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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Consuming and Producing Literature in an Economic Crisis

Over the past months we all have doubtless had our minds on the economy. 700 points here, 500 points there—I’m not quite sure what all of the economy jargon means, but I’m pretty sure that when the red arrows go down it’s bad and when they go down A LOT it’s REALLY bad. Most likely, the two most important questions on your mind (as I know they have been on mine) are these: “can I still buy books?” and “can I still sell books (in their various forms)?” The answer is the same to these questions—yes!

What does the recession (since we’re not supposed to use the word depression) mean for readers?

Falling property values. Plummeting domestic markets. Crashing foreign markets. Taxes going toward bailing out financial institutions. The possibility of yet another absolutely horrible, insulated president and evil vice president (I won’t name names). Now more than ever do we need great literature but we might be hesitant to spend the few dollars we might not have tomorrow on something that will neither feed us nor keep us warm. So here are a few ways to feed the need to read in this Hindenburg of an economy without hurting your wallet too much.

First, avoid the chain stores. They might have a café and luxurious arm chairs for lounging, but the fact is that they just plain cost more. Look for used bookstores. Really, they’re not as bad as they sound. You might even find a goldmine of otherwise out of print books. For residents of Arizona, patronizing Changing Hands Bookstores and Bookman’s is a particularly good idea because these establishments not only offer new books too, but they also support local writers.

Second, do your homework on online journals. It’s greener and often freer.

Finally, there are several online communities that have cropped up that put our kindergarten lessons about sharing to use. The first is Here’s how it works—you post the titles of the book you would like to donate; when you’ve successfully given your book to someone you receive points; you can “buy” books with your points and the cycle continues. The other is There’s a lot less paperwork involved with this one. First, register the book online and say where you’re going to leave it, then leave it there. You can track the progress of the book online and you can even chat with the book’s newest readers about what they thought of the story. If you’re the one picking up the book, don’t forget to release it into the wild again once you’re done. The books go all over the world and it’s free!

What does the recession (since we’re not allowed to use the word depression) mean for writers?

Since you probably lost everything over the past six months (home, retirement, etc.), you no longer have any money for venturing outside your cardboard box. On the upside, this means you’ll have lots more time to sit down and write and lucky for you writing materials are pretty cheap. A notebook and a pen for a couple for bucks and you’re in business!

Before you start to write, though, consider your market. I know terms of commerce are unwelcome in a conversation about the production of art, but “everything in moderation” including starvation and suffering. If you don’t mind the shame, write a romance novel. Over half of the entire book market (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc. taken altogether) is comprised in the sale of romance books. Go ahead, change your name and take the dirty money and maybe you’ll learn something in the process—like that it’s not as easy to write as detractors would have you think (no, I neither read nor write romance but I’d be a hypocrite not to stand up for that genre after all the time I spent on science fiction). If that’s not you’re style, look for recession-proof markets that might need your expertise. “But what’s recession proof, Dani?” The gaming industry, my friend. You think you’re the only one who needs an alternate world? Historically, there are only a few industries that are almost never hurt by a recession; alcohol, cigarettes, sex, and games (and entertainment in general to a lesser degree). Do you like to sleep at night? Then start thinking of story lines for video games.

Once you’re done writing, will help you find the exact right place to send your work. It’s free and it’s an invaluable resource in finding out who pays in what ranges, what journals publish your kind of story in the first place, and what kind of submissions are acceptable. Also, look into independent publishers and small presses. Here are the advantages; fewer people are submitting to these presses and the competition is therefore decreased, you’re likelier to have a more influential hand in the editing and publishing process, you’ll be published with an income (even if it isn’t millions of dollars), and you’ll start to build a professional rapport within the industry that will no doubt be invaluable later on. Everyone has to start somewhere, including publishers. You might give up that million-dollar advance you dreamed about from Simon & Schuster, but with the way all the big houses have been playing craps with the industry for the past decades you might not have gotten it anyway.

A much better president than we currently have once said about a financial crisis quite similar to the one we’re facing today, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Truer words were never spoken. It’s important that during these trying times we (readers and writers alike) don’t become frightened and abandon ship to save our own skins only to find out we’ve drowned ourselves. Think holistically. What can you do that will be good for someone else at the same time that it benefits you? Can you offer a book you’ve already read? Can you offer a golden manuscript to an independent publisher? If you’ll remember, Game Theory did win the Nobel Prize.

1 comment:

shadowprison said...

It could also be a great time for public readings. Theatre is expensive, movies are expensive... but some people might begin to appreciate the value of local poetry readings, etc.

Last weekend, I took part in a bizarre show at a downtown laundromat! It sounds silly, but it wasn't just a joke. There were some very talented musicians, some nationally recognized performers, and some writers who have been published around the world.

It was entirely free for the public and well worth the money.