I’ve heard it said several times that brick and mortar bookstores are going the way of the dodo. And for a similar reason, as well: we’re killing them.
Now, I don’t think that every single Barnes & Noble is going to lock its doors and shutter its windows tomorrow. I think brick and mortar stores have a lot of life left in them. As much as people like the convenience and lower prices of e-books, there’s still something about the tangible feel of a hardcover in one’s hands. Your Kindle doesn’t have that new book smell. And a lot of these stores now feature coffee shops, board games, movies, stationary, and all sorts of stuff that make them worth visiting in person. In my humble opinion, at least.
Walking around a brick and mortar store is a good exercise for a writer, as well. When I was there the other day, I found myself looking at the shelves and their titles (“Ugh, why are the Magic novels so bad? Why am I not writing for Wizards? Holy shit, it’s Double Dead by Chuck Wendig, I know that guy! Oooh, they do sell Attack on Titan in manga form here, but NO SPOILERS! Can I really drop $80 on Mage Knight even if it is a masterfully designed and gorgeous board game?”), and in between all of the other internal ramblings, it occurred to me that regular visits to such places could yield valuable information and inspiration. The next time you find yourself in one, be it to buy books or to sign them, it may be worth your while to ask one, some, or all of the following questions:
What am I not seeing?
There are gaps in the store shelves that have nothing to do with how the shelves are stocked. Steampunk might still be a thing, but where is the series of novels about a sky pirate and his colorful crew? Children’s books cast cats, dogs, pigs, even monsters as their heroes, but where’s the kid’s book telling the story of a brave and lonely kakapo? Teen romances are a dime a dozen, but when did you last read one that was legitimately funny, featured authentic characters and had a neat premise like aliens and government conspiracies? These are just a few of the ideas that I had walking around a bookstore looking at the shelves. I’m sure yours would be entirely different (and probably even better).
What do I see that strikes a chord?
It could be an emotional chord, like seeing the cover of The Fault In Our Stars or the name of an author you admire who’s passed away. It could be a resonating chord, struck by a new release in a franchise you enjoy. Whatever it is, it grabs your attention away from everything else for a moment. Ask yourself: Why did it do that? What is it about this book or author that made me stop and think? I won’t say to try and do likewise, as you should be worried about doing your own thing and not somebody else’s, but as a thought exercise it can get the creative juices flowing.
What do I see that makes me MAD?
For a lot of people, it’s Twilight or its fanfiction (you know, 50 Shades of Gray). For others, it anything with Bill O’Reilly’s name on it. For me, it’s those and the novels from Magic: the Gathering as well as a lot of Warhammer stuff. There’s a lot of shlock out there. People are getting some truly awful books published. That part of the game is really all about making the right sorts of connections – the right agent, the right publishing house, etc. Instead of just getting mad, I say, do what they do after you write your masterpiece. Find agents. Follow up with them. Be patient in getting responses. Get yourself out there. The more you hammer the market, the more likely someone’s going to hammer back. That’s what those folks did. No reason you can’t, too.
I honestly hope brick & mortar stores are around for a while. Libraries are good for this, too, but as much as I love libraries, very few of them contain a Starbucks from which I can get a chocolate breve chai while I’m browsing books and agonizing over the cost of my hobbies.