Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cold Days in Publishing

Brr. It's pretty cold today. I think I will have to bake some Christmas cookies this afternoon.

Those who follow publishing news may have heard about all the scary stuff happening in Book World and might have wondered how that will affect you or affect me (or you just may not care). The short answer is, I don't know, but I'm choosing to be optimistic.

I think some of this has even made it into the mainstream media, but in brief, the publishers really seem to be hurting these days. A lot of people who work at publishing companies have been let go/laid off. Imprints are being folded into each other (like many people care which branch of a publisher is named on the spine) and at least one publisher has said it's freezing acquisitions (but then they said they'd be willing to consider the right book, which sounds like business as usual). One of the major bookstore chains is in serious danger. It's a scary time.

For readers, I'm not sure what it means, but it could mean less variety and more celebrity-based books, since they'll want to go after sure things. I imagine there could be more backlist of big names reprinted instead of new books, again because of the sure thing angle and not wanting to take a risk. Series you've been following may stop abruptly if the publisher doesn't think the books are performing well enough. The books that do get published may not be as well edited because editors who were already stretched thin with more work to do than there was time in the day will be having to take on more work. I imagine they'll get even more doom-loop-focused as they desperately try to jump on trends. There might not be a lot of innovation because they'll be overly cautious -- but the publishers who succeed will be the ones willing to try something new and take risks. On the other hand, most of these cuts seem to be affecting non-fiction and literary fiction. Commercial and genre fiction seem to be plugging right along, and deals are still being made.

For me, I think it could maybe end up being a good thing, after a while. After all the shakeups, there could be different people in decision-making positions (though I haven't yet heard that any of my roadblocks have hit the road -- that'll teach me to go with the cut-rate voodoo dolls). I've demonstrated that I have a loyal following, but I'm not at a very high advance level, so I'm a cost-effective author. Sales of my existing books have been pretty steady over the past few months, even during the supposedly very dark October. Since I don't currently have anything scheduled for publication, that means I won't have anything new on the shelves during the worst of the panic when it might not be shelved by a major chain, and the fact that the sales of the existing books are so steady means they'll likely stay in stock, as stores will want to stick to the tried-and-true. By the time I have another book out, I hope that the worst will have passed. I've already lost every editor I've worked on a book with, so the next thing I do will be with a new editor, no matter what, and that means I'm not directly affected by the bloodletting. Since Hollywood is actually doing pretty well, and since female-centered movies have performed well this year, it's possible that the movie version of Enchanted, Inc. might go forward, which would raise my profile as a writer.

On the other hand, I'm not currently under contract, and contracts may be harder to come by in the next few months to a year. Next year may be a lean one for me, but I have money in savings to cover my living expenses. All I can really do is keep writing and get as many things as possible out there while being careful about my spending to make my savings last as long as possible. I do think things will shake out within a year, and maybe they'll take this as an opportunity to look at some of the really dumb ways they've done business.

I know if I were running a publisher, I might take another look at some things that have been steady performers and see if I could find new ways to leverage them (like, say, repackaging a certain series that was sold as chick lit and doing a mass-market paperback edition to be shelved as fantasy). But then, what do I know about business? Then again, I have two years of operating capital and won't really have to change my business practices, which is more than you can say for the big publishers, so maybe they should listen to me. So far, no one has offered me a consulting gig.

The bright side of a really cold day? If I huddle under the electric blanket on the chaise to work, I'm much less likely to want to get up and wander around the house.

1 comment:

Carradee said...

When I worked in publishing--granted, as a proofreader (and copyeditor) of newsletters and calendars for living communities--my formatter boss said something to me that really explained everything:

"You're still expecting business to make sense."