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I received an e-mail pointing out that my listing on Fictionwise now includes a pre-order for the electronic version of Goblin War, at 10% off. I was told I should blog this, and who am I to argue? :-)

So, Black Wednesday, eh? Publishing has not been having a good time of it lately. Publishers are cutting back, editors are losing their jobs, acquisitions are on hold, bookstore chains are on the verge of collapse....

A lot of writers are suggesting the best thing we can all do to support the publishing business is to buy books. I'm all for that, and I'd love it if this somehow spurred everyone to run out and buy more books. Especially if they're mine, but I'm not picky. Buying books is good for all of us.

But what about the fear? What about the fact that this is apparently a horrible time to be a new writer trying to break in, as the publishers aren't buying as many books? Or the fear that if you release a book right now, your sales numbers will be lousy and you'll crash & burn? Or if you were hoping to sell books 4 and 5 in your princess series, but if you also wanted to try for a higher advance, now is probably not the greatest time to go forward with that pitch?

There's some scary stuff going on, and it will have an impact. How much of an impact? I couldn't say. Maybe the sky really is falling. Maybe publishing is just evolving, and the next iteration will have gills and feathers and rainbow-colored scales. But no matter how things change, books and stories aren't going away any time soon.

A major bookstore chain might go under, taking a significant chunk of my sales in the process. The slow economy will have an impact on my next book, which just happens to be launching my new series. Who knows what that will do to the success of the princess books in the long run. I also feel for my full-time writer friends, who are going to be hit even harder by this. I'm sad to think it will be longer before I can consider quitting my own day job and joining them as a full-timer.

In the face of all this, here's what I intend to do:

1. Keep writing
2. Keep submitting

Because everything else is out of my hands.

Look, I spent 10 years writing and submitting and collecting far more rejections than sales before finally "breaking in". These past few years have been great, and I love the fact that I've been able to sell almost everything I've written recently. It's an awesome feeling. But there are no guarantees. I didn't start writing fiction in order to gain a stable, secure income stream. Don't get me wrong, I love the income, but that wasn't the purpose. I started because I love it, and I'm not about to stop writing because we've hit a rough patch.

The writers will keep writing. Because that's what we do.

Have a great weekend, y'all!

Way of the Wolf, by E. E. Knight
Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy
Red Hood's Revenge




Dec. 5th, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC)
The insanity in the publishing business is just a fractal iteration of what's going on in the economy in general.

The housing bubble that started the whole chain reaction was the result of too many people living beyond their means, assuming that somehow, magically, they would be able to afford a house that cost ten times their annual salary. It was like a giant Ponzi scheme, and like all such schemes, eventually the pyramid has to stop expanding, and then it crumbles.

So the current economic awfulness is really just a reality check. Like a drug crash, it has to go way to the other side before it rebounds to some semblance of normalcy. But I have faith it will do so eventually.

The publishing industry has been doing the same for the past fifteen or twenty years. Large publishers bought up small publishers, which gains some savings with volume discounts, but really adds to overhead and creates hiding spaces for dead wood in the workforce.

Add on a culture of wastrel spending--a million dollars for a first novel! WTF!--fueled by human nature and what people can get away with when the company is so large it's hard to check the books, and you have many, many examples of enormous baths taken on books in the past two decades.

The publishing industry is coming into what everyone else is feeling: the party is over. The question now is, will the folks at the top realize the problem? Will they stop gambling huge sums on books they have no idea will sell?

"Winning an auction just means you were willing to risk more money on that book than any of your competition."

The editors need to think about that statement more. More money is made off a strong backlist from an author who was bought cheap and built up, than from an author who was offered astronomical sums to steal them away from another publisher.

You don't have to move a lot of books to make money. What you have to do is correctly gauge how many copies you can sell of a particular book in a certain time frame, and then budget accordingly.

More books than ever sell each year--yes, even this year. The problem is that too many are money-losing dogs. I'm the first to say that you never can tell, and it's always a gamble. But sometimes it's really obvious to everyone but the editor that a book is never going to make a profit. This is where the reins have to grab and hold.

The collapse of a few larger publishers will be surmountable in the long run. They'll return to manageable size, where people are disinclined to offer inflated advances. Small publishers will take up the slack, and slowly grow into medium-sized publishers. They'll need to be ready to deal with alternate forms of distribution and technology (re: the growing ebook market), but that's not insurmountable.

The industry is simultaneously changing and going through a rebalancing. People will not stop reading, neither novels nor long works of nonfiction. The only question is whether publishers will figure out how to work the new marketplace profitably.
Dec. 6th, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
Hmph. Where were those wastrel editors and their million-dollar checks when *I* sold my first novel? :-P

A lot of good thoughts here, thank you. I'll be curious to watch and see which publishers do the best job of adapting and come out on top.

"More money is made off a strong backlist from an author who was bought cheap and built up..."

I'm going to be thinking about that one for a while, as it feels a lot closer to the strategy DAW seems to have taken with me. (Not that I'm cheap, but ... well, okay, I am.) I've got to believe that being where I'm at, with the books starting to earn out and bring in some royalties, is a win for everyone involved.
Dec. 6th, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
My first employer in the industry (before they were bought by my second employer) had this strategy, and made money hand over fist. Mostly they concentrated on the Other Two Genres (romance and crime fic), but then had some turnover of SF editors and started working that vein successfully, too.

The million-dollar checks go to mainstream/literary writers, mostly, and it's a giant symptom of principles before practicality. Some editors forget that publishing is a business. It's okay to publish some books that will lose money but they're good books and will bring prestige to the imprint; however, that does you no good if you bankrupt your company.


Jim C. Hines


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