The Future of Barnes & Noble

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Barnes & Noble Sold

I just heard that Barnes & Noble was sold to Elliot, a venture capital firm that also owns the U.K. bookseller Waterstones.

I have had a tenuous, love/hate kind of relationship with B&N, and have blogged about it in the past. I’m not a fan of the way Barnes & Noble annihilated numerous other book retailers and mom&pop shops through the late 1990’s and 2K’s (similar to Blockbuster Video), but it’s nice to have an option besides Amazon if my local indie book seller can’t get what I want. Plus, I’m still one of those weirdos who reads “enthusiast magazines” and B&N is literally the only brick and mortar retailer I know who stocks a variety of those.

Venture capital firm purchases are almost always dicey, but at least B&N will still exist.

What I’d like to see happen

  • Get some personality: The pitch is a more “decentralized” model where the individual stores have a bit more autonomy. I think this is a great idea, and knowing some actual real-life B&N employees, I think its for the best. I have three Barnes & Noble in my general vicinity, and the one that does best allows its workers to inject personality and unique style into the space. It makes the place feel a bit more like a large indie book store, and feels inviting.
  • Re-focus on books: Get rid of the toys, games, Funko Pop figurines, and all that other junk, and add a wider selection of things to read! I’m still all for book-related gifts like Moleskines, bookmarks, and reading lights. That’s fine. But if I want vinyl I’ll go to a record store. Give me a horror and expanded literature section.
  • Kill the Nook: Just do it. Please. Put the thing into the landfill with all those copies of “E.T.” for the Atari.
  • Engage local reading and and writing communities: More local author readings, more book clubs, more big names stopping in on their book tours. All of it. Give readers a reason to drop by.

Better Than Nothing

I’m still a proponent of local independent bookstores over Barnes & Noble (support your local indie!) but it’s better than having no stores at all. Amazon is just the coldest experience possible. No tactile feel, no page whoosh, no book smell.

I guess we’ll see what the future holds for Barnes & Noble, and I hope it’s a turn for the better.

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Thoughts on Self-Publishing in 2019

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I’ve written a few posts in the past on the “Traditional versus Self-Publishing” debate. As someone who has work released through both channels, it is something I periodically reflect on. Mostly on the self-publishing side, because it changes very rapidly in comparison to the iceberg-like pace of the traditional publishing industry.

This week I listened to a podcast interview with a small publisher, and he spoke about the self-publishing landscape as retracting. Not from the content standpoint, but from the perspective of readers becoming more selective in their purchases.

This coincides with something I’ve been feeling now for a while, which is that self-publishing, specifically through Amazon, is no longer a viable path for a majority of writers. It’s in no way a slam against indie authors. For the few who are making it work, that’s awesome, and certain segments of the industry (mainly Romance) are reaping the majority of their sales through it. But for the average “aspiring author” who is creating literary fiction or writing in a broad genre like “YA”, fantasy, or science fiction, traditional publishing seems to be the way to go in 2019.

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Building a Modern Home Library

woman choosing books at library

A Random Assortment of Texts

Almost everybody has a bookshelf in their home.

Whether you have a huge house or a tiny apartment, you probably have a few texts sitting spine-out, or piled haphazardly on a coffee table.

But have you ever given a lot of thought to the books you own, or what they say about you?

As part of my overall move to be “more intentional” with my choices and object ownership, I sorted through a bunch of old books on my shelves (and in boxes) to sell or donate. It got me focused on my book collection, or personal library. It turns out the internet says those are different things! This article on AOM and this piece over at BookRiot are solid starting points on the history of, and differences between the two.

Suffice to say, I seem to fall into the “personal library” category since I’m not any sort of enthusiast collector looking to round out a focused, complete set. I prefer a varied flavor of interests, spanning fiction and non-fiction.

How To Choose Your Books

I’ve hung on to a number of books, mainly paperbacks, through school and book trades. Once I started filtering, I realized many of them would go into the donation pile. Being older and more settled means I’m not averse to adding hard covers into this more curated personal library. I used to move around a lot, and my fear of immovable boxes full of hard covers was intense.

This is the tough part. Defining what I really want to keep. What really deserves a spot on that limited shelf space? What “sparks joy”, to get all Marie Kondo about it.

My hardbound edition of Moby Dick and overly extravagant copy of Lovecraft’s Complete Cthulu Mythos were easy picks, and there were some hard fought paperbacks that ended up in the Goodwill stack. I have been selecting keepers using a system of “what would this library fundamentally say about me to a stranger?” So far it’s shaping up as a potpourri of horror, early 20th century American literature, and books on writing craft and photography.

An unintended goal of a personal library (or book collection) is accumulating value. Part of me feels like when I die, it would be embarrassing to have called myself a writer and not have at least a few books that are worth something on my shelves, even if my relatives just sell them on eBay or at an estate sale. Nobody wants a 9th edition paperback of Gibson’s Neuromancer scrawled with my insane margin notes…

Lists To Get Started

pexels-photo-1148399Back in 1998, a (now) controversial list of the Top 100 Novels was released by Modern Library. It has been criticized as not diverse enough, and also as a guerrilla marketing tool for Penguin Random House’s classics division.

I have to say, at least for me, there is some good stuff on it. I might have a hardbound copy of As I Lay Dying on its way from eBay. Might.

