Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Barbara Quick Guest Post: The Untapped Power of Readers (and Writers!)

The latest issue of the Authors Guild Builletin—a trade publication available to members only—features the transcription of a terrifying symposium, held this past March, on “The Future of Publishing.”

Take note, readers and—especially—writers! All the rules are changing. The publishing industry is entirely in flux. No one knows exactly what is going to happen—but everyone is scared. And the only players who will survive and thrive will be those who can be graceful and resourceful enough to not only roll with the changes but also help determine how the stardust finally settles.

Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, referred in the symposium to iGooglezon—the behemoth that is the collective power of the iPhone, Google and Amazon combined.

Publishers are all Davids to this Goliath—bravely girding their corporate loins, but trembling with fear that Goliath’s nameplate has already been affixed to the door of the penthouse office, with the heavenly view, in the virtual headquarters of the Brave New World of multimedia publishing.

If our wise and experienced publishers, with all their business savvy and bevy of bean-counters and legions of lawyers, are quaking in their corporate boots now, where does that leave us, the puniest of the puny: the writers?

It’s scary enough for so-called mid-list novelists like myself. But what about the writers who are even now working on that first novel, book of short stories or (God help them!) collection of poetry?

Change = Opportunity I can’t read Chinese (even if I can read the writing on the wall). But it seems to me that the pictograph for “change” looks very much like a person on the move, something like the “Keep-on-truckin’” guy:

I remember the concept from the many New Year’s Eves when, shunning noisy celebrations, I stayed at home by the fire and cast the I Ching: Change = Opportunity.

Publishers and writers (myself included) stand in awe at what Oprah Winfrey has been able to do for books that would, without her help, have sunk to the bottom of the literary lake with nary a ripple. But, with all due respect, what does Oprah Winfrey have—even as a mega-powerful corporate entity—that the online literary community, at least in potential, doesn’t have as well?

Why couldn’t lovers of literature band together to do what Oprah does for the books she chooses?

There are more of us—and we are everywhere: sitting on commuter trains and in our coziest chair at home, in the bathtub, in cafes and propped up in bed all over the world. We are sinking blissfully into the pleasures of reading a real, live book—a bliss that requires no one else. Just the words, our eyes and our hearts perilously, deliciously open.

We are an untapped power—and I want to try an experiment here to test it.

Carpe librum A beautiful small-press book of poetry—Judah’s Lion by Anne Caston—was just published by—yes, a friend of mine—Maria van Beuren of Toad Hall Media. Ann Caston’s poetry makes one want to shout with joy at being able to read the English language.

Here’s what others have said so far about this brand-new collection. Dorianne Laux called Judah's Lion "a pleasure to read, intelligent, moving, grappling as it does with reason and faith." Lucille Clifton wrote, "[Caston] has dared to look without flinching and to report what she has seen. Her work is some of the bravest poetry written today. It is not always pretty, but it is always beautiful."

These are not just chick poems, either. My fiancé, who is as macho as he is literary, went nuts over the book. “Why aren’t people reading this instead of Mary Oliver?!” he wanted to know.

Buy the book for yourself—and, if you can afford to, buy a second copy for a friend who loves and appreciates language that cuts straight to the heart of what it means to be alive.

To really be part of the movement, send the link for this blog post to all the word-loving friends you can think of who might like to form the advance battalion of power-brokers and taste-makers for the world of publishing as we want it to be.

Carpe librum: Seize the book, change the world! Let our collective voice be heard!

—Barbara Quick

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