Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guest Post by Faraway Hammer: "Creating Riches for Unpopular Writers"

On my eleventh birthday I celebrated by applying for my adult library tickets. They were made from green stiff card and quickly became my treasure. I'd long been bored with what the kids' section had to offer - now here was the world of Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel at my grubby fingertips.

Being a ferocious reader, borrowing four books at a time just wasn't enough. How could I choose from the vast array of goodies? I tried hiding the surplus behind larger books, or in a different section, but they were never there on my next visit. Eventually a kindly librarian suggested I use my parents' tickets as well. Result! In no time I was working my way through an average of twelve books every week or two, and was in literary heaven.

One day I read a newspaper article which blew my mind. Evidently authors made money not only from book sales but also based on how popular they were in libraries. It was thrilling to think that I'd been contributing to their riches simply by checking out something they'd penned. For a few weeks this dominated my borrowing habits. If I was torn between two books I'd decide based on the author cover shot. Those who looked kind or were handsome tended to win!

As time passed I got to thinking about the forgotten writers. How sad they must feel when there was never any kind of royalty cheque for them. How many books were neglected, overlooked? It was quite easy to track them down. I simply spent a couple of afternoons stalking users and noting their habits. After the first dash to the returns trolley - somehow a book that's just been read by another is the first choice for many others - the majority headed for the romance, large print or contemporary paperback sections. Not one ventured to the very back of the building, where shelves of dusty cowboy stories lined the walls. Success!

Eagerly checking the fly leaf for date stamps I found most of them had not been borrowed since well before I was born. Despite having achieved my goal I felt a momentary sadness. Words are like living creatures - they need to be noticed, loved, enjoyed. But hey, I was about to make a difference. Pretty soon recognition would be coming their way and I could hardly wait.

Twelve at a time I hauled these cowboy novels home. Three times a week I returned them and did it all again. At the beginning I tried to read them too. I'd grown up with western TV shows like Bonanza, and had a keen interest in the stories and lifestyle. But try as I might the tales of 'Gunslinger's Revenge' or 'Showdown at the Cactus Saloon' were as dry and unpalatable as desert dust. It would have to be enough that they were being checked out. I just couldn't bring myself to give these unknown authors anymore than that.

My mother watched this ritual with amusement, and it was likely the non reading which worried her the most. So one day, having asked what I was up to, she listened carefully to my grand plans of creating riches for unpopular writers. It must have been hard for her to burst my philanthropic bubble. But what choice did she have but to share her knowledge of author royalties, copyright time limitations and the public domain? It had all been for nothing.

In some ways being released from this self imposed duty was a relief, leaving me free to read for pleasure once again. But any rite of passage carries a bittersweet memory, and that day I took one more step into the adult world. A place where achievement doesn't always mean success, and effort can sometimes be futile.


Valerie Hamer said...

Thanks for having me as a guest blogger. It's a major honour.

Bybee said...

I couldn't resist. That was a great story. Come back again anytime!

Tami said...

Adorable story and wonderful insights. Nice to meet you, Valerie.

care said...

Aw! so sweet! What a touching story.

Valerie Hamer said...

Hi Tami and Care. Thanks for the comments.