Monday, September 22, 2014


A friend once said he envied me. "You're immortal now. Your books will be on the shelf forever."

Exactly whose shelf are we speaking about here? I wondered.

It's not the shelf at my local bookstore, which has to constantly turn over its stock to make room for all the new books published every month.

It's not the shelves of our local libraries--they, too, have limited space. Every few years they look to see which books haven't been circulated in a very long time and give them the heave-ho.

It's not the infinite virtual shelves of Amazon or Barnes and Most books eventually go out of print and become unavailable. Sometimes it takes a few years, sometimes it happens sooner. When I worked at the literary agency in New York, a bestselling YA author released her first adult novel and it went out of print in six months. It can happen quick--even to well-known authors.

It's definitely not my own bookshelves, which I've stocked with all the books I'm dying to read but never have enough hours in the day to get through. Like anyone else, only the books that really make a lasting impact on me have a place in my permanent collection. All the others are donated to charity.
Copies of my own books are in a box somewhere in the basement.

I guess my friend must have been talking about my mother's bookshelf. I can guarantee my books are sitting there right now, in a prominent place, loving dusted from time to time.

Basically, being a published author is a pretty lousy way to achieve immortality--unless, of course, your last name is Dickens, or Twain, or Shakespeare.

Book publishing has exploded over the last decade, despite grim sales. The market is flooded with traditional and self-published books alike. More titles = higher turnover = shorter shelf life. Even when a book makes it to a shelf for a short period, it's hard to grab the attention of the book-buying public. This is especially true of E-books. Even though they technically hang around for a long time, they are part of a very crowded marketplace. There are so many forms of entertainment competing for our attention. It's like being at a stadium concert and trying to get the lead singer of the band to notice you.

Ooooh! Over here! Read me! Read me!

If immortality is your thing, there's actually a pretty simple way to achieve it these days: Post something on the Internet.

I've been told that every little comment, Facebook post, Tweet, Instagram photo, etc. lasts forever in the digital abyss. The opinions, mistakes, and experiences we share end up being written in virtual stone, ready to be called up at any time to be used against us. It makes me terrified every time I hit the 'publish' button on my blog. 

At least if I make a mistake in a book it will eventually be forgotten.

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