Publishing’s Winter

It’s bleak, people. 

Collins (of HarperCollins) is no more.  The New York Times reported that the one major publisher who appeared to be treading water just let go of two executives following a 75% decine in operating income.  Whoa. 

Nothing is safe from the effects of the economic downturn right now, and it’s changing how everything is done. And maybe that’s not all bad.

Let’s go back to the summer of high gas prices.  I drive a big van.  At one point, it cost $115 to fill up my van from empty.  So what did I do?  I stayed home.  I played outside with my kids.   We skipped the fast food and put lunches together at home.  But I know that my family is blessed.  For us, it meant better habits, but for people already in poverty or who relied on transportation for jobs it was crippling. 

Jumping ahead to the current Wall Street crisis, I’ve seen stories about CEO’s flying private jets to beg for money from the Federal Government,  executives decorating their offices for a million dollars, companies in “crisis” sending their mangagement on lavish vacations, post bail-out.  It’s madness, and it’s no tragedy that these people have had to rein in their hedonistic lifestyles.  But again, it’s meant lifestyle adjustments and minor inconvenience for them.  For the workers in their companies who live paycheck to paycheck, they are now on unemployment.

Back to publishing, in the height of the economic boom (or pseudo-economic boom–I think we can all agree it was an illusion that is now being dissolved by pesky reality and accountability) first time authors were being given six figure advances by publishers.  Authors with no track record.  Authors who hadn’t published before.  Authors like me. 

And while I’ve gritted my teeth over the lack of risk taking in the industry now, it hits me with complete clarity and understanding that I don’t deserve a six figure advance.  I don’t deserve anything I haven’t earned.  Nor does any other writer or artist.  It puts undue pressure on people to achieve arbitrary goals.  It’s gambling.  It’s not good business to put down buckets of money on an unfinished product, and a book that hasn’t been sold is an unfinished product. 

Sure, authors have devoted hours of research, and sleepless nights, and time at conferences and workshops and classes to produce their manuscripts, but the process of writing is not about the writer.  It’s about the reader.  

To paraphrase Stephen King (I have to give the guy some props since he’s been getting so much shit lately)  from his fabulous memoir On Writing:  The first draft of the book is for the writer.  The second is for the reader.  And until the collective, societal reader approves (or disapproves) a book, it is an unfinished product. 

My husband just sent me this article from Salon.com where a writer laments over her miserable experiences publishing books.  She was clearly trying to write the article to dissuade novice writers from even thinking of getting in the game, but all it did was give me hope and reaffirm my decision to self-publish.  Why shouldn’t new authors have to prove themselves before publishers will take them on?  People have to prove themselves in every other profession before making money. 

So, I’m encouraged.  I have an optimistic streak in me, and I really believe that shake-ups and changes can be good, good things.  I also feel really fortunate to be entering publishing at this moment.  Change is in the air all over, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

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