Shaping our worlds

At the end of an intense week of discussing bookselling, marketing and sales on the Sisters in Crime discussion list -- a great resource and a great community that you should consider joining if you haven't already -- this is a slighted edited version of what I'm posting there this morning:

It may be that a writer can find success online with Amazon.  Or perhaps success can still be found in person in communities and their brick and mortar bookstores, local independents or national independents like Murder by the Book -- stores that if you're publishing nationally, I would consider part of your community too.  More likely, success will be found in some combination of virtual and real world marketing and sales efforts.

For writers who've concluded that brick and mortar stores are no longer capable of being a part of their success, all I can say at this point is that I'm disappointed that we won't be working together and that I wish you well.  Your vision, relying as it does on a single mighty online bookseller to sell all books, isn't my vision.  But that doesn't mean I hope you fail.  (For some reason, "one store to rule them all, one store to find them, one store to bring them, and in the darkness guide them" is running through my head right now.  That punchiness is a sure sign that my participation in this discussion has run its course.)

Wherever you are in the discussion, at least you're passionate.  This business, such as it is, has always been driven more by passion than by dollars.  Not to reopen that argument; I'm just saying that we're all here -- writers, readers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, all of us -- we're here in the first place because we love books, the world of books, and the people we get to hang out with because they love books too.  If dollars were all that motivated us, well, there are more dollars to be found elsewhere -- virtually or in the real world.

What we're talking about here isn't anything new.  Take a look at Daniel Pool's DICKENS' FUR COAT AND CHARLOTTE'S UNANSWERED LETTERS for an illuminating examination of these issues more than a century ago.  It's one of those books that leave you with a "the more things change, the more they stay the same" feeling.

That's not to say that this discussion is uninteresting.  I believe that every day we have opportunities to help create the world we want.  As consumers, we have an enormous amount of power to use our dollars to shape our communities, to understand how spending money locally sustains the businesses that make our communities good places to be.  And that's true of businesses as well.  Businesses -- including writers as businesses -- need to use their resources wisely; a writer's decision to promote Amazon isn't just about the access to books at a discount price, it's about the writer validating Amazon too.  (Mostly, that's why I find Ann Patchett's new venture -- -- so exciting, that it's such a strong, tangible statement in the opposite direction.)

The more we discuss, examine and understand what we're all doing, the better off we are -- wherever is it we each decide we want to be. I hope that writers and publishers will continue to want to be a part of what independent bookstores are trying to do.  But if not, I have to respect your decision as I hope you'll respect those of us who continue to do this work.