Author Steve Almond, in town for Wordstock at Powell’s Books, joined us in the W+K Atrium last week to discuss the state of publishing today, options for authors and why he’s decided to become “a drug dealer for books.”
Almond is an author with seven traditionally-published books, but when he approached his editor with an idea for a book that could be read in two directions, he was turned down; the book wouldn’t be financially viable, he was told, as the cost of printing, distribution and promoting would outweigh the potential sales.
And this is the core of the problem with the publishing industry at large, according to Almond – an author can’t create a unique experience for a reader, make art, or do anything risky, because selling the book itself must always come first. Smaller publishers can print anything they choose, but they produce limited stock, and Almond felt that there was an opportunity to connect to the reader that was missing in that situation, as well.
Then he discovered that he could realize his vision by using a machine that prints custom books, on-demand. His latest three books have gone through multiple iterations of size and cover design, and he now only sells them in person, at readings or conferences he personally attends. That way, he says, he can connect to his readers face-to-face, although he laughingly compared it to being “like a drug dealer”, as he only accepts cash, sells only in-person, and the books come in a variety of small, pocket-friendly sizes.
Almond’s work is intimate, hilarious, touching and thought-provoking. He read selections from work about what it means to him to be a writer, sprinkled with close-to-the-bone advice to other writers, and from “Letters From People Who Hate Me“, a collection of vitriol-filled emails and messages he’s received over the years, including from a family member he’s never met.