Thursday, October 16, 2008

Books and the Economy

I’ve been holding off on publishing a post on the economy and how it might affect you, since it's something we just talked about in a July post. I think I’ve been in denial, hoping we’d all wake up from this bad dream or wake up to discover a huge jump in market points and world order restored. Alas, one quick call to my financial advisor and I’ve learned that doesn’t at all seem to be the case. Well, the final turning point for me was this article in The New York Observer. Really this article says almost everything I was hoping to say, but to make it easier for those who hate clicking over, let me put it to you in my own words.

The economy stinks and for all of you that stinks. Heck, for me that stinks. From the first drop in the market I’ve already started changing my thinking. I’m eternally grateful for those authors who are in the beginning stages of a new contract or securely under contract. While books are selling and BookEnds has in fact made a number of deals in the past few weeks, publishers are understandably going to start getting tougher and deals are getting smaller. Authors are going to start to seeing lower advance numbers and, yes, lower royalties. And everyone is going to take fewer risks. It was hard to sell a new unpublished, unproven author two months ago, imagine what it must be like now.

I haven’t heard yet that publishers are cutting lists (the number of books published each month), but we’ll see what happens when home budgets are cut and that means book budgets are cut. In other words, you find yourself buying fewer books each month and instead going to the library, or borrowing from friends. When that happens, watch the lists tighten up as well.

In plain English, it’s going to get a whole heck of a lot harder to get and stay published. Agents are going to take fewer chances. We’ll only be looking at authors who we feel are an almost sure thing and we’ll be carefully watching the careers of our clients, prepared to make quick adjustments as necessary. As it is now, when I take on a new client I need to really, really fall in love with the book. With the economy the way it is I think I need to fall dead in love with the book. For published authors, don’t be surprised to see your royalty earnings drop. Read my previous paragraph, but the more budgets tighten up the fewer books you’re going to sell.

The fact of the matter is that this economy is going to affect the way books are published and the careers of many authors. We might also see certain changes, like electronic books, take over faster than was originally predicted. Ebooks are cheaper to buy and cheaper to produce, publishing more books in ebook format would allow publishers to continue publishing more books, and it would also allow readers to continue buying more. I don’t know for sure, but it’s certainly a possibility.

So the economy stinks, but we all still need good books, especially now. So just make sure your books are really, really, really good.



Anonymous said...

I was really afraid this would happen. As a matter of fact there's been a discussion on Romance Divas about this and I think that's why I kicked into hyper-overdrive to get my book done and try to get an agent before a freeze happens. Not saying it will, but I suspect if this economy doesn't turn around soon it's a very real possibility that newbie authors aren't gonna be able to make sales for quite some time. :(

How depressing, I've run to B&N the past few days just loading up on books, hoping my measley few dollars would help keep the business of books I adore so much, afloat long enough to pull out of this slump. Obviously I know it's a pipe dream, but I'd love for someone to pinch me and wake me up from this nightmare.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Things are bad all over, I think the really scary thing is for good writers to stop writing and trying to sell their books because this is cyclical, and when we're on the upswing again, do we just want the crap in the pile for publishers to publish. The fact is, there are writers published EVERY DAY. Even in the Great Depression there were books! Write On. It might be harder than before, but has that ever stopped someone who was really and truly determined?

Plus, this is nothing new...

Keri Ford said...

If that doesn't give a you little extra kick in the pants to up the stakes in your manuscript, I don't know what would!

Course, it doesn't do much for my nerves on material I've got out, but I do appreciate your saying it.

WendyCinNYC said...

I work in fundraising for a nonprofit and have been in a state of semi-depression over the economy for weeks. With city budget cuts, hits to the endowment, and private donations drying up...well, it's tough out there.

I really, REALLY hope that people start to feel more optimistic after the election.

Anonymous said...

You're right Jessica. A great book will still sell...people need to escape, but the bottom line is people are only going to have so much $$ to spend and they're gonna have to decide where it's gonna the bills? or buy a new book...hopefully it won't take too long for things to turn around....I'm eternally grateful that I just sold my first book in September because I truly think that publishers and agents alike are going to take a real hard look at what they buy....they won't be so apt to "take a chance". That being said, if I hadn't sold yet, I think I'd be more determined to make sure I was sending out the best book that I could...good luck to all the newbies still looking to sell.

Anonymous said...

Are we deluded to think that in hard economic times, people will turn to escapist fiction such as cozies or romance? This idea came up more than once at Bouchercon last week. A mass-market book costs about what a single meal at McDonald's does, lasts a whole lot longer, and is recyclable.

We've got to hope for something, right?

Melinda Leigh said...

Keep writing and have some patience. The economy didn't fall into this mess overnight, and it's going to take some time to crawl out of its current hole.

H. L. Dyer said...

Sorry, folks... my bad, probably. :)

I seem to generate adversity. The year I applied to medical school was supposedly the most competitive ever, the sickest kids get admitted when I'm on call, etc.

So I should have guessed if I looked for representation for my novel, publishing would get harder.

I'll keep plugging away though. That's worked for me so far. :)

Julie Weathers said...

I have usually found a way to buy books. The few times they were completely out of the question for me, I was walking, cleaning houses, taking in ironing and baking bread for people. Even then I was buying books, it was just for the kids and not me.

Our country has always survived and it will now. Things will turn around and we will even survive regardless of who is elected. I'm afraid we are going to have to go through some more things if one is elected rather than the other, but we will survive.

My dad grew up during the Great Depression. He was riding calves one day and broke his leg. Grandpa kept telling him it wasn't broken and he refused to take him to a doctor for three days. Grandma finally convinced him the leg was broke and Grandpa loaded up a calf to pay for the doctor and they went to town.

