We’ve all, at one time or another, looked down our collective noses at Florida. Yes, even those of us who live here. After all, from botched elections to some of the world’s most spectacularly stupid criminals—not to mention being God’s Waiting Room—Florida provides plenty of fodder, especially if you happen to reside in New York or New Jersey.
And Montana? Oh yeah…that place where just about everyone is addicted to meth? Sure, you’ve pooh-poohed the state wholesale.
But here’s the thing:
New York and Florida have roughly the same population, 19 million and change. But Florida has 797 bookstores; New York has a mere 505. That means that when sorted per capita, Florida is number 29 on the list, while New York languishes at 49. And New Jersey? I love y’all, but you’re dead last. Massachusetts is home to some of my favorite people on the planet, but also houses some of the snootiest folks I’ve ever met. The next time I encounter one, I will revel in telling her that they’re a lowly 45 on the list.
But what, other than an insatiable need to gloat, is my point? Just this: When you discount readers because of their geographic location, you make a huge mistake. I’m not saying every author on the planet should include Montana, Wyoming, and Vermont on his or her tour schedule, but don’t assume that people in Alabama, Nebraska, or Kansas can’t or don’t buy books—and read them. And, for that matter, talk to their friends about them.
Americans have a singular need to feel and express pride in their place of residence, often at the expense of other places. It’s bad enough that so few of us own passports and even fewer of us use them; too often, we have a cultural need to big our place up by putting others down, and in so doing, we engender and perpetuate misunderstanding and misinformation.
I live in St. Petersburg, Florida, population 245,000. There’s an independent bookstore within a short walk of my front door. Within three miles, there are another three, two indies and one Barnes & Noble. Each time I visit these stores, I am not alone. I see people ranging in age and socioeconomic background. Some are browsing and some are buying. But they are all—every one of them—interested in books.
And about those old farts… I find I’m often met with resistance when I suggest to authors they should visit Florida specifically to meet The Olds. When it comes to books, these folks should not be The Marketing Department’s castoffs. These are people who read voraciously. They talk about what they read. They visit stores and libraries. They are even—gasp!—on social media (seriously…have you heard of Silver Surfers?).
So to summarize: The next time you look down your nose from your high horse at Florida (or Montana or Arkansas or, hell, just about anywhere other than New York or New Jersey), remember that you’re insulting your people. Your readers. We might not be as shiny as y’all, but we buy books.