Of Polar Bears, Publishing, and Darwin
I’m killing off polar bears, and I’m torn up about it.
Being an author poses certain ethical dilemmas to one who doesn’t want to bear (excuse the pun) the blame for the demise of anything, let alone a cute little polar bear. The only thing I want to be responsible for losing in this world is a good 20 pounds! But because of my profession, my ecological footprint ranks up there in foot size with Sasquatch, thanks to the myriad trees that have died on my behalf.
The mere act of wanting to be a published author to begin with made me culpable. Writers regularly submit ream upon ream of paper manuscripts when soliciting agents and editors. Much of this paper never even gets read, let alone used. In my rejection heyday, my returned manuscripts collected like huge mounds of dirty laundry, all useless, unwanted paper.
Once I landed a book deal, the paper waste diminished, with edits conducted electronically. Finally I wasn’t accountable for the end of civilization. But then my book debuted. This book I’d waited forever to hold in my hands. Three hundred pages worth of dead trees. Times however many tens of thousands of books were printed.
Okay, I’m environmentally-minded. But hey, this was my book! I was willing to sacrifice a little for the cause: me. I mean, I wanted to sell as many books as humanly possible. The industry’s funny like that: if you don’t sell tons of books, they’ll never publish you again. So part of me was rooting for more dead trees, and by extension, dead polar bears.
And then I realized an interesting thing. Readers, inevitably, are recyclers. They read a book they love, they pass it on to their friends. And it turns out that my book gets passed around. A lot. A quick Google of my book title will pull up blog after blog of readers who have enjoyed it enough to pass it on.
I’m thrilled that people love the book enough to share. It’s quite an honor. But herein lies the dilemma. The more my book is shared, the less my book is bought. The less my book is bought, the less likely I am to sell another book. The less books I sell, the more dead my career is. So instead of dead polar bears, I am dealing with the more immediate problem of a dead profession. I need people to buy my book, polar bears be damned!
I wish I saw a solution to the problem. Amazon’s electronic reader, the Kindle, might approximate something headed in that direction. But as a reader, I can’t afford to spend that sort of money (at least until I sell more books!), plus I like the feel of a book in my hands and it’ll take some getting used to giving that up.
In the meantime, I really love that readers are recycling my books rather than throwing them in the trash, which would be indicative of a lousy book. But a little part of me can’t help but wish each time I hear how someone passed it on to her mom or her sister or her best friend that maybe someone would go buy it a little more.
Sorry, polar bears. Survival of the fittest.