Snow was falling steadily, accumulating quickly. Two icicles replaced the windshield wipers. They oscillated but did little more than make noise. The trip to the used bookstore was unsuccessful. Given the weather, I guess I should have called first.
No matter. On the drive back, we noticed the Baldwin’s Book Barn was open. I had never been there before. The barn looked peaceful surrounded by leafless, snow covered trees. The light colored stones were a kind of camouflage amongst the snowy backdrop.
Inside was as the name suggested- a barn filled with books- rustic with exposed wooden beams. On wooden cases, books were stacked from floor to ceiling. There were five floors filled with books of all genres. From collectors edition classics, to modern fiction, to nonfiction, and cookbooks; It was a playground for readers and book collectors.
While I was perusing the stacks of more than 20,000 books I realized that I had no idea who the vast majority of the authors were. These books sat on the shelves of an old barn collecting dust. Maybe hoping that someone would pick them up from the shelf and leaf through a couple pages, becoming inspired by those few words and purchase the book. For me this was confirmation of a harsh reality- making money as an author is unlikely- and by author, I mean someone who has published a book. This topic was already on my mind as I’ve had discussions with independent authors and have been researching indie and traditional publishing. Despite this, until I walked through this used bookstore, it didn’t hit home for me that the vast majority of books written make little money for their authors.
These thoughts had me asking some serious questions. Why do I want to write a book? Can I be true to my story and also have a financial goal? What does success look like, if not necessarily based on sales? Does writing have to be done in my spare time while my “day job” keeps me afloat financially? I don’t have any answers to those questions. In fact, I don’t think I am qualified to give any advice on such topics. I also realized, I don’t want to be another guy that says “don’t quit your day job.”
Maybe the reality is more people should quit their day jobs. A story might deserve more from its author than the time between conference calls. Maybe those forty hours of work and ten hours of commuting per week are significantly cutting into the quality of one’s writing. Since many writers struggle to find the time for dedicated, uninterrupted writing, isn’t it fair to ask at what point is the writing sacrificed too much for the sake of our lifestyles?
Of course, giving everything up for the sake of writing a book is scary as hell. Asking a spouse to live off one income for two or three years while you write a book is a tough conversation to have. Leaving a high paying job has real consequences, especially if student loans, a car payment, and a mortgage linger in the shadows.
But what if downsizing is what is needed to write a book worthy of people’s time and money? Or the moral and financial support from family becomes the motivating force needed for an author to breathe life into his story?
Maybe I am being romantic. I feel there’s something special about someone moving into a crappy apartment in a poor neighborhood- living off of rice and beans while they pour their heart and soul into a novel. Or maybe it’s ramen noodles in the attic of their parents’ house. or meat and potatoes on their uncle’s farm. The point is, isn’t that the kind of dedication writing something meaningful requires? Maybe we need more writers out there who are all in. Totally submerged in their stories. Not only paying no mind as to whether or not they make money off of their books, but how much money they earn while writing them. I know people write fine books while balancing work and family life. I don’t think anyone should be accused of lacking passion or dedication because they didn’t totally uproot themselves to write a book. Writing a novel while working a full time job might be the definition of dedication. But I wonder sometimes if we hinder our writing too much for the sake of our budgets.
I’m merely “thinking out loud” here with this piece. My imagination tells me there could be communities of emerging writers in cities across the country that contribute to the revitalization of their neighborhoods the way small business owners and other artists do Writers owning their roles as storytellers and fully realizing that torytellers have been important for society since society was a thing. Through story we share knowledge and preserve our history. We revisit our triumphs and our heartbreak, celebrate the memories of lost loved ones, and make the lessons learned from one person’s struggle available to an entire community. We can even write things into existence. If it can’t be imagined it can’t be created.
I just can’t help but think that more people can be authors first; rather than accountants, or carpenters or marketing directors who also happen to write books. There have to be more stories deserving of an audience than mystery and vampire novels, but we won’t know what those stories are until they are written.
I don’t know what the economics of a more balanced industry would look like. I don’t know if the overall quality of books written would improve. All I know is that a lot of stories are going untold, or at least unheard, because of the way the publishing industry operates today. Do we have to accept that writing is a lonely endeavor- a torturous desire we must pursue knowing we will not be rewarded for it? Or can it be something more?