What We Can Do

by J.D. Rhoades

Tomorrow is the official beginning of the 'holiday season" in the U.S. Of course, most of us have already seen plenty of Christmas decorations and "pre-holiday" sales, trying to capture those now-scarce Yuletide dollars.And I'm starting to hear Christmas music here and there, which will become ubiquitous after Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, this year, the season is one when people in a lot of industries, including publishing, are, as the Good Book says, "sore afraid." Publishers are talking  layoffs and pension freezes. Newspapers are shutting down their book review pages. Borders, one of the big-box chains, is reportedly in trouble. Barnes and Noble's CEO sent out a memo saying that "never in all my years as a bookseller have I seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in. Nothing even close." Monday, in a move that rippled across the book blogs like a shock wave, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it was "temporarily" suspending the buying of new manuscripts.

 Is this the end of the book business as we know it?

Well, maybe, at least the "as we know it" part.  Oh, I don't think the book business is going to end, but it's sure to go through some changes, some of them long overdue. What those changes will mean for writers and readers remains to be seen. One thing experience teaches us, however, is that the future is likely to defy prediction. That's one of the things the future's good at.

So what can we do? Well, as writers, we do what we always do: we  keep our heads in the work, write the best books we can, and try not to let the fear get to us.

But what we can all do is give books this year for Christmas, or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus or whatever.

A book is a great gift. It provides hours of enjoyment at a relatively low price. Consider the time it takes to read a book. Divide that by the cover price. Now do the same thing for the time it takes to watch a movie divided by the cost. Don't forget the cost of the popcorn. See what a bargain a book is?

And a book can be a much more meaningful gift than, say a tie or a sweater. If it's a book you like, you're sharing a little piece of yourself along with the book. Or it's a chance to introduce somebody you care about to something new, as, for example,  author Carleen Brice points out in her campaign designating December as "Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It To Somebody Not Black Month" so that people can "explain to white friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates that there are books without Ebonics, and that books by black authors are much like any other book." I have to say, I'm tickled by the URL of Brice's blog: http://welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com.

Other sites have sprung up promoting this idea, such as buybooksfortheholidays.com, and the fine folks at Indiebound are making a big push for independent booksellers to be proactive over the holidays because, as they put it in their ad "A scented candle never changed anyone's life." 

And while you're giving to family and friends, give some consideration to the men and women serving overseas. Check out Booksforsoldiers.com and maybe send a little bit of comfort and joy their way. Because among the constants of military life are  boredom and loneliness, and books are good for easing both of those. 

While none of us can save the book industry single handed, we can each do our small part. And, of course, if you want to give a book by your favorite Murderati author, I don't think any one of us will mind.

Happy Holidays, whichever ones you celebrate!

24 thoughts on “What We Can Do

  1. pari

    You STOLE my post, Dusty! That’s about what I was going to say on Monday.

    Thanks for saying it.

    (Thanks for sending me back to the keyboard for something new. Argh.)

    Happy day before Turkey Day to you and all those you love.

  2. Kathryn Lilley

    One of my favorite sayings is, “In every crisis, there is a hidden opportunity.” Random house announced this week that it is digitizing thousands more books, and making excerpts available online. And when I looked at Amazon’s site, I saw that the Kindle is already sold out for the holidays. I think that these small shifts in the market represent a broad, emerging trend for the future–we will be reading cheaper, digitized books and e-books. It’ll be a brave new world!

  3. Jody

    Happy Thanksgiving all.

    I always give books for Christmas. Because my son-in-law is on the road a lot for his business, he prefers getting his books on CD. It really helps pass the time while he’s putting the miles on his car.

  4. Kaye Barley

    Thanks, JD – this is terrific (and Pari, yours would have been also – two great minds thinking just alike!). And thank you for smacking me right upside my head – I needed it. I’ve been one of the most outspoken about how hard its going to be for me to justify buying new hardback books, but you’re right – compared to other forms of entertainment, it is still a bargain. But its just hard for me to swallow – know what I mean?

    I swear, I have to eat my words more than a girl should, I think. Was I one of the ones who said digitizing, ebooks and Kindle were a flash in the pan? Surely not. Kathryn – you are so right – a brave new world, indeed and I love it.

