What Half Price Books Taught Me About Life and Aspiring Authorship
As an avid reader, I get life lessons from books all the time. But I don't normally get life lessons from bookstores themselves.
It just so happened that recently there was a sale at Half Price Books, followed by my partner's birthday weekend (during which his sister gifted him a generous HPB gift card for his birthday). This meant we spent two weekends in a row among the shelves at two different HPB locations in town.
We have a system for shopping at used bookstores: always, ALWAYS hit up the clearance section first. That's because they might have overstock of a book and have a copy in clearance while other copies of the exact same book are regular price. I'm also more willing to take a chance on a book that I'm not sure about if it's only $2.
I noticed something in the clearance sections of both stores: there were some really good books there, several of which I've read, loved, and still have on my shelves. Some were several years old and others were more recent. I wondered how so many books I loved ended up in clearance where unwanted items go to make room for more desirable, lucrative replacements.
I thought about how, as an aspiring author, how awful I'd feel if I one day walked into a bookstore and saw my own book on the clearance shelves. That's a depressing thing to think about.
But then something occurred to me. Books I love end up in the clearance section because, sometimes, the best books do. That doesn't mean the books aren't good or that they didn't impact readers in meaningful ways or even that the book didn't bring its author financial success. And it's not a matter of seeing the same books on the clearance shelves at every store––each one had vastly different options.
All a book's presence on the clearance shelf means is that demand for that particular book isn't as high as anticipated at that one bookstore. That's it; it's not a judgment call on the book itself.
Pardon the pun, but the moral of the story is that your place, your position, your environment, or any other factors you ultimately have limited control over, are not an indication of your worth.
The ugly truth is that if one day my book is published, it might very well end up on clearance shelves. And I have to be okay with that. I have to see the good in that. It could mean my book is financially accessible to someone it wouldn't have been accessible to before. It might mean that someone who had never heard of me before decided to pick up my book because it was cheap and they were willing to take a chance.
I've done it before. I've found a surprising number of good books that way. Maybe one day I'll be so lucky to have readers find my work in the clearance section too.