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!