Monthly Archives: July 2011

The End of Books

The closing of Borders marks the beginning of the end  of a planetary era.  Not to say that Borders in itself as a bookstore is this unique epic phenomenom. Borders, along with all bookstores, have provided a continuation of the culture of the printed word.

Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians utilized papyrus, (a writing material that was made from the pith of the stem of a water plant*), to record texts that filled the temples, libraries, and schools, for scholars, doctors, students, and government.  We have discovered the inner workings and the magic of the ancient world through written texts. Without the printed word, all of the knowledge and history of the past would indeed be a great mystery. And more importantly humankind has evolved as a result of the recorded knowledge left by our ancestors.  Civilization has evolved throughout time utilizing the tool of the printed word, whether it be a written constitution that has expressed the principles of democracy for the modern world, or spiritual texts that have solidified the existence, continuity, and faith of world religions throughout time, placed in the hands of billions of people over the course of thousands of years.

In this lifetime, sitting in churches and temples, will people pray with a Kindle in hand?

The Borders bookstore stands in my fairly small university town.  Aside from two very small used bookstores, it is the only major bookstore for miles.  Therefore, people in three border towns that have no bookstores have relied on our Borders.  That’s a combination of at least one university, one community college, four high schools, and seven middle schools that use our Borders as an access to books. This doesn’t include the non-academic general public that comprises an older generation who shop at Borders for their reading pleasure.  Yes, there are libraries, but most are limited, and any newer books or classics that a student may need flies off of the shelf in a heartbeat.  For any of you that have kids, how many times have they come home to say they need to read Animal Farm by Monday on a Friday night?  Borders has always come to the rescue for me in that way, book in hand right when it’s needed.

The day after the announcement was made that Borders was closing, I visited the store, shocked to see that the coffee shop inside of the store that is always filled to capacity with people day and night, was already vacated, tables and chairs stacked on top of one another, boxes already packed, leaving an empty dark space.  That was fast!  I then walked over to the  Young Adult section. Teenagers sat scattered on the floor near bookshelves, quietly reading the latest sequel of their favorite sci-fi and teen novels. Many students I know go to the bookstore as an escape from a not-so-good home life or they are latch-key kids wanting to hang out in a safe place. Their presence has always been a constant in the store, and I wondered how they would fill their time in a small town now that their favorite pastime at Borders will no longer exist for them. 

I eyed the plethora of magazines, some hard to find lit journals and international publications that I’d have to drive to a major city to obtain.  Yes, I guess I could order subscriptions but I simply wouldn’t have time to read them all, not to mention the cost.  I will miss being able to sit and thumb through magazines, or stumbling upon that unique magazine that has content that can transform my world.  Leaving the store, I realized I will simply miss going to the bookstore.

When I was a kid, when the power would go out due to a stormy night, there was no stress or fretting about having nothing to do.  We’d simply light candles and read by candlelight. If I had writing to do, I’d continue tapping away on my typewriter.  I’m sure this is true for millions of people from the era of words in print.

With the introduction of the digital age, our own lure towards embracing consumerist trends has led us to the erosion of our freedom to choose as individuals.  Video store franchises have closed, limiting the exposure and outlet for many independent films on a domestic and international basis. Bookstores are closing. Libraries will close. I can’t even begin to count how many times I have stumbled upon a great book or film simply by allowing my eyes to browse the shelves of a bookstore or library. A great title or book cover would catch my eye that beckoned me to pick it up, most often resulting in an engaging, and sometimes transformative experience. I discovered some of my favorite authors in this way, authors I would never have encountered otherwise. 

The intuitive experience of choosing is the experience of discovery.  It is an experience that I feel is being shaped for me while being stripped from me, and as a writer, discovery is an experience that has shaped my writing life.  We will ultimately be forced to purchase most of what we need online and/or in a digital format, and if this is the case, I will have to be on the internet hours on end in my attempts to “discover” what it is that I may need or want.  The world culture has now been shaped for humans to have their eyes on a digital screen, whether in hand crossing the street or succumbing to the lethargy of sitting at a computer for hours every week, not because you want to, but simply because you have to in order to navigate successfully in a modern world.    

