Neil Gaiman: Why Our Futures Depend On Libraries, Reading And Daydreaming

Neil Gaiman 2Author Neil Gaiman recently wrote a nice letter for the guardian, stressing the importance of reading in our society, especially within childhood development. Declaring his bias early and often, Gaiman still manages to lay out a well thought out argument as to why reading should be part of our lives and why fiction should not dismissed as useless escapism.

I’m really glad that Gaiman, who is certainly one of the more notable and publicly recognized figures in contemporary literature, is such a thoughtful and articulate defender of the written word. I always enjoy hearing his thoughts on fiction and was lucky enough to hear him speak when he came to Chicago as his novel Neverwhere was honored with the city’s ‘One City, One Book’ selection. And his letter to the Guardian is just further evidence on why I always jump at the chance to hear his thoughts.

I especially like this passage where Gaiman explains why China finally allowed a party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in 2007.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

Check out the full letter over at the guardian. It is a great read.

Does The Internet Make Book Tours Irrelevant?

Book tours used to be mandatory for authors. If you wrote a book, you had to get out there to promote it, shake hands, kiss babies, pose for black and white photos of you staring off into the distance and maybe sign a couple of copies. But now with the power of the internet and sustained web presences, book tours have waned in importance. In fact, some authors almost refuse to do them anymore. Self published guru JA Konrath wrote a great post about why he really doesn’t do too many appearances anymore. Others cite financial costs and the convenience of promoting your novel from the comfort of your home/transcendentalist shack as reasons for saying no.

I would personally be afraid to go on a book tour. I think it’s because of a persisting fear of sitting in an empty room with no one to sign books for. That just scares me to death and I know it’s not an irrational fear. Even a superstar author like Neil Gaiman had an incident where he went to a signing and no one showed (apparently it was in France and the bookseller told no one about Neil’s appearance and had only set it up as a means to meet Tori Amos through Neil, but still…).

The expenses associated with a tour would also cause me to balk at going through with it. It can be very expensive depending on where you go, how you get there and how big your entourage (whichever of your friends/significant others you can convince to come along and pose as your publicist/bodyguard/adoring fan depending on what the situation calls for) is.

Then again, I think there is undeniable power in meeting someone in person, shaking their hand and exchanging a few words with them. Sure, receiving an email response from a prominent author is nice, but it can’t compare to good ol’ human interaction. And the seed placed in meeting just one person can have ramifications you may never fully understand. Maybe that one person recommends your book to an entire book club. Maybe they are Oprah’s doorman, who happens to be her go-to guy for book recommendations. You will never be able to tell unless everyone who buys your book fills out a survey of how they stumbled upon your work.

What about you? Do you believe you can promote your book effectively in your pajamas while watching reruns of Modern Family? What is your most effective internet/social media promotional tool? Have you ever been on a book tour? How was it? Did you feel like it paid off? Have you been tricked into any book appearance in France by manipulative booksellers, only to find out they really just wanted to meet Tori Amos?