by Katy Munger, 2016 Piedmont Laureate

Part 3 of a talk I gave at the Cameron Village Library on April 26, adapted for this blog.

What does the future hold for books? I don’t mean the construction, I mean the contents—whether print or ebook. In a few decade’s time, will there even be room in our world for writing that requires attention for longer than a few moments?

My answers to both questions are simple in concept, but complex in execution. Yes, there will be room for books in the future. In fact, we will need books more than ever. Only books can illuminate the most important aspects of being human, put those aspects in context, unite people around them, and overcome the polarizing effect that 30-second messages have. Only books have the power to promote deeper thought and combat the oversimplification of issues and advice flooding our world today. But the real truth of the matter is that the future of books may depend on what we, as the readers of today, start doing now. As readers, we must find a way to:

  • Keep good books alive, books that go beyond the limited bestseller list selections forced on us by publishers and large book store chains that focus solely on profits.
  • Filter out poorly written books, especially when it comes to ebooks.
  • Keep small publishers afloat: they are a critically needed break-through option for authors whose voices are not yet recognized.
  • Support local bookstores attempting to survive financially while giving books beyond the bestseller list a place on their shelves.
  • Use libraries as a way to promote emerging authors.

So how do we, as readers make that happen? For a start:

  • Review, share, discuss, have an opinion, weigh in, keep the flame alive, pledge allegiance not just to your favorite authors but to the world of reading itself. Become an active reader and, by that, I mean an engaged citizen of the reading world. One who shuts a book and asks the question: “How can I tell more people about this book? How can I be this book’s voice?”
  • Seek out authors, don’t wait to be told who to read by big publishers or the bestseller lists. The internet is full of advice and recommendations. Pinpoint what you enjoy—fiction, nonfiction, humor, learning, inspirational, self-help—and then go out and uncover the hidden gems in your genre.
  • If you follow a big name author and they phone in it—let them know. Don’t rave about a book just because you love the author or everyone else is talking about it. Your opinion counts. Give the author and publisher feedback. Let other readers know. Life is too short and there are too many good books out there for anyone to waste time on a poorly written or derivative one.
  • Use your discretion in evaluating online reviews: are they real reviews, written by real readers? Is the review by someone who bothered to actually read the entire book or are they passing judgment after only a handful of pages. Is a rave review a plant or a for-pay review? It’s not hard to pick up the patterns and learn to spot the real ones. Join an online readers site, like Good Reads, for guidance from other readers.
  • Support efforts to bring taste to the world of ebooks. Leave reviews on ebooks. Support filtering services. I dream of a Good Housekeeping style reviewing service for eBooks, where writers pay a small fee for an objective organization to read and rate their book. Authors and publishers submit their books for review and readers look for this seal before they buy. Some websites are doing this on a smaller scale, but we need an industry-wide rating system devoid of commercial influences. If you know of a good ebook screening service, or have a better idea on how we can screen the millions of ebooks flooding the market, post it in the comments below. We need to find a way to elevate the good books lost in the ebook avalanche or we risk killing the benefits that ebooks could give to tomorrow’s authors.
  • Demand the benefits of technology:  buy your hard copy books online from small publishers, small bookstores, or even the authors themselves… insist your local book store order print-on-demand books that you want… lobby for the big chains to pioneer print-on-demand machines in their stores so that consumers can choose from thousands of titles and have a book custom-made while they wait. In short, don’t settle for what stores carry on their shelves. Demand they listen to readers and not just sales reps.
  • Work with your local bookstore or library to sponsor exhibits and events that celebrate new authors, feature local authors, honor overlooked authors, or publicize small publisher offerings.
  • Attend readings, even those by lesser known writers, and publicize their events and books on your social media feeds. They need you to help spread the word about their writing and the power of books. Help them keep the flame alive.

Do you have other ideas for promoting the future of books or getting the word out on worthy authors? I’d love to hear your thoughts below. With enough good ideas, we can create a Reader’s Pledge and start a campaign to get people to sign it. Let’s keep the future of books alive.