I spent some time in a used bookstore last week. The Dusty Bookshelf, with stores in Lawrence and Manhattan (Kansas...not that Manhattan), is a wonderful maze of old paper, words, and dreams. The photo on their website doesn't do the store justice. I've never been in the place without books stacked ten to twenty high around the desk.
It's where books go to die (if they are good and lucky). A sort of book Valhalla.
I perused the Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy sections, flipped through the yellowed pages of books by past lumanries, and remembered. Some books screamed their age with woefully dated cover art. Others looked like they might crumble in my hands. Words filled each one, someone's thoughts and ideas, sweat and hard work...and I was left to feel a bit like Hamlet as he stares into Yorick's empty gaze.
All that struggle, for this...
My sister used to be a journalist. She wrote for a few newspapers before returning to school to become a teacher. Even then, she wrote feature articles and made pretty good money. She still writes and has one book out through a small press. We spoke recently, bantering about the current state of publishing.
She started in the industry before the past decade or so of consolidation, before small houses became imprints for bigger publishers, before editors by the score were fired in the name of profit margins. She had a few houses look at her work unagented--can you even imagine such a thing today? Today: no agent...no way. Most of all, my sister loathes the idea of working for free. She can't believe I blog regularly or write short stories for pocket change...sometimes even less.
But now, you're expected to work for free as an author. You're expected to build a platform...find a following. You're expected to spend your own advance on promotion...if not (snap), your book runs the risk of landing in the other book graveyard, the one in which no one pulls it off a shelf and pays pennies on the dollar to take it home and cherish. Your book lands on a remainder table to be passed over by fickle consumers. You're done.
Pardon the forthcoming extended metaphor (my wife abhors any reference to war). I can't fight a battle that way. I don't have the resources, the troop strength, or experience to win. But, as guerilla fighters through the ages have shown, a good insurgency is a mighty weapon against superior forces. They don't fight with the intention of winning one battle, but winning the war.
What I can do, all I can really do, is keep writing. If I do...if I do...I've already won.