I used to spend a lot of time in book shops. In fact, I sometimes think I grew up in them. Most Saturdays my father and I would drift from bookshop to bookshop (we lived in Oxford - there were several fantastic choices), and spend all day browsing and reading. When I was older, and on a business trip, I would seek out the bookshop, and spend a portion of my free time browsing through the shelves. These days, the bookshop feels like a dying breed. There are fewer out there, and I seem to come into contact with them less frequently. When I do, they still feel comforting and welcoming, but from a writer's perspective I've now begun to find them terrifying.
Everywhere I look there are beautifully designed covers, with wonderful endorsements, and in ten minutes I can find a dozen books that I would love to read. I look at the competition faced by new writers, and I realise that the chance of anyone reading my work is small, and the chance of it still being for sale in a bookshop (or online) a few years after my death is slim, actually vanishingly small. I can comfort myself by thinking that the reverse may be true; everything ever published will be available thanks to the long tail of the internet, but I understand that this simply means that my book will disappear in an ocean of material, never to be found.
Then I wonder, does it matter? I'm not writing for money. I'm not writing for fame. I write because I'm a writer, because that is how I express myself, how I find meaning, and capture some of the memories that are important to me. I love it when other people find meaning in my writing too. There is nothing more rewarding than somebody wanting to discuss a particular story they've read from you, because it meant something to them, or because it made them think. Even if I can't reach out and speak to all of the authors in the bookstore, I can read their work and share in their experiences, their thoughts, memories, and dreams transformed into ink. So next time I'm in a bookstore and feel overwhelmed by the quality and quantity of the writing, I must remind myself that these are writers like me, who are not competing, but just want to share something with the world. If you've ever seen your book in a shop, then congratulations. If you've ever seen your story published, congratulations. And if you've never been published, but you desperately want to be, then keep writing, and keep visiting the book story to learn from your friends.