Really, though, this is about more than the immediate economic and health crises. Publishing has been in trouble for some time now – falling profits, fewer opportunities for writers and their books, less support for those writers who do land contracts.
I give a lot of writing advice – not only in these Wednesday posts, but also at conventions, writing workshops, and other professional events. I try to offer encouragement along with that advice. The idea and hope, of course, is that those I work with in those settings will eventually find a home for their written work and an outlet for their broader creative ambitions.
And so this is a difficult post for me to write. Difficult, but necessary.
The market sucks right now. I mean it really, really sucks. New York publishers are laying off editors. Authors with whom I share a listserv – and I’m talking about some big names (bigger by far than me) – are sounding the alarm about the industry’s impending collapse, about rapidly shrinking advances and print runs, about the future of their careers.
Yes, this is somewhat anecdotal. There are still opportunities out there for writers who are self-publishing or going the small press route. But even there, economic downturns like this one… Well, there has never been an economic downturn like this one, so we really don’t know what it’s going to mean for our profession. We do know that during times of recession, content creators suffer just like everyone else. Sure, people need entertainment, including reading material and audiobooks. On the other hand, people have less money for luxuries than they did even a few weeks ago. And, in times of crisis, people often become so obsessed with reading about current affairs that their other reading falls by the wayside.
Really, though, this is about more than the immediate economic and health crises. Publishing has been in trouble for some time now – falling profits, fewer opportunities for writers and their books, less support for those writers who do land contracts. Big house traditional publishing has become ever more a haven for the most successful and most famous. The so-called B-list – authors who have decent-but-not-spectacular sales, who have fan bases but not true fame – has been squeezed for the better part of a decade. Recent events have simply accelerated an ongoing process.
So what does this mean? It means that more new writers than ever will be forced to go the self-pub/Indie route, which, in turn, will mean that an already crowded Indie marketplace will be even more difficult to navigate. It means that writers like me – middle-aged, long wedded to the traditional publishing model, moderately well-known and successful, blessed with a small but devoted fan base – will need to turn more and more to unfamiliar and even intimidating technologies and business models. Everything has been disrupted. Everything has changed. We are in a new world.
I will admit to being unnerved by all of this. I love what I do, but the part I like best – the part I have ALWAYS liked best – is the actual writing. The rest, the business stuff, the publicity, the ins and outs of turning my ideas into a physical (or electronic) product, I don’t know as well.
On the other hand, I have projects I want to work on that may have been considered risky in the old marketplace. They may be no less risky now, but I am bound less by those market forces. My audience in this new world may be smaller than I would like ideally, but those readers will, I believe, be receptive to reading the things I want to write. As I said before, there is opportunity here as well.
Those of you who are starting out on this journey, however, are coming into a world that none of us recognizes. Writers like me can continue to offer advice on craft – the fundamentals of good storytelling and sound writing haven’t changed. But take with a grain of salt ANY business advice you get right now. Because none of us has ever seen anything like this before. We don’t know where it will lead. We can’t promise you that doing A, B, and C will invariably carry you to success. That’s sobering, I know. Scary even.
I could offer you platitudes and false assurances, but they won’t help you, and they’ll leave me feeling like crap. It’s a Frightening New World, and all I can promise is that we’ll be exploring it together.
In the meantime, keep writing. That one bit of advice has not and will not lose its value.