Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mapping routes to legitimacy

Earlier this week an author announced her first book publication anniversary, and I realized I've been involved in the YA blogging community in some capacity or another for at least seven years. In blogger time I am old as the sun. I have seen stars be born and die.

We had the argument about YA versus Adult Literary Fiction seven years ago. (And every year since.) Writing an impassioned defence of YA is a rite of passage. Congratulations, a whole new class of you are now graduates.

This is not a defence of YA, if you were wondering. This is a commencement address from an alumni.

I often get asked how I got my job in the way that authors get asked how they got published—it's a request for a map to the treasure chest, a walkthrough to completing the game of legitimacy.

Everyone asks the question hoping for a how-to answer. I can't give you one. The inspiring response as to why is because there is only the map you are creating. The more honest response is when you're standing in the centre, it's hard to remember how far out that treeline was.

But I can tell you what years and years in the publicity forest of YA has helped me understand.

The purpose of enjoying something is not to try to convince people who don't enjoy it that they're wrong. Enjoy the thing you enjoy—unless it is serial murder or cannibalism or oppression or violating boundaries or other illegal acts—and understand the value you ascribe to something is not diminished or threatened by what people who aren't you think.

Value—the kind we give to favourite stories and our interests—is a subjective thing. It's fire within us. White-hot in a place between our ribs. And if it dims, flickers, because someone else doesn't feel it... that is a fault within our ability to tend the flame.

When you understand that—when someone puts it in words that penetrate your skull and defeat your ego, then it's an easy logic leap to understand bookselling isn't about you. It's about the reader to whom you are selling. Empathy is the greatest superpower a bookseller can have, and you get more of it from consuming more stories about people who aren't you.

This is the secret to surviving as a bookseller and blogger and person who engages in the business of publishing: There's a a book for every reader, and there's a reader for every book.

Your favourite book is a story someone else didn't enjoy. And that doesn't matter, and it shouldn't affect your ability to get what you need from stories in whatever medium you choose to get them.

Stories are stories are stories. You are the one who gives them value and meaning and names them important to you. When you can grasp this concept—hold it securely in your mind—your hands are free for more important battles.

My battle is against the misconception that there are stories whose audience is everyone and stories whose audience is no one. I fight by helping people find the stories they want. That's the guiding star I use. That's the map I've been making. You're welcome to it. Or you're welcome to make your own.

No comments: