Monday, August 14, 2006

All For One and One For One?

Over the weekend, there has been a lot of discussion about the fact that on some flights, people haven’t been able to take books as carry-on.

There are a lot of things people haven’t been able to take as carry-on.

And the ultimate conclusion I’ve reached after reading an assortment of stuff about this is that some people are just selfish.

Newsflash, right? I mean, we’ve all known people who are completely self-absorbed, who’ll never lift a finger unless there’s something in it for them.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Certainly, I’ve seen my share of examples, and it goes right back to BSP and all the examples people shared last week. My friend, Bill Cameron, posted a story that demonstrates the me-me-me focus of some authors, to the point of making people want to run for their lives.

Now, I’m not saying people are selfish because they’re upset because they can’t take books on planes. Rather, I made a suggestion that the planes make audio books available on their system – they have all those channels anyway.

And I received some interesting responses, one of which was the sad truth that, apparently, the airlines want to charge the publishers too much money to make it feasible.

What the fuck is wrong with companies anymore? Years and years ago, when I used to work in stores, you put up stuff on end displays that was needed, that your customers would be looking for. If it was spring, maybe it was easter bunnies, chocolates and gardening tools. This time of year, school supplies.

In other words, you never forgot that customer service was about serving your customer.

Now, you go into bookstores and don’t kid yourself. The end display isn’t a selection of books the staff are enthusiastic about. Nope. They’re the books someone paid to have there. A good friend of mine in the publishing business tells me it’s typical to pay 50 grand for an end display, per store.

And we wonder why books cost so much money, and publishers are still going under.

I’m tired of being nothing but a wallet, everywhere I go. I mean, when was the last time that somebody didn’t have what you wanted and told you where to go find it, instead of trying to persuade you to buy something different?

An author even told me recently they didn’t like a particular initiative, because given the nature of it and their material, it couldn’t benefit them.

Now, I don’t want to get specific, other than to say the point wasn’t about individual authors, but about reaching readers.

But for some, that was a waste of their time if their books couldn’t be front and center.

This was on my mind already. I’ve been thinking about the people out there, who for nothing more than the love of books, volunteer. To read to the blind. To read to kids. To read to people in hospitals.

People who don’t get paid, don’t get a commission off a book sale, but just share their love and try to make someone’s life a little better at the same time.

I find myself thinking, “What can I do?” And I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately.

We authors owe our livelihood to the community of readers out there. The truth is, taking time to visit schools or hospitals might win a new reader. And a new reader might not read my books, but they’ll read someone’s books.

And you know, when people start to love books, they’ll read books by more than one author. They’ll support their local library, they’ll support their local bookstore, and help keep both in business.

And you never know - they might influence others to start reading.

I look at how one author for me led to countless others. Rankin recommends McDermid, who blurbs MacBride, for example. Almost everything on my bookshelves can be traced back to a recommendation from one author to another author, who recommends another author, etc.

My buying Rankin books wasn’t just good for Ian. It’s been good for Val, for Mark Billingham, for Simon Kernick, Stuart MacBride, Allan Guthrie…

When we win readers, we all win.

And instead of always thinking about the immediate cash in our pocket, maybe we should think about the industry as a whole, occasionally. Because we can make all the money in the world, but if the industry dies, we’ve all lost.

I’m still left wondering what I can do. Not because I don’t have lists of options already, but because I’m trying to decide what the best approach is, for me. But you’re going to hear more from me on this, because I’ve decided to get involved somehow, in sharing my love of books with others.

Which means I told Kevin I need more bookshelves so I can unpack all my children’s books I own from when I worked in education.

Which has him moaning that I’m going to need the bigger office…


Fred, the crime-solving cat was killed last week.

The Boy and the Priest

A little boy got on the bus, sat next to a man reading a book, and noticed he had his collar on backwards. The little boy asked why he wore his collar that way.

The man, who was a priest, said, "I am a Father."

The little boy replied, "My Daddy doesn't wear his collar like that."

The priest looked up from his book and answered, "I am the Father of many."

The boy said, "My Dad has 4 boys, 4 girls and two grandchildren and he doesn't wear his collar that way."

The priest, getting impatient, said, "I am the Father of hundreds" and went back to reading his book.

The little boy sat quietly thinking for a while, then leaned over and said, "Maybe you should wear your pants backwards instead of your collar."


Anonymous said...

Poor Fred, he was so excited about his promotion! Seriously, former animal rescue person that I am, my first response was serious criticism for the idiot who let him out!!!!!
My mother is already worrying about not being able to go to Italy next year. I'm the one who would be worrying about what the heck am I going to do for all that time!!!!!!!!!!!! I can't sleep on planes. Norby

Mindy Tarquini said...

That's so sad about Fred!

Re: books

True that when people discover reading, they tend to keep reading. There's so much electronic clutter in our lives, i'm amazed when I learn people read anything at all.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Norby, by next year I hope things will be better! I love Italy.

