Keeping the Flow: The Sustainable Writer and Bookstores

As I’ve been helping my publisher to get the word out about my book of poems, I’ve been spending a lot of time in bookstores, talking with bookstore owners and staff more than ever before. I’m fortunate to live in a place with a good number of indie bookstores as well as big chains. Working with the good folks at Charis Books & More in April for The Book of Sarah reading felt like catching up with old friends.  About a decade ago, I read there from a collection of essays. Giving a reading there again was kind of like going home. With so many independent bookstores closing in recent years, I know I’m really lucky to have a place to go home to—which leads me to another aspect of sustainability and writing. In the ecosystem of literary life, writers and readers aren’t just interconnected beings. We’re one and the same.

Like most other writers and editors, I’ve always been a voracious reader.  But when my husband and I used a software program a few years ago to help us track our spending, I was surprised that “books” garnered its own column as a category on the spread sheet.  After all, I use libraries a lot too.  But then I thought, why not?  I make my living as an editor, writer, and teacher of writing.  Isn’t it right that my financial “books” reflect the size of the role of books in my life? So, I began to think of it  as a personal goal that, as a producer of books and other forms of writing, I should also be a consumer—a purchaser—of those things.

Basically, I just began to be a bit more intentional about what I was already doing.  For example, when giving gifts—birthdays, holidays, whatever—I make it a practice to check out bookstores first.  Both independents and chain bookstores usually carry some beautiful and fun things in addition to books. I also began making it more of a priority to get to readings and attend book events on topics that grabbed me. I’ve learned a lot that way about the craft of presenting and talking about our work—and had a lot of interesting evenings along the way. I began giving magazine subscriptions as gifts, enjoying match-making between my friends’ quirky passions and specific publications.  And I won’t even go into Amazon’s one-click buying.  Let’ s just say my dogs and the UPS man are on a first-name basis.

Of course, especially in this economy, many writers cannot afford to spend a dime on buying books and related things. But spending time and attention by going to readings and other book events is something of real value.  Most readings and literary festivals are free.  And, believe me, authors are grateful to see you there.  One reason we do all this is, after all, is in the hope that someone will hear it—that this content, this work, will be meaningful to someone, somewhere.  So, simply showing up at events is valuable way to sustain the literary ecosystem too.

In my last blog about sustainable writing practices, I shared my worries about spreading myself too thin as a writer among multiplying technologies and forums. To sustain ourselves as writers, we have to focus. We preserve some time and space for uninterrupted concentration on our writing.  And that means, at least for me, practicing restraint and resisting some of the siren calls of social media and turning email and the phones off, at least for a period of time every day. With the issue of book buying and the sustainability, however, I tend to take the opposite approach.

I spread out my spending in support of the publishing industry around widely, in part because there are so many great choices out there, both on-line and in brick-and-mortar stores.  Here are some useful websites for getting oriented to these issues and what’s happening around the United States.

Check out “Indie Bound” hosted by the American Bookseller’s Association

And to learn more about independent presses, visit the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Like most writers, I’m not in a financial position to underwrite a bookstore or make  major charitable contributions to the many worthy literary causes that exist.  But I do what I can.

Like recycling paper, it’s about flow and keeping the flow going.  Our family still uses libraries every week, but we also donate old books to public libraries and school libraries.

And, now that I have a new book out, I realize that the fact that I already have relationships with all the bookstores in my area does make setting up readings a little easier.  It’s still not necessarily comfortable, if you’re on the introverted side of the personality spectrum.  But that’s a topic for another blog. . . .


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