Little Mr. Sunshine
December 4, 2008
I know that I don't often look on the bright side of the publishing industry or writing for a living. Although I'm aware you need to stay optimistic and realistic at the same time, it's a tough biz and I can't see any reason to ignore that fact when writing about it.
Anyway, I'm sure most of you have heard some of the gloom and doom coming out of the publishing industry. If not, let me summarize:
--Houghton Mifflin Harcourt froze their lists, saying they won't pick up any additional books for a while. VP/Publisher Becky Saletan resigns as a result, and a number of people are fired.
--Nelson: laid off 54 people
--Simon & Schuster: S&S Children's President Rick Richter resigns, plus there are 35 job cuts
--Penguin: freezes salaries
--HarperCollins: delays raises
--Random House: hell, they're totally restructuring, so expect layoffs
--MacMillin: layoffs are rumored
Anyway, there's more and not much of it is good.
First, let me express my condolences to the people who WORK for these companies and are now out of a job. It sucks to be you. Good luck.
Second, we're just writers, we're the LUCKY ones, we can't get laid off. Our contracts can get cancelled, etc., but nobody's really firing us. I said, today, we look on the bright side.
Third, although this will probably make getting a book published harder in 2009 (or acquired, to be more accurate), I don't think this will be terminal. It may last a year or two, but bookstores big and small need product, and I think there's still a thirst and need for books. Maybe that's an unexpected optimistic streak for me.
Fourth, I think authors like myself are screwed, because in troubled times most publishers aren't going to gamble on people whose sales never took off. But I think authors whose sales have shown increases, authors who sell a decent number of books, even if their sales are a little flat, and authors who sell a lot of books, are going to be more important to publishers than ever before. As for yet unpublished authors, I'm not sure this makes a bit of difference to you one way or the other. The odds sucked before and they suck now and I don't believe "the odds suck" is ranked on a scale of 1 to 10.
Fifth, for unagented authors, now's the time, folks. I could be wrong about this, but frankly, if I were an agent facing a publishing industry that's contracting, I wouldn't cut back on the number of authors I took on--I would increase them. I would market novels and nonfiction books until I couldn't think of any more markets to go to. It's a numbers game, but sometimes agent will stop marketing early if they sense the way the wind is blowing. If I were an agent, in times like this, I would just say, "I've got to make some sales or I might as well go work for the NYC Transit Authority, so I'm going to market the hell out of my clients." I would be reading a LOT of manuscripts, more than usual.
Sixth, and this is kind of important: don't freak out about things you have no control over. The only thing you can do about this is write the best book you have in you to write, market aggressively, sacrifice a couple virgins to the publishing gods (if you can find any), and wait.
Oh yeah, and buy books. Lots of them.
Which makes me think: this is so typical of industry. When the going gets tough, cut back. Because it's easier to do that than to try and sell more books.
So publishers, should you actually be reading this blog, here's my MODEST PROPOSAL TO SALVAGE THE SEASON.
Go to your top selling authors: Your Stephen King, Patricia Cornwall, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Dan Brown, et al, and tell them, "We're sending you out on a multi-city tour. You're not only going to promote your books, but we're going to hand you copies of ten authors by our publishing houses--that you pick--and wherever you go, you're to plug the hell out of them as well. The industry depends on you, it's been good to you, so please, help us out. It's a win-win situation."
I'm just sayin'.