Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Resident Writers

A while back, I wrote a piece on the kind of bookstore I would open if I had my druthers. While that process creeps ever forward, I keep brainstorming about things I would do to make bookstores ever more relevant in our communities. One of these would be to have a Resident Writer at Bella’s Bookshop. I think every bookstore should have one.

Think of a golf pro mixed with a poet laureate. Chosen by the bookstore, the position would rotate every two or three years. I immediately think of James C. Humes, who sits at the same desk in the same coffee shop every single day in Pueblo, Colorado to get his writing done. A prolific author whose places of publication include the Moon (no, really), Humes is someone I and lots of other writers admire for his work ethic and how he gives back to not only his local community, but to the community of readers and writers. James is just the sort of Resident Writer every bookstore should have.

On a prominent plaque, their names would accumulate. And this display would be less about those writers’ egos and more about the dreams and aspirations of bookstore shoppers who would want to follow in their publishing footsteps. Bookstores should be more than warehouses for bound stories, because someone will always find a way to do that cheaper. Bookstores should be about reading groups and writing workshops. They should foster communication and be places of wonder for children. The Resident Writer would have a hand in shaping all of these. And of course, they would have an honorary desk near the cafe and as much coffee as they can drink.

10 replies to “Resident Writers”

What a wonderful idea. The London Review Bookshop (in London, unsurprisingly) gets a writer-in-residence whether they like it or not when I have a deadline coming up, and being surrounded by the great achievements of others is a motivating factor for the writer themselves, never mind the customers they in turn may be inspiring.
The tragedy for me in this is that my writing is on international law and thus never likely to be found on the shelves of LRB, but one day I might have the courage to write what I dream of.

Great idea Hugh! I think if you could get James to be your Resident Writer you would have an instant success. Thanks for sharing this article!

But how would you pay for such a thing? Many years ago I ran a Games Workshop store, where we provided painting areas (and paints) for customers, taught people how to write army lists, play the games, paint miniatures, all aspects of the hobby. We’d run games nights and regular campaigns on our in-store games tables, beautifully appointed with terrain and store miniatures.
And people gratefully took all this, and then went and bought their stuff in a shop that didn’t do these things a few suburbs over, because they discounted our stuff.
In the wider GW model this isn’t a loss (although it was a loss for my individual store) because they manufacture and so my efforts were subsidising demand for wholesale product.
But in a bookstore model you’d have to realise a return on your investment locally. How would you do this and not just ensure you were whipping up enthusiasm for people to order from, say, Amazon?

I love it. I thought about approaching my local indie book store with a similar concept.

If you’ve ever watched Hells kitchen or some of the other restaurant shows one of their special seats is in the kitchen at the ‘Chef’s table’. The customer gets to watch up close and personal as the chef prepares meals. It’s kind of a behind the scenes dining experience.

I thought a writers table would be cool. It wouldn’t be a book signing or a promotional event, just a local writer with their laptop pecking out words. If a reader wants to stop and chat about books (or whatever) the writer would engage with them. The book store could schedule things so that they can let readers know who will be at the table or it could be done subtly and let word of mouth carry the day.

A big problem I see is that as an unknown author there is benefit for me but not really for the store. Once my mom and my one friend come in to visit I can’t draw too many more people in. If they could get a name to sit there…

A webcam on an author:

“He’s– He’s just sitting there. It’s been hours. Could somebody poke him with a stick to see if he’s still alive?”

“Oh! Silly me! I’ve been tuned into Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum security cameras!” *click* “Uuuuuhhhhh…” *click* “Hmmmmmm….” *click* “Uh” *click* “Hey–” *click* “Ummmm… I can’t tell the difference!”

“BREATHE! DAMMIT! BREATHE!”

“Squirrel!”

“I need a serious fiction fix. Guess Fox News will fit the bill…”

I’ll just throw this out again.

Published 3 books by working part-time in a bookstore.

Owned a bookstore for 30 years and didn’t write a book.

Semi-retired from bookstore, have published 4 books.

Owning a bookstore is a full time job, folks.

I seem to remember Jay Lake saying that he’d write in a bookstore window. There could be a curiosity factor. We all stop to look at living statues–why not someone writing in a window, even for one day? Then the bookstore could resume its regular operations.
We miss you, Jay.

This is a marvelous idea, yet Andrew has a point – somehow the bills must be paid. If you create a lively community within a bookstore can it become self-sustaining financially? If those who have achieved great success, like Howey, want to have such a place must they become the patron and support it? That seems like a step back into an earlier era, yet perhaps that model is one whose usefulness has come around again. I hope Howey does open his bookstore, hits on a successful business model for it, and we can begin a time when the bookstore is a center of literary activity, instead of a $ per s.f. retail outlet.

Great idea. I work from my Starbucks once a week just so I don’t get labelled a recluse. At first it was difficult to concentrate, but then I was able to tune out the noise once I sipped the Earl Grey and began typing.

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