The Great Debate--New
Carolyn Rags On (and Praises) the
Used Book Conundrum
feel compelled to tell you a little used book story. If you are
an author you may hate that used books are passed around or bought
and sold on a second market.
If you are a reader, you may see this as one of the great advantages
of books over pay TV.
I have one foot in each category and I believe there is a little
truth in both views.
No matter what camp you sleep (or read) in, you will find something
to love or hate in the story I am about to tell. But before I do,
the Small Publishers of North America*s (SPAN) newsletter, "Connections,"
reports that a Book Industry Study Group, Inc. released a study
that says secondhand book sales are here to stay. Most used books
sold are textbooks but access to the Web is helping to increase
numbers across the board where the online market grew by 33% in
2004 and accounted for 37% of sales. That will make some of you
happy, and make writers wonder if you have a career ahead of you
I am not telling you this little story (or giving you these figures)
to convince you that used book sales are second only to the devil*s
work or vice versa. You think what you think and I'll think this:
You can rant against them, hate the stores (both online and the
ones on main street) that sell used books; it will do no good.
For authors: Books have always been passed around (which means
readers don't even pay for them secondhand!). Libraries do it. Children
do it. Mothers do it. I occasionally do it. In fact I recently bought
a used book on Amazon--one of my own -- because I was short on time
and Amazon gets them to me much faster than my publisher and thereon
hinges that story I promised you.
Readers, you can assuage authors and keep them around if you will
only promise to continue to buy a few good books a year -- new!
And to try to buy a book by one author you've never read before
-- just to broaden your horizons and keep hungry young authors eating
-- and if not eating, well, then...hopeful.
So here's the story about that used book I ordered:
Almost two years ago -- when I was cleaning out my aunt's condo
after she died -- I ran across all my books sitting in her nightstand
in a perfectly aligned pile -- a tower of family memories -- all
crisp and new. Aunt Hazel was blind but she wanted to have my books
anyway and when I visited -- which wasn't often because she lived
nearly a thousand miles from me -- I read to her from them. That
wasn't often enough to curl the pages or tatter the covers.
One of my aunt's relatives on the other side of her family -- dreadful
beasts that these people can be -- asked for those books. I had
stacked them near the front door so I wouldn't forget them when
I locked up for the night.
"Hazel said that she was a character in one of these books,"
one of them said.
"We'd love to have them," another said, running her hand
over the cover. I wondered why, if they were so curious, they hadn't
bought one -- used or otherwise. I only wondered. I kept my mouth
shut for I was sure they would not understand why an author who
had been working all day cleaning stains out of porcelain bowls
of every size, shape and function would be so grumpy.
I wanted to keep the books, of course. I had signed each one with
an inscription very near poetry. I could feel her soul -- and mine
-- in them. But I gave them up anyway. That's a true gift of love,
if not love for the recipients then passing on the love my aunt
had for these others or for the books themselves.
You guessed it. When I ordered this book from the "new and
used" section of Amazon, it was touted as "pristine condition,
autographed." I figured it would be a bookstore autograph --
something I could reuse for a review copy.
Nope. It read, "To my loving Aunt Hazel…" I'll
spare you the rest of the sentimental inscription.
Now, the question is, am I more ticked off at her relatives who
conned me out that book or grateful to the online bookstore that
sold it? Do I love or hate the processes now available for passing
books on rather than letting them grow mold sitting on some basement
shelf? Is it the money these others sold memories for that bothers
me or that they may have needed the money.
I prefer to concentrate on the fact that I am touched at how the
universe sometimes conspires to do the right thing, that sometimes
two wrongs do make a right.
Each month in this box, Carolyn lists
a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a
tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books
or a sapphire among the newly-published.
writing a section for a book called The Complete Writer Publishes
(second in a series of books in The Complete Writer series
published by Red Engine Press). The subject? Nitty gritty
ways you can keep gremlins from infiltrating your book --
no matter how you publish. Two books I've run across in the
process that I highly recommend are: Grammar
Snobs are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language
for Fun & Spite by June Casagrande and Reading:
Lapsing into a Coma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to
the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print -- and How to Avoid
Them by Bill Walsh. I doubt there is one subscriber who
wouldn't benefit from reading these books.
Tip: The book of creative nonfiction that Aunt Hazel appears
in is called Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered.
You will recognize her -- name changed to protect her while
she lived (from what I do not know) -- in the prologue and
then several other places as the story of this family progresses
with their travels out of Michigan, through a now-defunct
town in New Mexico, on into Utah and then California -- all
in search of place where they would find acceptance. Here
is the Amazon URL: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1591295505/
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