Today is the first day of my simultaneous virtual and “irl” book tour for The Gutenberg Rubric. At roughly 6:00 this morning, my wife and I loaded books in the back of our Prius and we headed east out of Seattle on what will be a 7,000 mile, 21-state book-selling mission. And, here at “A Few More Pages,” I’m beginning a virtual tour at the same time. Wow! Am I nuts?
Well, I suppose so, but in making this trip, I’m following in the footsteps of some of the great door-to-door book salesmen of the past 500 years. I remember, as a child, the World Book Encyclopedia salesman coming to our door in Northern Indiana. We already had a copy of Colliers Encyclopedia that my parents had acquired when my three older sisters were in school. But the World Book salesman carefully pointed out that the world had changed. Men had gone into space. And with their payment plan, we would receive an annual Yearbook update to the Encyclopedia and the new Cyclo-Teacher that would help my little sister and me to learn. The last time I saw that encyclopedia set was when my mom was moving into a nursing home and we got rid of all 30 volumes of the Yearbook.
But the thing is, that traveling salesman wasn’t the first book salesperson in the world. The invention of the printing press meant that there were suddenly books available to the common people. One story is told of Johan Fust, Gutenberg’s business partner, taking copies of the newly printed Bible on a selling trip into France. All would have been fine, but the greedy Fust attempted to sell the Bibles as hand calligraphied manuscripts that would have sold for as much as a small vineyard. The village elders—meeting together to examine the quality of the books—saw immediately that every one was identical. Puzzling over this, they determined that the only way this was possible was by means of witchcraft. Fust barely escaped the village with his life!
Another story claims that on a book-selling excursion, Fust caught the plague and died—a just end.
But for good or ill, the traveling book salesman has been around as long as printed books. Door-to-Door book selling was a by-product of the invention of the printing press. Before the invention of the printing press, there was no distribution system for books. Books were kept, not sold. On rare occasions where books did change hands, it was either as part of an estate or a commissioned work. Suddenly, in 1445 there were 163 new copies of the Bible in Mainz, Germany. Somehow, these books had to be put in the hands of willing buyers.
The obvious choices were still the places where books had always been held—libraries, scriptoria, monasteries, universities, and churches. But these places already had most of the titles that were suddenly being printed. Publishing mandated creation of a new market. That market started with the rich and worked its way down over the first 50 years of printing (the incunabula) to the middle classes. People, rather than institutions, could buy books.
And as Aldus Manutius soon discovered in Venice, the appetites of people extended far beyond religious texts. Classics, encyclopedias and even erotica were being printed en masse by the end of the incunabula.
The distribution problem was resolved in three ways. First, traveling booksellers, began selling door-to-door or village-to-village. Second, street-corner vendors hawked their wares to passers-by. Finally, storefronts were established to house multiple copies of books that people could buy and carry home “in their saddle-bags.” The entire bookstore distribution system resulted from the invention of the printing press.
As my heroes in The Gutenberg Rubric—Drs. Keith Drucker and Madeline Zayne—discover, the effects of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention go deeper into our culture and society than most suspect, and may conceal mysteries so volatile that people will kill to see them revealed… or concealed. Keith and Maddie are drawn into a secret society with ritual initiation prescribed by Gutenberg himself. Ascending to mastery in that Guild will give them access to knowledge that has been preserved for over 2,000 years. But even if they can master the key to that knowledge, will they live to tell about it?
Fortunately, my book-selling journey does not carry the risks that traveling with a donkey cart full of books through France and Germany held in the 15th century. Nor do I have to undergo arcane rituals as I trek across the country—at least not that I’m aware of yet. But I feel that I am upholding a significant tradition of the publishing industry as I put off my role as author, put aside the role of independent publisher, and take on the part of the traveling book salesman. My message across the country: “I wrote a book. Let me tell you about it….”
Many thanks for including A Few More Pages as one of your tour stops! I'm looking forward to reading The Gutenberg Rubric!
About Nathan Everett:
Nathan Everett lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest beneath a gray and dour sky. Fortunately, he doesn't usually let that color his mood. Nathan has been a writer and publisher for over 30 years. (We're not saying how much over!) He writes Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller, and Literary Fiction for both youth and adults.
Nathan shares the life of a starving artist with his wife, daughter, and two rescued greyhounds. He is active in local theater, book arts, writer's association, and service.
He only writes when it rains.