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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Squeaky Wheels and Squeaky Snow

This week, my family and I are in beautiful Beaver Creek, Colorado. Words can't accurately describe it, so enjoy the photo.

When we stepped out to go to dinner last night, the wind tunneled up the walkway and took our breath away. As we carefully walked out the back door of the place we're staying and headed down the last bit of the mountain toward Beaver Creek Village, we heard the snow squeaking beneath our feet. Normally, you hear the soft squish of snow. If it's deep enough, you silently step into it up to your knees. But last night, it was so cold that the top layer of snow froze. So as we traversed it, it squeaked.

Of course I couldn't simply overlook this phenomenon without finding out why snow sometimes squeaks. What I learned is that squeaking depends on pressure and temperature. Normally, our body weight presses on the snow and causes it to melt underneath our feet. The snow crystals slide quietly by each other. But when it's colder outside, the pressure applied by our footstep isn't enough to cause the snow to melt. Instead, the snow crystals break and crash into each other. They squeak.

In the ever-changing publishing industry, the spots available to new writers at a traditional publishing house grow smaller. The climate is colder than ever before. With the number of printed books purchased shrinking as the number of ebooks purchased grows, publishers are understandably more conservative about putting two years and lots of money behind an unknown. Resources are scarce. They won't risk what a publishing contract requires in the hopes that the reader stepping through the snow of available books will create a crevasse that leaves an imprint showcasing many. In the current climate, the snow doesn't melt when the reader steps into the field of available books, opening up many options the reader will consider. Instead, the reader's exploration of available printed books isn't pressure enough to open up the field. Instead, there is merely a squeak and only the ones at the very top are seen.

Unless the interest in printed books warms up again, unknown but talented authors will lay under the ice never to be seen in print because of the squeak created by the already known, lucrative authors sitting on top of the pile. Yes, we love our e-readers, but let's not forget the smell of ink. The crack of the spine the first time you open a book. The feel of the paper on your fingers. The sight of a book at the side of your bed, begging you to open it. The soft squish of powder snow.

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