Last week I was invited to participate in the Local Authors’ Showcase held at the Buena Vista Library in Burbank.
For me, the event gave me an opportunity to talk shop with fellow writers, and to meet interesting people such as the executor of famed film director and screenwriter Richard Brooks who made films such as “Elmer Gantry,” “In Cold Blood,” “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” and “The Blackboard Jungle” (whose title I adapted for the title of my column).
Another encounter involved a former long-time substitute teacher who gave me an earful about how awful teaching kids are nowadays. I stood there with a non-committal expression, politely letting her finish her rant, hoping that by not engaging in a debate with her I would encourage a sale. No such luck.
This wasn’t surprising when you think about it. Holding a “books for sale” event at a library is a hard sell (pun intended) since the people circulating from table to table are those who visit a library expressly because it is a public space with free wi-fi, books, and DVDs.
That’s why it made perfect sense when one elderly looky-loo told a fellow writer that she hasn’t bought a book in several years.
Having plenty of time sitting there watching people pick up my books and put them back down allowed me to ponder the plight of a writer.
While the vast majority of authors present were self-published (I was one of the few there who wasn’t), even the worst book took a certain level of dedication to complete.
If the ultimate goal of writing is to make a pot of gold, then most writers are failures.
Just as with other art forms, only the upper echelon of writers make the real money. That explains why publishers like Scribner pour millions into publicizing established moneymakers such as Stephen King, but will not fund the publicity of lesser known writers. Why take a chance on a no-name when one can sell even more copies of what already works?
Yet success should not be measured by one’s Amazon sales ranking.
One writer with a walker, after receiving no takers at her table, decided to make the rounds of other writers, figuring she may as well make good use of her time by informing them of her memoir based on seven generations of her family. This woman clearly poured her soul into this book even if no one was buying it.
By documenting her family’s history, she ensured that their lives mattered.
It’s the old philosophical question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
If a book is published and no one reads it, does it exist?
This is the lesson I try teaching my students when they write their short memoirs. They get it “published” by having classmates read it. Knowing that there will be an audience, no matter the size, makes a big difference in the effort they put into the work.
So even though vanity presses and self-published books may be the step-children in the publishing world, there is some value to these works. And that’s why events like a local authors’ showcase serve a purpose; even if it means no books are bought, stories are shared . . . and are worth hearing.