You might have already read a bunch of these books as required from school and formed an opinion of them. If they aren’t your speed and you want something a little more contemporary, I have been plumbing the list of Man Booker Prize award winners. This Goodreads list puts them in a nicely rated chronological order, and you can peruse details. Honestly, you could do a hell of a lot worse for a personal library OR a book collection than to get every Booker winner inside four walls.

Beyond big lists, I’ve found that social media groups, forums, and Reddit are great if you’re looking to shore up more specific genre tastes that are outside the mainstream.

Do You Collect or Curate?

I foresee my personal library as a long-term, ongoing effort. Being a frugal Yankee, most purchases now land on my Kindle, but that only makes the physical books “worthy” of a shelf slot all the more special.

Do you have a book collection or personal library? Do you have any tips or a specific system you use to grow it? Or is your home just filled with teetering towers of unread tomes? Feel free to share down in the comments!

Dealing with Racism in Genre Writing

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I’ve recently been reading The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard.

They were recommended to me by a friend after I mentioned enjoying other sword & sorcery stories such as “Conan”, “Kull”, and Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books.

The recommendation came with a caveat that some of the stories contained racist language and imagery. I’m not easily offended as a reader, so I felt fully prepared for it.

I was unprepared.

“The Moon of Skulls”, in particular, was a story I could barely finish. I forced myself to read it entirely, but I was completely disconnected from it once all the deeply racist imagery and description appeared. This was similar to certain stories I’ve read by H.P. Lovecraft, who, in addition to being a brilliant writer, was unfortunately a terrible xenophobe and bigot.

This post isn’t meant to be an examination of their beliefs. The guys were racist and wrong. Full stop.

What I want to understand is why the racist imagery struck me so hard, versus other books I’ve read like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huck Finn.

I believe it is because those stories were consumed as Literature (with a capital L) and in a scholastic setting. There was discussion and analysis that framed the reading of the books, and the “language of the time” was part of that larger critical discussion. That Howard and company were “genre” authors shouldn’t diminish their stories or the impact of their language, but I it feels more jarring in writing intended primarily for “entertainment”.

I’m a firm believer that genre stories can tackle tough subject matter, including social issues and politics. That said, outlets like Weird Tales and other pulp magazines were very much intended as entertainment during their heyday around the 1920’s. The very concept of “pulps” identified that this was not literature or high-brow stuff. It is writing as pure escapism, and I often read it because I want to escape the depressing and nasty things delivered by the media in a seemingly never-ending stream these days. So for it to appear in my escapist pleasure reading, I was angry and turned off.

I’m interested to know how the rest of you handle language that is offensive or distressing to you when you come across it.

Do you continue reading and try to “separate the art from the artist”? Do you stop reading it and find something else? Do you throw the book across the room and recoil in terror? Although I finished that initial story, I skipped later ones where I saw racist text, since I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the stories.

Balancing Creation and Consumption

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“You cannot create when you are consuming.”

Pragmatic writing advice if I’ve ever heard it.

It sits at the opposing end of the spectrum from “read widely” and “refuel your creative tank”, which are also widely accepted as good advice for authors.

I’m still deep inside the second rewrite of my dark fantasy novel, and prioritizing it against other creative pursuits. I wrote a post a few months ago about writers having other hobbies, and I still stand by my opinion that two hobbies is the “right number”.

Finding Balance

Further prioritization of  limited time has found me exploring  how to balance pursuits that create versus consume. It has meant letting go of some things that I used to enjoy doing, but honestly can’t justify devoting time and resources to anymore.

Video games were the biggest sacrifice on this list. I used to be an avid gamer, and I still love gaming, but the industry seems to have moved in a direction where the games became huge time sinks. I can’t justify putting 25-60 hours into something that, while it may grant a feeling of accomplishment, doesn’t create any sort of tangible creative product.

25-60 hours is a lot of writing. That is short stories, revised chapters, posted submissions, or even a few rolls of film on a photo shoot or two. These are efforts that create, or at least advance, a body of creative work. It’s why in January I made a “silent resolution” to stop buying new games.

Making Art

It’s a matter of creating your own art versus consuming that of others.

I stopped purchasing games to throw into an ever-growing backlog for the same reason I let go of trying to voraciously speed read through my TBR book pile. I had become obsessed with trying to consume “all the things” and it was stressful and detrimental to my creative process. Anyone who can afford an internet connection is lousy with entertainment choices these days, and there seems to be a strange quasi-guilt emerging with it. Is that FOMO? Is that why Marie Kondo is so popular on Netflix?

Maybe I’m becoming more aware of my own mortality, but the older I get the more I desire to establish an artistic legacy. Adult responsibilities always seem to get in the way of creative time, so it makes those free hours even more precious. However, you can’t be creative all the time. That is a sure-fire recipe for burn out. So it requires balance.

A Process

The balancing of creative output and what I’ll pretentiously call “artistic consumption” is a matter of scheduling, routine, and determination. By creating an intentional routine, I’ve learned that I write far better in the early mornings, when my brain is still energized and fluid with ideas. Once I’m burnt out from the day, I can relax in the evenings with a book out of that TBR pile for a couple hours. It’s a process I’m always refining, and in other odd moments I eek out submissions, the occasional blog post, or a little promotion.

I’m curious what other authors do to balance their creative output versus consumption of media and art. No matter what your process is, I think it’s a good problem to have. The luxury of available means and ability to hone a craft is still a valuable commodity in our fast-paced, modern world.