C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Bookstores: How sick are they?

Cover of "Glass Houses"

Cover of Glass Houses

Recently I’ve seen what I call “backlash” articles* about the health of bookstores. You’ve probably seen them, too. In the wake of the Borders chain closings, some media are hitting back with counter-programming (either out of nostalgia or as a way to stand out.)

Their message is simple:

“We love bookstores and they aren’t all dying. Look at this tiny independent where the defiant owners are making a brave stand.”

I love brave stands. I’m also fond of truth and this is an obvious case where the part is not the whole. It reminds me of all the people who object to the digital revolution with, “Look at all those e-books with all their different platforms. It’s a mess so it won’t survive.” I dislike stupid stands.

Perhaps the problem is confirmation bias. They’re looking for reasons why what will happen, is happening, won’t happen. Whatever bump in the road they find they take gleefully to be an insurmountable obstacle. Actually, multiple platforms for e-books are a sign of health (assuming competition is good in that it keeps prices down and choices up) and of growth (as in growing pains due to rapid, unexpected expansion.) The technology to make us all publishers is developing.

“Developing” implies transition from stupid to primitive to flawed to workable to better to a higher state (and eventually to a new tech.) Instant/indie publishing is not going to be perfect all at once. Nothing is, though not long ago I heard a Luddite say he wasn’t going to buy a computer until the tech wasn’t “perfected.” Hahahaha! He was calling from the corner of Unreasonable Expectations Boulevard and Are You High? Avenue.)

There is  a reductionist view with a subtext that categorizes anyone who predicts the demise of bookstores as a gloating goblin. I’m not gloating. I love bookstores. As (I’ve often pointed out, having milk delivered to the house was convenient, too.)

But I’m not saying bookstores will disappear completely. You’ll just pay more if you want the premium paper product. Heck, you already do that, but the price of old media will rise more. You can still buy turntables, for instance, but if you want to hear the scratches on Billy Joel‘s Glass Houses, you’re paying a very high price for a new needle to make that old pig spin.

Paper books are going to co-exist with e-books for some time…at least until consumers really get kicked in the teeth by manufacturing costs. Books get cheaper when produced in volume, but as digital sourcing rises, e-books don’t have to replace all paper books to make paper book production go from unattractive to cost-prohibitive.

There are too many variables and my brain is too small to say precisely when it will happen. I’m simply confident it will occur and one day, maybe even you will say, “Oh, look, darling! A bookstore! There isn’t a bookstore within 2 days’ drive of our house! Let’s go in and buy coffee and look at their tiny collection. How quaint!”

Yes, Virginia, 100 years from now there will still be paper books.

But you’ll be sewing and gluing the binding yourself.

*Chazz definition: A backlash article is an article written to assure the reader that the writer is the sane voice of wisdom when in fact they’re really just knee-jerk contrarians railing against all evidence. Like how the writers at Slate work from the premise, “We’ll hate on what everyone loves and make snide remarks at what everyone thought unassailable because we’re the sophisticated cool kids! Anything goes as long as it doesn’t agree with Salon.”

Filed under: Books, DIY, ebooks, Media, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: The self-publishing/Massage Therapist Correlation

Massage in Tarifa, Spain taken on May, 6 2007 ...

Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t had what my father would call a real job since 1991. The factors that make that so are all tied up in being a writer and editor.

Years after training as a journalist, working in newspapers and working in the publishing industry, I went back to school again to become a massage therapist, too. The reasons why were varied, but the most important factor was that I wanted to work for myself. I have an independent streak and I hated working for The Man. I still hate working for The Man. Writing, editing, therapeutic massage: it’s all independent work. There is no hierarchy. The Chazz does not do hierarchy.

But a lot of people do. Most people have a boss. The fact is, I don’t understand how they stand it. I pull at authority’s leash so hard I have sometimes hurt myself in tiny acts of rebellion.

Despite the rebel yell, the truth is I have many bosses. Everyone I encounter in my practices as an editor, writer and massage therapist is my boss. I have chosen many bosses instead of one. I have chosen one-to-one interaction instead of dealing with a group. I deal with people for an hour at a time or for short projects, always with an eye to where the next project will come from. There’s no security in this. My income goes up and down unpredictably.

On the other hand, with all that I do, there is the security of knowing they can’t all fire me at one time. If you have one boss who wants to lose you on a whim, they can do that. That’s the smug solace of the lone wolf. 

But lots of people accept authority as the way of the world. That’s becoming less true as massive unemployment forces some to seek out their own solutions and form their own businesses. Entrepreneurship used to seem like it was for the few who chose the harder way. Now, when so many can’t find work, starting up a sole proprietorship and going for it is forced upon them.

Here’s what I notice: People are just wired one way and not the other. Most massage therapists and writers I know have an independent streak. We have to grit our teeth a bit to do something that is in many ways outside money’s eco-system.

But there are a bunch of therapists who do, in fact, want to work for somebody. They want someone else to take care of the laundry, the advertising, the tax paperwork and anything else that doesn’t directly relate to physically doing the work. They love that they can come into the office, do their thing and leave without another thought to the running of the business. I wouldn’t call it freedom, but they do.

In the past, the publishing industry has been built on the hierarchical model. Someone else will publish your book. Someone else will take care of the editing and (some) of the promoting and it will all be part of one complete package. Thanks to technology, authors are discovering they have more options than history has provided.

For authors deciding when to make the leap to independent publishing, there is a lot to consider: market factors, price points and leveraging your platform to sell enough books to make the enterprise profitable.

Beyond the practical and esoteric (which must be figured out, too) you have to start with the personal: you. Which way are you bent? Do you want someone else to take care of things (and give them a deeper cut of the profits and losses)? Are you up for the nitty-gritty of doing the work of many on your own? Can you hire an editor, find a publicist, do the research and build your audience? It won’t be easy. You’ll have to talk with a lot of people and the greater your network the more chance you’ll get your feelings hurt. When the mesh of your network tightens to a closer knit, there will be friction.

Only you can decide if you have enough of the anti-authoritarian, do-it-my-way, I’m-a-control-freak, entrepreneurial-bent. Once you’ve figured that out, here’s a great article that explores the location of the tipping point between traditional publishing and going indie.

No matter which way you are wired, if you’re a writer you’ve got a muse.

Next stop on the Reality Train:

Introspection Station.

Self-publishing has developed to a point where it is neither good nor bad. Depending on your temperament, it could be a solid choice or a horrible one.

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editing, getting it done, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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