    And oh boy howdy – I truly love http://welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.comTERRIFIC!!!!!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

  5. Jake Nantz

    Great post Mr. Rhoades. I sit here in Southport with a stack of new books (love that smell!) ready to be read and loved. And I think giving books is a fabulous Christmas gift idea.

    I will add the same thing I added to Mr. Chercover’s post, a suggestion I also mentioned yesterday on my own blog:

    ASK for a book for Christmas this year. Even one can help. Don’t ask for a gift card, ask for a specific book. If I had one, I’d plug it, but since I don’t, the list of authors to the left is a good place to start. I know everyone has other things they’d like, I’m not asking you to do what I’m doing and ask for almost all books, but ask for one. It can make a difference.

  6. J.D. Rhoades


    Sorry! I DID check the posts already in the type pad queue to see if anyone else had one waiting! I wanted to get the word in before Black Friday (and does anyone know why they call it that, since it’s supposed to be such a big money day?)

  7. Louise Ure

    Well said, Dusty.

    Even for those “keep your gifts under $10” folks, a gift of a paperback book is perfect.

    And that Black Friday stuff? It’s traditionally a bad day on the stock market.

  8. Louise Ure

    Whoops! I hit Post before I intended to.

    It’s traditionally a bad day for the stock market, although I’ve alternatively heard that it’s the day that most retailers go from “in the red” to “in the black” for their fiscal year. So it’s the day they know whether or not their year will be profitable.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Three mass markets=one hardcover.

    Just saying. 🙂

    I always buy books for gifts. EVERYONE in my family gets at least one book (usually three or more.) I’ve ordered a bunch of books off Amazon, I go to the bookstore (browsing and buying) and then there’s the auto-buys. I’ve already bought a bunch of Murderati books for different people. I recently got my husband into James Rollins and so I need to buy the backlist titles I don’t have. I’m also giving him a couple Steve Berry’s because I think those are up his alley. (Anyone who has recommendations for someone who likes Michael Critchon type books, let me know–my husband loves anything techno or space related, it can be SF like 2001, but it needs to be plausible even if it’s not technically possible.)

  10. Fiona

    Thanks for the reminder, JD.

    I would like to add—PLEASE BUY FROM AN INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE. If the big boxes are hurting, the indies are near death, in some places.

    Remember–if the indie doesn’t have it in stock, they will gladly order it for you. And, these booksellers know their books and will help you pick the perfect book for each person on your list.

    Giving books is our family’s gift-giving plan this year. We already have designated books as birthday presents. Now that family members know we give books for birthdays, they look forward to seeing what we picked out for them.

  11. Fiona

    Allison—here’s a suggestion: Have you tried John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” universe of books? They push you to think, even when they are winking at you.

    The premise behind the books is that the world is fighting a war with aliens, and the recruits for our military forces are senior citizens who get a new body with their commission. You get a new life, but you can never go back to Earth.

  12. billie

    Thanks for this great reminder!

    I absolutely love the idea of doing all my shopping in ONE store. (actually I despise shopping at all, but browsing for books is a real pleasure, so it makes sense from many angles to do it, esp. this year)

  13. JT Ellison

    Books, books, books. I wish I could afford to give bookshelves along with all the books I give : )

    Thanks for getting everyone’s head into the giving mode, Dusty!

  14. Allison Brennan

    Thanks for the Scalzi recommendation — I’ll check them out. He’s not really into SF anymore (though he used to be) but he likes near-future storylines; he enjoys James Rollins; he loves Michael Crichton. I’ve just gotten him into fiction–he rarely read fiction until I published. His bookshelves are 90% history and biographies, and 10% Louis L’Amour.

  15. Tom

    Allison, if he likes ol’ Louis, get him CJ Cherryh’s DOWNBELOW STATION and the CHANUR Quartet, along with Kage Baker’s IN THE GARDEN OF IDEN (there’s an entire Company series by Baker), and Sheila Finch’s near-future Lingster series.

    They’re more elegant writers than Louis, ghod forgive me, but they write big-time adventures.

  16. joylene

    Very appropriate post. I’m just about to do 2 book signings & I can’t help but wonder. Yet, you’ve brought several good points. Books are never going to fade away. We rely on them too much for that all important escape. Especially in these times.

    I love reading and writing. If I had to give up one, it would have to be writing. Of course, I’d turn into an underground writer.


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