The other day, when I was back at my parent’s place, I went to a Barnes&Noble to do some writing in a different environment and get out of the house. While there, I browsed around and took a look at a few books. After a time, I stopped. I sank down to the floor in between two shelves in the Fiction section. I just stared as something hit me. Looking up at the countless tomes shelved all around me, I felt like I was at the bottom of some deep sea canyon. Immense cliffs of wood and paper rose up ominously. I listened. I read the words on the covers and spines of each book in letters of white, black, blue, and red.
I could almost hear the voices of the authors, narrators, and characters coming from the stories that had managed to slip through the woodwork and get published. They were speaking all at once, a tumult of a million voices in a single room, all packed together with little to no elbow room. Some of the books were even placed on the floor at the end of a row because there wasn’t any room for them. Not even on the inside aisle either but the outside, next to the window, where there was little chance anyone would notice them.
I couldn’t walk around anymore because it became too much for me. I didn’t notice it before, until I really stopped and considered. Before, bookstores were this bazaar of stories that appealed to my wildest dreams. Now, I interpreted them differently. How could all of these authors ever get heard in the noise? How could readers reward the artists for braving the tangled world of publishing? How could I ever get noticed if I was placed at an outside end of a row because there wasn’t any room for a blooming author with no name recognition that would give the store more of a profit?
It all seemed too much for me to handle.
So many books, so, so many. If you’ve been in a Barnes&Noble, any bookseller, you know what I’m talking about. Eventually, I swallowed my panic and started writing. During a pause to catch my thoughts, I noticed an older woman walking along the row I sat near. She paused and pulled a book from the shelf, read the back, and added it to the pile of two or three paperbacks she already had in her hands. That moment sort of redeemed my previous fears about so many writers clamoring to be heard. I saw how this reader, like so many others, must visit bookstores everywhere and browse those towering cliffs, looking for the next story to enthrall them. With how many people there are, every author must get their day in court. Surely, right?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that you never know how things will turn out once you’ve handed off your story to the tides of publishing. It doesn’t matter how many other writers are out there trying to do the same thing you’re doing. We shouldn’t have to think about others if we decide we want to be published. Putting ourselves out there is scary. We just have to know that in the end, we’re all trying to tell our story, to contribute and enrich a world that sometimes is seen to be slipping away into shallowness and a marginalization of class, genders, sexuality, nationality, religion, politics, and many others. As artists, we have the power to empathize with other lives and worlds we were not born into. That power is our imagination. I have learned that there are a million voices in a single room all trying to be heard, but they’re saying the same thing: read me and let us make each other’s lives better; let’s tell a story.