Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Go Local! (or "Why You Should Buy My Book")

My wife and I have had a long running discussion about supporting local growers. When I first moved to CA, I had no idea of this as a concept. I'd like to say that it's because I grew up in the south and it was a normal practice there. My grandparents had a farm, so we did, actually, eat a lot of locally grown food, because it came from relatives. However, I didn't realize that this wasn't a normal thing to do. I used to go with my grandfather on Saturdays and sit in the stall at the farmers' market with him. Maybe things were just different then.

Of course, we had no idea of recycling, there, either, so I doubt it. I was surprised, when I moved to CA in '97, that there were two trash cans: one for garbage and one for recycling (more than 10 years later, they are only just now doing that where I moved from).

My wife wants us to buy as much locally grown produce and meat as possible. Meaning, she wants us to always buy locally when it's available. My stance is more pragmatic. I have to look at the money side of it and curtail our "local" spending to what we can afford. Unfortunately, buying locally grown stuff costs more, so it's always a balancing act of staying within what we can afford while including as much of the local market as possible. Buying local is good for the environment, though, and I'm all for raising environmental awareness. Thankfully, Safeway actually labels, now, what is locally grown, and I buy heavily from that produce when I shop.

But what does this have to do with books?
Well, supporting local artists is kind of the same thing, just on a more global scale.

Here's the thing:
Once upon a time, for an artist to survive as an artist, the artist had to find a patron. A rich patron. Someone who would put them on staff, so to speak, so that they could paint or make music or whatever it was they did. Mostly, it was painting or music related, although there was some sculpting thrown in here and there. And acting. Some of our greatest music and art has come to us because a patron supported a particular artist. Playwrights are included in this list of artists. Even Shakespeare had to have his patrons.

And when books began to be published, that meant that the author had to find someone who would pay the publishing costs so the book could be printed. Initially, this was more like giving the author a loan; later, it meant taking a percentage from the profits, not just being paid back. Of course, from that grew our "traditional" publishing model. That model says that the publisher gets to keep the bulk of the profit and makes the writer, in essence, an employee. No one looks at it that way, though.

Now, we could debate all the nuances of the publishing industry right up until it collapses in on itself in the same way the music industry is, but that's probably pretty pointless, so let's just skip that part.

One of the things I've made a practice of doing for a long time, all the way back to my teens, is buying music I liked from the artists at their concerts. At first, this was because I was seeing a lot of musicians that were unlabeled or on labels that were hard to find at your standard music stores. This was before the Internet, so, if you didn't buy it at the concerts, you didn't get to have it. As I got older, it was because I knew that the musicians got more of the money if I bought it directly from them as opposed to buying it at the store, and I thought that was a good thing, so I would actually wait to buy a new CD at a concert if I knew I was going to be seeing a particular band within a reasonable amount of time after the release of a new album. However, it was much later before I realized that the future success of a musician or band might be dependent upon whether or not I bought a CD [or cassette, because CDs weren't a thing, yet, when I was a teenager, so I have this huge collection of cassettes that I really can't play anymore].

Two things happened to really cement that idea in my head, and both of them had to do with me buying self-produced CDs from two different bands. Both of these bands went on to get signed by a label and shoot to the top of their particular genres. I bought one of these CDs because of one particular song. I heard it, and I knew, "this song is going to be a big hit." I started making people listen to the song and telling them what I thought of it. Mostly, people didn't listen to me. I was right, though; somewhere over a year later, the group's first labeled CD was released, and that was their first single. A huge hit. The CD went platinum. The biggest song in its genre to date, and it was released about a decade ago.

The other event isn't quite so spectacular. The group is hugely popular in its genre, but the important thing here is that the self-produced CD I have by them is, in many ways, better than any of their label releases. Some of the songs, good songs, have never been re-recorded. I still listen to that CD as often as I listen to any of their later music.

I often wonder about other groups (whose CDs I own) who have faded away. Mostly, no one's ever heard of them. Some of these singers/groups were good. Good enough to make it. But they didn't. At least one of them, whom I had a slight association with, didn't make it because too many of the members of the band had to go out and get "real" jobs and no longer had time to do the music thing. Would they have made it if more people had supported them when they were just starting out? It's a hard question. Because what we want to say is that if they were good enough they would have made it. That's the easy way out. But it's not true no matter how much we'd like it to be true. But, you know, if it was true, it would absolve us of any guilt in  the matter. The truth is many artists "don't make it" because they are forced to give up creating in order to survive. Because, in the past, their local communities didn't support them.

The world, though, is changing. There is no "local" community for art, anymore. The Internet has made the whole world the local community. The music industry has made that blatantly apparent. We, as a people, have the ability to become the patrons. We can support artists independently of producers, publishers, and gallery owners. We can support them directly, cutting off the leeches that want to feed off of others' talent.

Now, I'm not saying we should be indiscriminate in our support, but, you know, when we value music or literature or art, we should do our best to support what we like. That can be a bit more difficult when it comes to writing. I mean, we can evaluate a musician or band in a few minutes with just a few songs. Even if we don't like an album, we can probably buy just the songs we like, but a book... well, a book takes a time investment as well as a money investment, so we can find ourselves much less willing to throw in our support. Someone else has to prove to us, first, that it's worth our time.

Often, we rely on the publisher to tell us it's good enough. I mean, they published it, right? It must be good. heh Publishers don't even believe that. If they did, they would make an investment marketing the books they print. However, they leave it to the readers to be the marketers. We can do that without them being involved at all.

And to bring this back around to the environment, the publishing industry is one of the most wasteful industries on the planet. Every year, hundreds of thousands of books are destroyed because the publishing industry is built on a model of waste. [And I have first hand experience with this having worked in book stores and being involved in the comic book industry for a while.] But it doesn't have to stay that way. They won't change on their own, though. We, the readers, have to show them that there are better ways. e-books. POD (print-on-demand). Smaller, more personal book stores. Book stores willing to support the authors in their community and help them to find a voice.

How do we do all this? Support new authors. Buy directly from authors instead of from the big chain book stores. By POD books when they're available. Or e-books. But,  you know, if you're like me and like to actually hold a book you can smell in your hands, POD is the way to go. And, you know, buy my book. >cheesy grin< No, not really. I mean, yes, do, if you want to. I'd love that. But what I really mean is that you should find new authors that you believe in, support them, prove that they don't need the big publishers to be successful. Become a patron. We actually  have the power to change the industry if we want to do that.

And, you know, it really is just good for the environment! Go local! Save a tree!
And let the oil companies know we're coming after them, next!


  1. I try to support the people that have a direct influence in my life. I buy books from authors that I've gotten to know and from people I may know in person. It makes complete sense to me because there's such a deluge of stuff out there that there has to be some kind of factor that determines choice. As far as books concerned, the traditional publishing houses don't have much that appeals to me in terms of stories as they are generally copycats of successful ones. Some author like J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer comes out with a huge bestseller and a million ppl jump on the bandwagon pumping out similar crap with no disparity. It's all so transparently capitalist (Give me my money now!)

  2. Yeah... I hate the whole copycat thing. Perhaps, I am more sensitive to it after watching the comic book industry nearly destroy itself through that behavior in the early- to mid-90s. Of course, people buy into it, so they just keep right on doing it.
    At any rate, good choice, Michael.