Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kris Rusch: You Are Not Alone - the writing business

The Business Rusch: You Are Not Alone
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Maybe the stars have aligned poorly. Maybe the various impending international debt crises have us on edge. Or maybe it’s this season’s abundant natural disasters. Or maybe it’s as simple as this: I’ve been blogging so people are writing to me.
But what I’ve seen this past month from established writers is an abundance of despair. I got a sad phone call from a friend, had a lot of sit-down conversations with writers who were ready to give up their dreams, and a nine-page single-spaced e-mail from a hell of a writer of dozens of published books, wondering whether or not to quit altogether.

Books that would have sold five years ago don’t sell now. Series that are growing are getting bounced from their publishers for not growing enough. Agents, unable to sell product, are telling their mystery clients to write romance novels and their romance clients to write thrillers. Other agents are starting backlist e-pub companies and robbing their clients blind. Still other agents are blaming the writers for the fact that nothing is selling well and encouraging them to sign terrible book contracts.

Bookstores don’t carry paper books any longer. New York Times bestsellers can’t find their backlists in stores. American authors with bestselling novels overseas are being told that foreign countries never pay the promised royalties, only advances.
Traditionally published bestselling writers look at their royalty statements, see that their e-books sell only 30 or 100 or 200 copies in six months, and wonder how the hell upstart self-published writers whose books have ugly covers and whose interiors need copy editing manage to sell tens of thousands of e-books each month.

Editors who once had to tiptoe around their biggest authors are telling those writers to change what they write because their sales have decreased, and clearly, their writing has gotten worse over the years. Writers whose rabid fan base numbers 10 or 20 or 50K get told that their books no longer sell to that fan base even though the writer is constantly getting e-mails from that base and is signing brand new books for that base.

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Anonymous said...

I've been hearing variations on these themes for about forty years, and while I don't want to minimize the difficulties associated with transition, I don't quite see calamity behind every bush. I continue to get good royalties, good reviews, and I'm doing well.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well, there's always something to bitch about, isn't there? Reminds me of a card ol' Mike Avallone used to have over his desk: "No one asked you to be a writer." Also reminds me of a 1942 Writer's Digest I have wherein from cover to cover it is bemoaned that the war (paper shortages, etc) were making the writing business worse than it’s ever been. Course, a fair number of relatively successful careers have been launched since 1942, to put it mildly. And down here in Arizona, with wild fires burning in every direction, it also occurs to me that the occasional conflagration may be necessary to clear out the deadwood. So while it certainly doesn't hurt to know the terrain (and I guess that's Kristine's point), uh, okay, what are we going to do about it? I intend to keep writing and selling until the call comes in from upstairs that I’m done. And for all the whiners out there, well, now’s the perfect time for you to quit as a courtesy to those of us with something to say and the wherewithal to say it. Bottom line: readers read, writers write and the world's a changing place. Deal with it and good luck.

--Stephen Mertz

Joseph A. West said...

I consider myself a journeyman writer, but I've just signed a three-novel contract and been offered another that will keep me busy through 2013. I agree that times are hard, but there is work out there if you look hard enough and are prepared to park your butt in an office chair seven hours a day, seven days a week.
Joe West

Anonymous said...

I have to agree w/ Stephen, and I'm someone who's never had a word of fiction published. Times change, but there are always options.

Jeff P.