Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Free to a Good Bookshelf

Madison Smartt Bell’s publisher is giving away his new book—but there’s a wonderful catch

December 6, 2013 Madison Smartt Bell’s new book, a collection of short stories called Zig Zag Wanderer, sounds like vintage MSB: “Stretching from New York to Haiti and beyond, these luminous stories reveal Bell’s sharp eye and deep empathy for his characters—punks, hustlers, mixed figures, and lost souls of all ages, backgrounds, and denominations,” according to the book’s publisher, Concord Free Press.

Zig Zag Wanderer, the publisher also notes, was “dictated by daemons,” but that’s not what’s surprising about it. (Bell has long written in a state receptive to revelation: “I have always felt, as a lot of writers do, that I am more of a conduit than a creator in the material I write,” he once told Chapter 16‘s Maria Browning.) No, what’s most remarkable about this new collection is that it’s available at no cost.

That’s right: the publisher is giving it away for free.

There are a few conditions. On requesting a copy of the book, readers must 1) pledge to make a contribution to a person in need or to a charitable organization of their choice; 2) record that contribution on the Concord Free Press’s website; and 3) promise to give the book away after reading it to someone who will make the same pledge, thus extending the acts of philanthropy indefinitely. It’s the ultimate pay-it-forward plan, a literary pyramid scheme for good.

But why would any writer—particularly a highly acclaimed veteran of traditional publishing—give his own work away? “The Concord concept, giving away limited-edition copies of books, is refreshingly original,” Bell said in a recent interview with Baltimore Fishbowl. “Publishing’s in the middle of a tremendous paradigm shift right now, and I really want to try some different options … Zig-Zag Wanderer is a limited edition, being given away for a specific charitable purpose. I’ll be interested to see what comes of that, in my case. Of course, two-thousand copies is about what the average book of stories might sell, anyway.”

To order a free copy of Zig Zag Wanderer, click here.