made me start thinking again about the changing publishing economy and where I fit within it. How do you continue to have a writing career for ten, twenty, forty years? Obviously, one route is through the ultimate New York Times bestseller list. The “it” list. The literary crown of crowns.
Which of course, none of us will discount. Who could mind crowning success?Okay, I’ll take it.
But like everything else, publishing is changing so much, and the lists are filled with new books each week. If you make it this time, can you make it next time…higher? And what do you have to do to get there? A hundred signings in a hundred cities, leaving your family and your passions and your dog at home. If you do it often enough (think Jodi Picoult), hitting the lists high enough and regularaly enough, eventually it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. But that’s a long time coming, my friends, and it takes as much luck and good timing as hard work and good books. (Not to mention enormous publisher support.)
The recent announcement that Borders is possibly putting itself up for sale has been on my mind all week. It struck me–again–that the books showing up in the stores are flowing through a very small bottleneck, the buyers for the major chains and Walmart. Very small neck–a handful of people who are deciding what arrives in the stores in what amounts. Which decides what readers see, browsers spy, shoppers buy. Not a particularly fertile system for writers.
The entire economy is changing, of course, but in particular, the book industry is in the midst of an enormous shift. Over breakfast this morning, CR told me about a new computer/imaging screen that is so thin and flexible it can be rolled up. It’s is still riddled with problems, but when such a model emerges, there is bound to be one that eventually does what you want it to do, afforadably.
I am as passionate a bibliophile as it is possible for a person to be. In my family, this is a trait passed down like blue eyes and a penchant for creativity. I have far too many books, and continue to have too many no matter how I resolve I’ll only keep the ones I really, really love. Even so, they pile up in corners and on my desk in in the basement where I am going to “sort through them.” I give them away by the boxful; the DAV and ARC callers love me because they know I’ll always have something for them.
No matter how I love books, I can see plainly that they are a bulky and inefficient way to deliver the printed word to consumers. It is wildly expensive to ship them, for one thing. You’ve mailed a big box of something somewhere–think about how it pinched your pocket book. Now multiply that by millions of boxes of books, every year. And imagine you are a publisher and have to pay to have those books shipped if they don’t sell. (A silly system, but never mind that for now.)
The future is coming–technology will transform the book industry as surely as it has transformed the music industry, and wise writers (and publishers) will be paying attention to this trend. Although the transition might be rocky for many of us, eventually, I do believe this will be good for writers in the long run. More markets, more variety, more choice.
And just for the record, I don’t think the NYTimes Bestseller List is going anywhere. That would be sad! But what if it also had a section of bestselling electronic releases for the week?
While we watch the brewing revolution, a good number of my titles are available electronically. On Kindle you can buy some titles that are not as easy to find in stores: Madame Mirabou’s School of Love and No Place Like Home, among others. My recent Ruth Wind books are all available electronically, including the brand new novella collection, A Mother’s Love. (Cute story about a yoga instructor, by the way.)
What would be your ultimate reader?