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Director’s Desk: A Traveler’s Take on Format Choices

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by Angela Bole, CEO, Independent Book Publishers Association —

Angela Bole

I’m writing this month’s Director’s Desk on day 6 of a 10-day tour of Spain. I came here to see the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, but as a lover of ancient art and architecture, I couldn’t leave without knocking at least a few medieval monuments off the bucket list.

Today, for example, I saw a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct in Segovia. It had been kept functioning throughout the centuries and preserved in excellent condition. Astonishingly, it continued to provide water to Segovia until the mid-19th century. The aqueduct was commissioned by the Emperor Domitian, reputed to be the first Roman emperor who demanded to be addressed as Dominus et Deus (Master and God). I suppose if you commission something as long-lasting as the aqueduct in Segovia, you’re making a pretty good case for such a lofty title.

It’s fair to be wondering why I’ve started this column about independent publishing in the United States with a look at ancient architecture in Spain. Not only because my mind is still processing all the new things I’ve seen over the past six days. Yes, there is that, of course. But the explanation has more to do with something a tour guide said yesterday that has been stuck in my head and has reinforced for me the significance of the work the members of IBPA do every day.

The guide was describing the cenotaph shown here. A cenotaph, I now know, is an “empty tomb,” a monument erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. This particular cenotaph is located inside the Basilica de San Vincente in Avila.

According to legend, three devout Christians—Vicente, Sabina, and Cristeta—were martyred during the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian for refusing to sign a document saying they believed in the Roman gods. This was in the fifth century. In the twelfth century, the Basilica de San Vincente, an impressive building in its own right, was constructed around the site where their bodies were originally buried; the cenotaph was then built on top of the burial site as a not-to-be-missed homage to their life and death.

From Stories in Stone

By studying, in order, the twelve intricately carved panels at the top of the cenotaph—six on each side—you learn their story. At the bottom of the panel to the right, for example, you see the bodies of Vincente, Sabina, and Cristeta in death; at the top, you see their souls, in the form of babies being carried off by angels. The message is classic: If you martyr yourself for God, you will immediately get into heaven.

“You have to understand,” said our tour guide in a mixture of Spanish and English. “This tomb was built 300 years before the printing press was invented. No one could read. No one could write. Mass was conducted in Latin even though the people spoke and understood various dialects of Spanish.

“So, we have these panels of images to tell the story for us: to honor the past, to teach future generations, and to impart, perhaps, a universal understanding of the meaning of life.”

Of course, IBPA members are an important part of this longstanding storytelling tradition. This is the significance reinforced for me when I heard our guide say, “You have to understand: this tomb was built 300 years before the printing press was invented.”

The medium we use to tell our stories may have changed, but the need to have them told, and heard, stretches back to the beginning of our species.

The Spaniards who set out 900 years ago to tell the story of Vincente, Sabina, and Cristeta through ornate Gothic architecture and intricately sculpted panels would be awed by the various means available to you for telling stories. I can think of no greater homage to them than diving in and trying out as many options as you can. Experiment. Speak. Write. Publish. Use long form and short form. Include poems. Add illustrations. Blog and tweet. Consider both print and digital. Build an app. Set up a Facebook page for the main character in your novel.

From panels carved into ancient architecture to online mixed media mashups, storytelling has certainly evolved. In fact, the printing press was but a gateway leading to a long line of inventions that have blown the doors of opportunity open for those with stories to tell.

What do you have to say? How would you like to say it?

For my next Director’s Desk column, I’d like to feature some of your stories. Please email me at angela@ibpa-online.org and let me know what you’re working on, why it’s important to you, and which formats you’re using, or will use, to reach your intended audience.

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