The closing of Borders has left me with feelings of great loss, as it not only represents the convenience of having a bookstore in my town, but on a much deeper level, it marks the shift and ending of the way civilization has functioned for thousands of years. This is profound, and also a bit frightening, as it has felt like the rug being pulled beneath me. Ultimately, bookstore closings are a signal to us all that the future is bringing to us a world without books.  I can only wonder what the implications will be…   

 *Encarta dictionary

 

Writing Conferences in the 21st Century: Are they worth the cost?

Yes. If you can afford it.

Recently, an author’s agent stated that each agent at her agency receives upwards of 200 queries per day!  Agents and publishers are now flooded with queries in epic proportions. The nice thing is that they acknowledge that it’s almost impossible to fairly assess a writer’s talent with just one query in a pile of thousands in one month.  So if you’ve received a form letter like this recently, don’t take it personally, and most certainly don’t throw in the towel.

Benefits of Attending a Writer’s Conference

Attending the right conference can get you a face to face meeting with an agent or publisher.  In person impressions is a very strong option to at least pitch your work.  It’s hard for an agent or publisher to take a chance on a random query in an inbox of over 1,000 in one week, as opposed to hearing your passionate novel premise in person.  It is even more difficult for someone to be as invested in your vision as writer if they’ve never met you.  So, if only for the reason of being able to meet agents or publishers in person, I’d say attending the right conference can be beneficial.

I was recently invited to attend an academic conference unrelated to my writing.  To my surprise, there were several vendors of small university presses selling academic books.  Though I hadn’t planned it, I took a chance, and  pitched my novel to one of the publishers. Right on the spot, I was invited to submit my manuscript to a publisher that accepts fiction by invitation only.  What did I learn from that experience? There are more roads to getting published than just one, and that ultimately, my fate as a successful writer is fueled by my own initiative, not solely depending on an agent to get me there.  

Conferences also act as a great way to learn more about the current writing market, although you can just as easily get this information on the internet or through writer’s magazines. At a writer’s conference, you can meet other emerging writers like yourself, and hear how they were able to get their debut novels published.  If anything, the social contact with other writers can fuel a great boost of motivation.  With the current market the way it is, it can be a hard road to publish without some kind of writing support from others.

Alternative to Not so Affordable Conferences

As far as the price of writing conferences…This week I researched the cost of upcoming conferences within my state of California.  The average prices are starting at $400 up to $1,300. These prices don’t include lodging or travel expenses.  Personally, I know very few writers that can afford this kind of investment, unless they are invited to be on a panel.  And for writers with families, attending a writing conference is almost impossible.  What is the alternative?

Start a writing group.  Take a few months to get an established attendance, then research to see if there are any literary agents or publishers in your area. Invite one of them to meet with your group.  I know this sounds unprecedented, but an established writing circle can accomplish many things.  Make it worth their while. Serve up a nice brunch. Or if they can’t make it out, offer to host a skype conference.  Be creative. You’d be surprised at how some of the more local presses may be willing to spend an hour or two to offer advice to serious writers.

Finding the ‘Right’ Conference

  • Go online to research each agent, publisher, & writer who will be presenting at the conference or hosting panels.  See if they are the kind of people who would even match up with your genre of writing. If you write romance novels, and the conference panelists represent sci-fi/fantasy or crime novels, you’ll have a better chance of finding a date than an agent (if you’re into the Lord of the Rings type of partner).
  • While checking the publishers or agents web pages, make sure that they are currently accepting submissions.  After meeting an agent or publisher, you may be invited to submit your work in person.  However, I have heard that many agents/publishers present at conferences, and then writers go online to submit their work post-conference only to find that these same agents or publishers aren’t accepting submissions. 
  • A few conferences have sliding scale and/or scholarships.  In order to take advantage of these options, if offered, you want to sign up sometimes months or weeks in advance of the conference dates.   

 If you want a career as a writer, and if you’re in it for the long haul, in this current market, one has to embrace ingenuity, and a sense of boldness to step forth in the world to be discovered.

%d bloggers like this: