When I was young, before the internet or even cable TV, bookstores and libraries were prime places of refuge. Infinite variety, and we were only physically able to dive into one at a time, so you had to first quest physically and then focus mentally. There was broad demand: At one point, Westwood Village (near UCLA) had (if I recall correctly) seven independent bookstores, and one was even open 24 hours. I still love books, but I find reading requires being physically distant from a screen. A zillion distractions zipping through the universe; gotta click and check my email, see what Cerno posted, find if anyone has approved of (or mocked) my clever little post. Check the news, see the latest advance or setback for my political team, find out whether the world has ended (Be afraid!), get an hourly dose of "outrage porn". It's all too tempting! God help anyone born into this tangled morass! But I will offer one positive (I hope) observation: Although the bookstores are gone, I do appreciate the infinite variety of books on eBay and small online sellers. I mostly chase old used books, so I'm not much use to current authors, and I apologize for that. Am I living in the past and hiding from the present, or am I offering vital testimony to a better era and a timeless truth? I don't know!

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1. My kids love the story orchestra books, enthusiastically second this!

2. My book journey: not writing it to make a living, but to try my part to save childhood from big pharma and modern schooling. Went through my travails getting an agent, with many agencies explicitly stating they don’t accept books from nonqueer/bipoc voices, but it’s a darn good book so finally got a big shot agent who was blown away, he got it before big shot publishers, and they rejected it, during the height of the mRNA vax push, because “it sounds anti-vax.” Keep in mind it was written before Covid, has no mention of any vaccines at all, but does attack adderall, the medical establishment, and the school system. Seemed like a corrupt decision to me, but could just be my sour grapes. Anyway, still shopping it around, but started a (free) substack in the meantime:


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I read a LOT (over 125/year) and used to love bookstores. Now they're awful and I only go if I'm browsing for a gift for someone, usually a good cookbook (for my family the trends are butchering meat, nose to tail cooking, and baking) because I want it to be beautiful. For a lot of years I bought solely on my Kindle because I work in Uganda and it's great having thousands of books without doing the hauling. Now, because ebooks can be changed, are updated when your wifi is on, and you'd never know, I buy physical copies of more controversial books (isn't that just about everything these days?!).

I wrote and self published 6 novels and 2 nonfiction. I've sold close to 200k copies all told without much marketing except in the early days. I do literally nothing on them now and still get royalty checks from Amazon and B&N that are enough to cover a nice dinner each month - not bad for work I stopped doing in 2015. I wouldn't go the traditional route for sure - the only thing I wanted a publisher to do was marketing, and unless you're already famous you're going to be on your own for that. I found JA Konrath's blog about the terrible ways publishers take advantage of writers. He made me an early adopter with KDP/Amazon self publishing.

It's sad how many people don't read. My kids slept with books stacked around their beds, and my 3 year old grandson is the same. We homeschooled all of our kids and listened to wonderful audiobooks. One of our favorites was Eric Idle doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is just marvelous. I listen to audiobooks in the car 100% of the time and I hate podcasts. I've been on them and still hate them! (I'm grateful for those who have had me on, but it doesn't make me want to listen to them.)

I'm grateful for Substack, as I follow a lot of great writers, generally political in nature. It's definitely the place for actual news. I'm not sure about other genres here and how the format would work with them... I need to explore more, I guess.

I'm going to get the story orchestra books for my grandson!

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@Cernovich’s substack today is both eye-opening and inspiring for anyone with the itch to create.

I actually have a “can’t wait to read what Cerno wrote this week” moment every time I see his substack hit my inbox.

That’s rare.

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Good observations here. For me, writing to literary agents is a discouraging and futile exercise. I've self published two of the best novels I've ever read, written out of deep need and made possible by family financial support. Both have sold under 100 copies. I also have a "childrens book for all ages" that needs illustration before I can even self publish. Unlike my novels, this one has a powerful optimistic and unifying message, but still nothing but crickets from the agents.

I still love the sight and smell of my local Barnes and Noble even as I look with dismay at the piles of crap books and non-book crap they sell nowadays. Sad.

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I can't that you enough for this one,. Mike. As a writer/artist who is three months into her Substack (and loving it), this gives me just the push I was looking for to step into a book by posting instead of formal publishing scenario. You always seem to be one step ahead and I've been learning from you for six years!

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meeting people/women at book stores used to be common advise. I live in a purple area - the only book stores are super left wing. sad!

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Couldnt agree more, tho I will say that here in small town New England, far from the woke counties of Boston and the Berkshires, you will not walk into a Barnes & Noble and be bombarded with rainbow books and Michelle Obama. It is way more diverse. But I get it. I have seen bookstores in college towns and in NYC and I swear its all anti-Trump, Fauci, and the Obamas. I thikn I even saw some childrens book about being queer...

When I was young, big dreamer. Wanted to write novels. Got an MFA. Wrote short stories. Got published, but never in the elite journals or magazines. Wrote novels. Paid $$$ for ex-agents to read and ex-best selling authors to read and help, page by page. I did this for 10 years. I was rejected every single time. At first I thought, its me, i suck as a writer. But it cant be that. I made my living as one for 20 years -- The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal; Ive been in Salon during its heyday; The Nation; op eds by me in USA Today, Christian Science Monitor; book reviews by me in The American Prospect... Like that 90s girl used to sing, "Been around the world and I, I, I....I cant find my baby" LISA STANSFIELD! Thats the one.

After 114 agent rejects trying for the Nicholas Sparks market, I threw in the towel. Realized its all young and middle aged women who want something new, they claim -- the non binary vampire love story that will sell 200 books. Anyway, yes, I threw in that towel around 43 years old. I rather spend time working out, or in my garden, or with my family and friends, or -- and I know Cerno hates this -- playing X Box. ; ) Wife's working tonight. Kids are in college. Worked out already. Too cold out. FIFA or Madden? Ill flip a coin. Beats reading about the non binary vampires...or trying to write a novel about one.

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My local bookshop had a whole window display for Spare even before it was released. And from day one there was a huge stack of copies right by the till, all of them 50% off.

I'm sure that the shop got paid a lot of money to push it like that, but they're strangling their own long term business. The customers who read Spare aren't going to go back to the shop to pick up another book when it's finished. They'll go back to their media feed and wait for the next scandal.

Right now I've just started Shagduk, based on a recommendation from Twitter and bought from Amazon. Hopefully soon you'll be able to buy books directly through the Twitter app, with a commission paid to the tweeter. It would be the best way to bring reading back into fashion.

Perhaps the future of bookshops lies in a kind of exhibition model. Your local bookshop could invite curators to take over either the whole shop, or else a section, like an art gallery. Have boards explaining why particular books were chosen, along with talks on related subjects, excerpts etc. This would probably fall foul of the woke mob, but a few exceptions would prove that a market still exists for normal content.

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Are used book stores still enjoyable? I am planning a trip with daughter.

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Walking through a library is still fun. Not the same level of forward marketing (large signs, front door positioning) as a book store, although there is some.

You can find interesting (older) books that wouldn't be found in a retail store.

Thank you for The Story Orchestra recommendation.

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