Insiders R Us

It's natural, I suppose, for people intimately involved with something to forget that the rest of the world is not as obsessed or knowledgeable as they are. We've all experienced it: we ask some computer geek to show us how to do something. The geek executes 15 keystrokes in 2.5 seconds and says "There! See how easy that was?" And of course, we're still clueless because we have no idea what just transpired. And then the geek gets annoyed because we're not catching on!

People in the publishing industry are like that: We're an insular community with our own jargon and own ways of doing things. Anything we do and say looms large in our lives and minds and we assume that the rest of the world is as knowledgeable and obsessed as we are.

The truth is that the rest of the world doesn't give a rat's ass! They don't understand how our particular "system" works, and we shouldn't assume that they do.

The other day I experienced a humbling reminder of those facts. A woman I met recently wanted to read my first two books. So she went to the local public library and didn't find either book there (one is a scholarly book unsuited for a public library and the other is a book about Florida and why would a library in the middle of Iowa have a book about Florida?)

So she emailed me and asked me if I had any copies she could borrow to read. Now if I were a better self-promoter, I would have explained to her that, hey, do ya think I'm doin' this for free? No! Go BUY the damn books. But I'm a softie and a lousy self-promoter. So I rifled through my shelves and found a copy of the plumbing book to loan her and then I gave her a copy of the Key West book to keep (because I have about twenty copies of the paperback on hand). She's a truly lovely person person and I just didn't have the heart to tell her that I only earn money from writing when people BUY my books.

The encounter was a good reminder that the average person has no idea how publishing and writing work. And why should they? It's not their business to know!

Yeah, it's frustrating when people ask me to loan them copies of my books. Yeah, it's frustrating when I have a new book come out and people ask me for free copies. They don't realize that I only get a handful of free copies and that I must give those to give to people who assisted the venture in some way. (For example, I get twenty free copies of the beer book. But my list of people who contributed in some way contains 45 names! So I'll have to buy 25 extra copies just to give to them.)

Or people say to me, "Gee, are you ever going to finish that book? What's taking you so long?" Or, "How hard can it be to write a book about beer? Just find some facts and write them down!" They don't understand (and again, why should they?), that researching the history of beer or Key West or whatever takes years. That once I finish the research, then I start an even more challenging (and time-consuming) project: taking hundreds of thousands of "facts" and weaving them into an interesting story.

I'm not complaining. I do what I do because I love to research and I love to write. Nor am I being critical of the public at large. Most people aren't writers. There's no REASON why they should understand how the system works.

I do wonder, however, if writers have themselves to blame. Certainly I blame myself. Here I had a chance to educate someone, who might in turn educate others, and I blew it. Writers could -- and SHOULD -- do a better job of explaining themselves to the rest of the world. Of making it clear to "outsiders" that we don't work for free. That we only earn money when people buy the results of our labor. (That, by the way, is why I'm such a fanatic about "stealing" music. I won't download music for free, nor will I accept CDs of music copied from a disk owned by someone else. Musicians work hard for their money. When we steal their music, we're stealing their income.)

So what's the point? Well, there's not one. Except that I hope that the next time someone asks to borrow one of my books, I'll stiffen my spine, summon my courage, and explain how the "system" works.