Wow! There are a lot of people with a book they want to get into the hands of an audience.
We spent last weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books, with thousands of other book lovers, answering questions and talking to people who had books they are working on. What was amazing was the range of books they asked about.
We spoke with people working on novels including horror, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, chick-lit, action adventure and mystery. We talked to an MFA student, a short story writer, several poets and a woman with a manuscript she produced for National Novel Writing Month. It seemed like every third person had a children’s book or an idea for one. Most were looking for illustrators. People wanted to know about academic works. We spoke with two MDs just finishing books, a scholar with a book on botany and a gentleman wrapping up his account of the history of a Canadian regiment in the War of 1812. Another man wanted to compile a book of opera reviews he has produced over several years as a critic. People were writing books on all kinds of topics from homeless kids to teen suicide, to infertility, to how to pick a retirement community. People had some interesting cookbook ideas. We discussed a wide array of memoirs and lots of family history projects. One woman facilitates a group where grandmothers write with their grand daughters. She wants to publish the results.
The authors were as diverse as their books. I spoke with a boy about 12, several in their later teens, and some people who lived through a lot of the last century. Men and women of all ethnic groups wanted to talk with us about their books. People’s level of experience varied from beginners to people who had published multiple books and everything in between.
Reflecting on the weekend, it was easy to see that the traditional publishing universe is tumbling around us. The gatekeepers are no longer standing at the entrance turning away would-be authors. Anybody who wants to publish a book can do so.
Fortunately, most the people we were talking with wanted to know, “How can I make sure mine is a good book?” They recognized that quality books, whether paper or digital, are produced by teams including professional editors.
Last summer the Guardian reported that British novelist Ewan Morrison asked the audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, “Are books dead, and can authors survive?” He was pretty pessimistic.
I know that Morrison was talking about literary authors and the current system of royalties for publishing. Most of the folks in Tucson were not among those with whom Morrison was concerned. (Although Larry McMurtry spoke just up the mall from our booth. Really sorry I missed him.)
Still, had he been in Arizona last weekend, Morrison would have been much more optimistic about the future of the book.