It all started when my 14 year old daughter was invited to a friend’s birthday party. We had an extremely busy week leading up the party and we were running out of time to pick up a gift.
“Why don’t you give her one of my books?” I asked, thinking I had come up with the perfect solution. I write teen fiction, after all. My son has given my books as gifts to numerous girlfriends over the years.
“Never mind. I just won’t get her a gift,” My daughter answered.
“What?” I asked, certain I had heard her wrong. How was not getting her friend a gift better than giving her one of my books?
“If I can’t get her something good then I don’t want to get her anything,” she clarified.
“Are you saying my books aren’t a good gift?” I responded.
“Yikes,” my son said, a cringe on his face. At least one of my children understood how hurtful this conversation was. Then again, he’s a reader, so I know he gets it.
“Not just your books. Any books. Books are not a good gift, Mom,” my daughter said.
Huh. Books are not a good gift. Interesting.
The truth is that this conversation wasn’t surprising. Mainly because my daughter isn’t a reader. It’s something that makes me incredibly sad. I have boxes of my old books – Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, Wizard of Oz series, Narnia series, and many more. I had saved them all in hopes that one day my daughter would read them. However, I ended up with a daughter who thinks reading is akin to getting a cavity filled.
But the main reason I wasn’t surprised is because I don’t think books are as revered as they used to be. When I was a kid I didn’t leave the house without a book in my backpack, purse, etc. I read constantly. Reading was (and is) my favorite thing to do. But I didn’t have the internet, a smart phone, a smart watch, or an Ipad. When I was in high school pagers were the big thing. Someone paged you and you found the nearest payphone to call them back. Not exactly a rip-roaring good time.
Now kids have a form of entertainment in the palm of their hand. My teenagers spend hours staring down at those little devices. As much as it bothers me, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I also spend hours on my phone. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s addicting.
Reading requires patience, an imagination, quiet. All things a phone doesn’t require.
It’s a different world. That’s becoming more apparent to me each year in this business. I’ve been a published author for four years now. It’s my dream job. It’s what I’ve wanted to be since I was a small child. And I love it. But it’s also a lot harder than I thought it would be. Not the writing. That’s easy. Ideas, plot lines and characters pour out of me fluidly. In fact, it’s keeping the voices quiet that’s difficult.
The business side is the tough part. When I first published I was just happy to have one person read my book. But when thousands were reading them, that suddenly wasn’t okay anymore. And when I was making more money than I ever dreamed I mistakenly thought that would go on forever. But the weird part about this business is that you can’t count on anything. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read several blog posts written by authors and agents about how challenging the market is right now. And they’re right.
When you start a business you expect to continually move forward. It’s odd to me that this year I’ve seemed to go backwards. However, I recognize that this business isn’t like others. The market shifts and changes, and there are many reasons for this. The blog posts I mentioned above delve into these issues, including the saturation of the market, and the rolling out of Kindle Unlimited, as well as many other reasons. And all of those are true.
But I’m only writing this post on the one that touches close to home, and that’s the fact that books don’t seem to hold the same value that they used to.
That’s what I finally told my daughter. A couple of days after the birthday party I sat her down and had a heart-to-heart. I told her that I understood what she was saying, but she needed to understand that her words hurt my feelings. I explained that this is my job, my career, my dream, and she essentially said it wasn’t of value.
It makes me sad to think that books are losing value, but it also lights a fire in my belly. It makes me want to come up with fresh ideas to get people reading. I don’t just write because it’s my job. I write because I love it. I write because I have stories that need to be told, and characters who want to be known. I write because I believe in the power of words. I believe the imagination is a powerful thing. Stories make us stronger, braver, wiser, more knowledgeable, more empathetic, more understanding. They teach us things our phones never will.
They teach us what’s in someone’s heart. They tell us what someone’s going through. They give us alternate perspectives, and they take us on adventures we might never experience in real life.
As George RR Martin says, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to live a thousand lives. I want to let my imagination take me to places that would otherwise be impossible. What about you….are you with me?