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Books Without Borders

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Borders is bankrupt. You can read the facts as reported by the Wall Street Journal here.

People are crawling out of the woodwork with opinions. I'm not one of them. I'm not sure what to think.

A recent article in the New York Daily News berated the publishing world for flooding the market, much the way developers flooded Florida and Arizona and California (please, God, not Montana.) Its author believes that Border's bankruptcy and massive store shutdown is a result of the dummying down of books and America's ultimate good taste. Low-road books, massively hyped and rushed to the market; undeserving authors garnering ridiculous advances for fluff. I'm not sure if it's important to agree or disagree.

Borders owes publishers vast amounts for such books, which it bought but then could not itself sell: $41 million to Penguin and $33.8 million to Simon & Schuster. Should they remain unpaid, every editor, author and agent in America will feel the pain.

This kind of comment scares the crap out of me, mostly because I don't understand it. My feeble writer's mind wants to believe that alarmist thinking doesn't get us anywhere.

He goes on to say,

In truth, flooding the market with books doesn't work, because books aren't like shoes or groceries. Readers don't demand choice as much as they demand quality. Fewer books, rigorously edited and thoughtfully published, would have better served both readers and writers.

And this:

If there is hope for publishing, it is with modest presses and modest books, putting out titles for small but loyal audiences. But that's not something that's going to warm the heart of Penguin's CEO.

Well, I've been in the heart of Penguin and met some of the most amazing people I've ever known, who never once asked me to sell out, who treated me with total respect and dignity, and who did their best to publish my book well, and promote it the same way. They understood the message of my book (and I'll be the first one to bravely say that it ain't fluff), so this kind of comment gets my hackles up.

With Penguin sales rep Joe Cain and Bookstall's owner Roberta Rubin

The iconic and ever graceful Roberta Rubin, owner of the classic Bookstall in Winnetka, IL, wrote in a recent newsletter:

While we have viewed Borders and other big box bookstores as direct competitors, we are still, in the end, both soldiers in the army of selling books face-to-face. It gives us no satisfaction to see another brick-and-mortar bookseller in trouble.

The Bookstall plans on being there a long time, and I believe that it is because of its personal attention to quality and supporting authors. I am lucky enough to have been hosted by Roberta and her wonderful team. And I'm sure that there are plenty of Borders employees who feel that they have given the same kind of one-on-one attention to their clients. When it comes down to it, we're all humans relating with other humans, no matter where we're standing. I love that Roberta has so beautifully shown her support of just that.

The New York Daily News writer also blames MFA programs for training writers to have their eye on a six-figure advance, framing their books on the trends of the day rather than the book that they feel they must write. I used to say, "If I could just put my main character in a burqa, I'd get a book deal." I kept seeing book after book hit the stands that, to me, weren't of any substance whatsoever and yet posed as literature. I felt like my work was better than so much of the stuff out there, and still I kept falling through the cracks. I was bitter, and I felt like perhaps it was time to give up. Nothing made sense anymore.

And then I wrote an essay which struck a chord with people all over the world. And everything changed for me. And none of it went the way it was supposed to go. I didn't write a book with a burqa in it. I didn't write a book with a detective or a vampire in it. I didn't think about marketability at all. I wrote the book that I needed at that time in my life. This is good news for writers, in my opinion. That's where I'm comfortable opining -- to writers.

Regardless of what happens to the publishing industry and bookstores and books, people will always read because writers will always write, and people need stories. And to those indie bookstores out there who have held on against the massive tables of discounted books at Costco and box stores across the nation, and to those box stores who are meeting their maker or about to, and to the publishers who are doing their best to ride the changing tides of technology, I bid you all hope and high ground. Personally, I'm an indie kind of gal. Always have been. But I have learned that us/us thinking is far more productive than us/them.

It's the same way I speak to and treat developers. I respect your business. I respect your vision. But consider the migration corridors, and the flood plains and the endangered animals and water sheds... and don't be greedy. This is rural Montana. Think five-acre lots. Ten-acre lots. Not half-acre lots. That's just downright rape and pillage.

And when I see all the gated communities without one single Sold sign, I can't help but think that maybe glut corrects itself in the end. Maybe Borders is learning this lesson. I don't know. I read at a Borders in Boston and the management couldn't have been more lovely.
Like I said... we're all just people trying to live our lives. We stumble and we fall and we hopefully get back up.

TO THAT END: To the writers out there -- don't be afraid. Just keep writing what you need to write. What you must write. Don't worry about any of this. Just do your work in your room like you always have and let go of the rest. Your business is in getting down the stories. You can be greedy about that.