Saving Books Single-Handedly

I recently wrote about Stephanie Dowrick's concept of Reader Activism over at the Universal Heart Book Club blog, and in researching that I discovered again a really wonderful article by John Self in The Guardian called Want to help books survive? Promote authors yourself. In it he writes about how he tries to promote and increase the sales of a particular book that he thought was worthy of greater distribution. Please read this article first, and then read how it inspired me below.

Walter Mason: Saving books since about 1975

There is no point pretending that the book industry is not going through "interesting times." I  think the head-in-the-sand approach has failed us, and it will only continue to inflict damage on authors, booksellers and publishing houses. Realities have to be faced and new ways of thinking have to be introduced.

I speak as something of an insider. I have been watching bookshops in Sydney close since the late 90s.

Indeed, I have been present on the shop floor when a few of them went under, and I was always immensely frustrated by the response of customers and so-called "devoted readers." Working in a shop that had closed its second branch, for months I would meet angry customers who would storm in to the remaining branch (now itself closed) and demand, "Why did you close that branch? I loved that place." I bottled it in for a while, but finally I couldn't and I began to answer them bluntly: "You obviously didn't love it enough - it went broke." If they’d found the time to act on that “love” and actually darken the shop’s doorstep more frequently it would have survived.

Just imagine what would happen if each of us just once a year selected one book we loved and set about promoting it and telling everyone about it. I might be naive, but I think that that kind of grass-roots promotion would be incredibly effective, and help to establish a much more vibrant and engaged book culture.

We have seen evidence of just such people power in recent times. The huge amount of energy this year that helped create Stella Awards, and the accompanying Australian Women Writers Challenge is a wonderful example, and NationalBookshop Day is another. I have also been impressed by the work of libraries in promoting 2012 as the Year of Reading. Power to the people! All of these things are projects we as individuals need to get behind.

So many of us want to preserve some elements of the literary culture that we know and love, but so few of us are prepared to make any effort to ensure that preservation. If bookshops, authors, publishers and local literature are to survive then each and every one of us needs to get active. Here are some ideas of how we, as humble readers, can hope to save the humble book:

1.      Support your local bookseller – if we really believe in diversity and uniqueness on our high streets we need to put our money where our mouths are. And we need to do this intentionally and self-consciously. It’s all too easy to order our books on-line, all the while telling people how we just adore going into bookshops and browsing around.
2.      Attend author events, bring your friends even help to organise them – for a local literary culture to thrive there needs to be an active and commercially viable “scene” in which authors can speak and be heard. Melbourne is very good at this kind of thing, but Sydney significantly less so. Author readings and talks are probably the cheapest entertainments currently available, and are well worth supporting. Take a chance and go to hear an author you’ve never heard of before, or challenge your intellectual limits by going to hear about something about which you’ve previously held no interest. Authors commonly speak at bookshops, libraries and community clubs. If these talks are not happening in your area, why not start organising some? Almost every author I know is happy to attend an event that helps spread the love of reading.
3.      Support local Writers’ Festivals – If you’re in Sydney the local Writers’ Festival is a massive affair, but all over the world small and specialised writers’ festivals take place. Book yourself for that weekend and go and see everything.
4.      Champion favourite books and authors on social media – I often wish older people could cultivate a bit of rock-star mentality and go crazy about their favourite books and authors in the way they did about their favourite singers back when we were teenagers. If you read a great book, tweet about it and mention it on Facebook. If your favourite author has a new book coming out, do a countdown for it on your blog. Twitter and Facebook are fast becoming the main ways people find out about new books, so become an influencer and share your passions.
5.      Take part in reading challenges – These are great fun, and great ways to broaden your reading repertoire. The peer pressure also encourages you to read more, which is always a good thing. This year I was a part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and last year I was part of the R.I.P Challenge, which caused me to read a whole lot of classic horror novels that I would otherwise never have gotten around to. So do a Google search on “reading challenge” and pick one that is coming up that appeals to you and take part. Even better, pick one that’s a real challenge, and watch your world expand.
6.      Help to involve children in reading and writing - Give kids books, take them to readings and to hear children's authors when they speak. Sign them  up to the local library and take them weekly. Get them the books on which TV shows and movies are based - encourage them to be curious about the origins of things.
7.      Use your local library - Libraries are real treasures and deserve our support. Go to their events, go and check out books, and make it a real resource centre. I often go just to read, or do some writing in my journal, just to be a part of its vibe.
8.      Give books as gifts and follow up on the reading - Be annoying and call your friend three weeks after giving them the book to ask them how they liked it. Once you've done this a couple of times I can guarantee they will read it. This might seem a bit aggressive, but we all have impossible schedules, and sometimes we need little reminders to make us do the things we really want to do. I for one appreciate it.
9.      Join a book club
10.  Stretch your literary boundaries, and let everyone know - if you've decided to branch out into sci-fi, blog about it and turn it into a bit of a project. Be conscious that your reading life is interesting to others, and that your enthusiasms and curiosities can help and stimulate other readers.
11.  Read More

“The love, the gratitude and the recompense will all come to us in time from some source, or many sources. It cannot fail.” The Heart of the New Thought (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)


ambradambra said…
Good post Walter. I recently met the owner of the Macleay Bookshop in XCross and he's trying to sell the shop. He's working very long hours but interestingly says his second-hand section is going very well. Good pricepoint I guess.
Anonymous said…
2nd-hand can be great for readers but it is disastrous for living writers! No royalties. No income. When you care about a writer and their work, do buy their books. Or else order them from your public libraries. And keep 2nd-hand for books by writers who have moved to the heavenly libraries...or whose work is so massively successful they wouldn't notice!

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