MG, the one thing about most blogs (as there are some that are just visuals) is that you actually have to read to enjoy them. That's something! I think all the electronic stuff eventually just becomes background noise and you filter it out. If it wasn't for The Wire, I'd want to cancel the satellite. Although Kevin would have a fit because he'd miss The Simpsons.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Sandra. I've been thinking about this whole BSP thing lately and about why we started reading and writng in the first place. And you've really put your finger on it when you talked about how Rankin led to McDermid and MacBride etc. That's probably how books always have and always will become bestsellers. Word of mouth. No BSP involved.

But as for doing things for the love of reading and not having money as a bottom line - my god woman, what's the matter with you, you're a product, your book's a product, get out there and promote yourself damn it. Let's hear no more of this altruistic foolishness. Anyway, it's 3am here and it's time for me to go to bed and dream about money. Damn!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Today I'm a product.

Yesterday, evilkev kept telling me I was property.

And all this time I thought I was just a person!

Go to bed John!

Julia Buckley said...

Ah, nothing like a priest joke to start the day.

I would like to go on record as saying that I, who was once a fiction manager at Barnes and Noble, did only put up books that I actually recommended, and no one ever offered me or any of the managers money. But maybe they just didn't make it to our store. . . . :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Julia, I wonder how different it is in New York compared to the rest of the world?

Or how much times have changed. Not inferring anything! :)

I just find it kind of sad. These days, around here anyway, you go into bookstores and the staff don't even read...

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it will be fine for my parents to go to Italy. Last year we went to London right after the subway bombings, I had to force my mother to go. She refused to get on the tube. We walked almost everywhere.
Business usually sucks the soul out of everything. My mother is now on the business end of being a librarian and she loathes it. She would be much happier if she could go back to telling stories and doing puppet shows. She hates having to worry about budgets and staffing and public relations. My mother used to be a childrens librarian-I never heard her swear until she had to deal with the business end of the library. It's quite amusing actually. norby

s.w. vaughn said...

Oh! My morals! They've been kicked! :-)

Thanks for the reminder, Sandra. I agree a hundred percent: we all should do something to promote the love of books in general.

Now I have to come up with something to do. Let me know when you think of something!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Norby, that would be amusing, given some of what you've told me!

SW, I have a plan. Sit tight, wait for details. I'm hoping to launch an initiative, I'm just not quite ready yet.

But anyone interested in being part of it might want to email me...

Julia Buckley said...

Okay, Sandra, you just called me OLD. :)

Well, I was 27 at the time, and now I'm 41, so I suppose the book world could have been consumed by vice since then. And I do sense that New York is different in almost every way.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You aren't OLD Julia! I could name a lot of people older than you but, well, I sense I might get in trouble.

It's just that there have been more than a couple years between now and your experience. That's all.

Going to go tape my mouth shut now!

Unknown said...

It really is all about money now. Look at sports stadiums for example they used to be named after famous people. Now they are named for whichever company gave them the most money. It's sad.

Now I have seen in some local book stores sections that have recommendations from the employees. But it's sad that publishers can pay to have their books on display and it's usually the latest by Patterson, Grisham or the like. As if they needed the publicity. I've applied for a job at this bookstore and in the application there were tons of questions and it seems what they are looking for in an employee is someone who loves books and will talk them up to the customers. So that's encouraging.

Oh and I went into a local big chain bookstore a couple of months ago and one of the employees saw me in the mystery section and recommended a number of books to me. Not the best sellers but books she had read and liked. She was an avid reader.

But in the end in this day and age it's usually all about the all mighty dollar.

And don't even get me started on customer satisfaction. That's gone out the window too. 1. It used the be the customer is always right. 2. If they customer is wrong see #1. Now it's the customer is annoying and in the way. Spend your money and be gone. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Andrea, it is sad, isn't it? But it sounds like there might be hope for the bookstore you applied at. Fingers crossed!

Bill Cameron said...

This is a small thing, but I thought I would throw it out there. Something writers can be involved in to spread access to books to the visual- and print-impaired.

The specific are here:

Basically, makes books available on a subscription basis to members with vision or print impairments. Books can be read using a variety of technologies, including screen readers and Braille imprinters. Do writers or publishers make any money from this distribution method? Nope. Do people who have a very difficult time getting access to books get to read? Yep. takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for the disabled. Members must provide proof of disability to join and receive books through

Now, some people might freak out about this, but I think it's a wonderful thing myself.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have done work for the parent organization, a non-profit called Benetech, for several years.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Personally, Bill, I think that's fantastic. Thanks for sharing about that.

Toni McGee Causey said...

Regarding customer service... oddly, I have really good luck with this in many places. I usually have to ask, "Since you don't have it, where else should I go?" but people are generally willing to make suggestions. I think they just tend to get harried in their day (I'm talking about individuals here, not corporations.)

I do wish the corporations would think a little farther ahead, though. On the other hand, would having a lot of audio book available for free on flighs decimate the bookstore business in airports? Dunno. Maybe that's a factor.

I've done a lot of volunteer work with elementary kids, teaching writing. I'm hoping to expand that to highschools this year, if there's any interest here.