Time for Another Revolution

Sure, call it bragging, but I graduated summa cum laude with the top (or damn close to it) grade in the English Department. (Albeit in my small university.) The year I was inducted into Sigma Tau Delta I was its Vice President and the following year I was the President. I made the Dean’s List every semester and won the Dean’s Award two years in a row for “outstanding contributions to my department”–whatever that means. Sure, call it bragging–that’s what it is–because after I graduated, all of that meant absolutely nothing, so the only solace I have is bragging about it from time to time.

One of the great tragedies of growing now is this massive recession (depression?). People can’t find jobs and if they do, there’s a good chance it’s not what they wanted to do. At least they’ve got a job, right? Sure. Okay. But that’s not what we’re told in school. Instead we’re given scholarships and honors and accolades that sound good but mean very little. We’re given this unrealistic, optimistic blanket that we pull tight over our eyes as our parents and teachers and professors whisper into our ears: You can be anything. If you love it, go for it. A college degree is gonna get you a better job. Do it, don’t think about it. Just do it. 

But then, of course, life happens. The economy tanks. Unemployment rates rise. And slowly what hope you had dries up and all that remains are hardwater stains. For writers, this could be, I don’t know, the entire industry collapsing on itself.

…if B&N goes down the entire industry is fucked. Booksellers, publishers, authors, agents, librarians, and oh yeah, readers…

Dennis Johnson

When I read the article that quote is from, I felt pretty angry and upset, like the world was raising its middle finger to me and sardonically saying, “Good luck!”

I worked at Borders in the years leading up to its demise and it wasn’t pretty. But what was even uglier was knowing that there were going to be over 600 less places to purchase books. And now Barnes & Noble is reducing that number even more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no huge fan of big box bookstores. Even working at one was a love-hate relationship. Like that girl or guy you despise all through high school and then hook up with in your senior year at a party just because you can.

Now that I’ve got the bitching out of the way, I’d like to attempt a note of optimistic feel-goodery. Sure, the market is decreasing, and as the article states, “The closing of bookstores selling print books may also be hurting the sale of ebooks.” So writers are in for hard times on all fronts. This is besides the point made by John Green that says the so-called ebook revolution does little for producing what we would define as quality literature.

Here’s my concern: What will happen to the next generation’s Toni Morrison? How will she–a brilliant, Nobel-worthy writer who doesn’t have a huge built-in audience–get the financial and editorial support her talent deserves? (You’ll note that there’s no self-published literary fiction anywhere near the kindle bestseller lists.)

Yeah, the market is shitty for writers. And yeah, it’s probably not going to get better anytime soon. But what I’m hoping for and am already hearing whispers of, is an indie bookstore movement. I’d love to see indie presses pop up the way microbreweries and coffee shops have in the last few decades. I’m fine with big box bookstores dying out to make way for smaller, local, cost-effective, and well-managed indie replacements. I don’t need to get rich off of what I write, but I do want it to be well received. I want people to be able to receive it, but not because I slapped my seal of approval on it and published it myself. We’ve had the ebook revolution, but how about an indie bookstore revolution?

Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.


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