Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Coming attractions...

Over the past three years on Type M, we’ve spent a lot of time wringing our hands about the current state of the book industry. Basically, our anxiety comes from the fact that nobody has a clue as to what’s really going to happen. Will the paper book die out? Will brick and mortar bookstores completely disappear? Will our publishers survive? And with all of these changes, what will happen to us, the poor ink-stained wretches?

There is a lot to be anxious about. Authors, in this most upside-down of industries, are found at the bottom of the pile. Why? That’s the way it’s always been. We’re writers after all, not businessmen (at least most of us are like that). That being the case, you can’t expect the business people in our industry to look after us first, ahead of their own interests. So, pile on even more helplessness. Currently, it seems as if we’re up against even more insurmountable odds than usual.

Except for one thing: the book industry needs product. When they no longer have product, they’re doomed. Sure, it will take some time for the reading public to go through everything they haven’t read, but without us and the works of our scholarship, craft and imagination, the whole thing will eventually grind to a halt.

That being said, are we going to be able to survive on what we can earn with full-time writing? Has that ever really been the case except for the lucky few?

And this is where some of the changes currently happening in our industry could benefit us. Potentially, we could make more money and be in better control of our destinies.

It’s now easier for us to do our own promotion. Think back to twenty years ago. Can you imagine having your own promotion thrust upon you with no Internet, no websites and only the phone to set up bookstore signings, readings and other appearances? That would be a real horror show to do.

We have computers to help us keep databases, design our own promotional material, set up schedules, do research, and write our books more easily and effectively. Imagine having to do that all by hand. Go back thirty years and you had no choice.

Want to self-publish, take your own writing career into your own hands? You can do it now without investing tens of thousands of dollars printing, warehousing, and selling books by publishing your works as e-books.

This just scratches the surface of what is possible now. Who knows what other changes for the good might be around the corner?

Call me Candide if you will, but we might very well be on the threshold of the Golden Age for authors. It all depends on how things shake down.

Let’s talk again in a year. Okay?


Vicki Delany said...

Candide. On Twitter I saw people posting how great it was to get free books from Google. On the positive side, at the last big chain bookstore I did, I was pleased to see the children's area packed with kids lounging on the floor, reading! And selecting books for themselves.

peter_may said...

Candide! The reason that novelists are screwed by publishers is that they have never formed themselves into a coherent negotiating force to hammer out better basic deals. TV writers have been doing exactly that for years. I know, because I served my time on the executive council of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain which over the years has negotiated great minimum terms and conditions for it's members - not to mention a brilliant pension scheme. We looked at minimum terms book deals, but as long as there are writers out there who will accept pathetic handouts from publishers just so they can see themselves in print, novelists will continue to be screwed.

Rick Blechta said...

Peter, that's a very valid point. However, you're comparing apples and oranges. There's real money involved in TV and movie work. I can't see a publisher who's only going to sell 10,000 copies of my novels (I wish!) ponying up some sort of living wage for the 4-6 months it would take me to write a novel. There just isn't enough money in it, and the vast majority of writers falls into that mid-list camp.