Some of my most treasured things of my dad's are books that he had from that era of his life. Even with times as hard as they were, people bought books.

We went through this bust in the 80's. I thought bankers might have learned their lessons about greed then, but apparently not.

We survived the depression, we survived the 80's and we will survive this.

I will continue to write and believe it will be published.

Kate Douglas said...

Excellent post, Jessica, and unfortunately, you've probably nailed it. The one thing I keep hoping is that the readers who might have gone out to a movie or taken a trip under normal economic times, will prefer instead to buy a book and spend some quality time at home reading. But, with dollars limited, the numbers of sales will most likely drop before they get higher. I've been through a number of economic ups and downs, and that's the key--eventually, there's always an upswing. I have to remain optimistic and assume there will be one to this mess, too.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering if it was as scary as it sounds--thanks for your take on it. I am very eternally grateful, too, for the new contract, hoping that things will at least even out during my writing time. And I'm doing everything I can website/blog & networking-wise to make sure I do my end of the marketing for myself and this new book.

So...once more, Jessica, thanks for the wonderful agenting!

Anonymous said...

Really well articulated. I read every post, but don't always comment. Thanks, Jessica.

Robena Grant said...

I came to grips with the fact that I might never get published some time ago. It doesn't bother me to continue to write stories knowing they may have no audience.

In the meantime, however, I send out an occasional query, enter a contest, or give a pitch at a conference. The thing that has changed for me in the past year is I don't waste a lot of energy on the process of getting published and with that monkey off my back I think my writing has improved.

Anonymous said...

I heard someone call this "the end of the era of easy money." It seems to be true across the board.

It will be much more difficult to sell some books.

But it will still be easy to sell magnificent books. If you can figure out what magnificent means, and stick the landing, you'll have no trouble, no matter who you are.

Nevertheless, the message is clear. We must all hone our crafts. Whatever it is you do, be the best at it.

The Rejection Queen said...

You know, I was afraid of this. When I found out Borders Books and Music was going out of business, a chill ran up my spin. It's not just the economy. It's the fact that less and less people are reading and it's quite scary. Here I am trying to get a book published in probably the worst decade ever. And I think to myself, "why didn't I think of this 10 years ago?" I guess people should consider themselve lucky if they even sign on with an agent at this point in time. This only makes me feel for discouraged.

PatriciaW said...

Sounds like a clarion call for studying craft and being strategic in what we write and who we submit to. Self-publishing could go either way. Fewer people pursue it or maybe more, when the lists dry up. Just hope those who go that route also pursue professional editing.

Jessica, I've awarded you the I LOVE YOUR BLOG award. See why here.

Jean Wogaman said...

We should get a campaign going to get everyone to give books for Christmas and Hannukah.

Anita said...

When I was in sixth grade, I had an enormous crush on a boy in my class. I wrote our names in hearts, engaged in fake conversations with him in my mirror, etc. The boy never returned my affection, but the crush was still fun (and, obviously, memorable).

Well...I can't stop writing any more than I could've stopped that middle school crush. Sure, I'd love the publishing world to return my affection, but even if it doesn't, writing is still fun, still something I've got to do.

P.S. Go buy a book today!!!

Anonymous said...

I've got a project that's ready for querying. It's the best that I can make it, but now I'm concerned that querying now may "waste" my chances with agents. Since we're not supposed to re-query agents on the same book, is it worth it NOT to query for awhile and hope things turn around? Is the economy so bad that you will turn down books that you would otherwise pick up?

Kate Lord Brown said...

When the going gets tough ... it just gives you more material to work with! I refuse to be downhearted - people need the escapsim of books now more than ever. I am a 'newbie' - in the time it's taken to switch agents this summer, the economy has nosedived. Grrreat timing. But - never give up, never give in. If I have to work twice as hard to make a success of this I will - at the end of the day, we write and sell books because we love them, and there is no better job on earth. Keep your chin up! - (or as Churchill said, 'K.B.O').

Spy Scribbler said...

And you're usually so inspirational... just kidding. Yeah, the economy sucks all around. It's not just publishing, it's the whole nation. And it's not just getting a publishing contract, it's also getting a job.

These times break my heart, and I fear they've only begun.

Anonymous said...

As book designers, we've actually seen an increase this past week in inquiries from self-publishing authors.

The economic crisis may spur traditional publishers to look more closely at POD and online sales of those POD-produced titles, as well as e-content. So much of the cost is in printing and physical distribution. The real difficulty here is for brick-and-mortar booksellers.

Authors should use this cyclical period to improve their craft and their own marketing efforts via the Web.

Liza said...

I wish all aspiring writers well.

I know I will keep reading and buying books. I'm not particularly sold on Kindle and other similar gadgets, for a rather simple reason:

My eyes hurt after staring at a screen for so long.

I don't get the same reaction with a book.

Maybe it's just me, but I think perhaps for those whose eyes do not get easily irritated, electronic books may be the way to go.

Jude Hardin said...


Now writers have something else to blame their rejections on. It's like Sundance admitting he can't swim, and Butch laughing and saying, "Hell, the fall will probably kill you."

I think the indies will suffer most during a recession. A lot of them will probably tank. The big guys? No way. Their interests are too diversified, their pockets too deep. They won't stop buying manuscripts, any more than McDonald's will stop buying all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and sesame seed buns. New manuscripts are what make book imprints tick. New manuscripts are their lifeblood.

If I continue to get rejections, I'm not going to blame the economy or my agent or "the system" in general. I'm going to accept rejection with the attitude I need to write a better book.

Karen Duvall said...

I imagine this will be harder for authors already used to getting good advances and royalties on their published books. For the rest of us, it's more of the same. Hard to miss something you never had to begin with.

Writers write, and we'll continue to do so no matter what. Writing a good, well-crafted book has always been a key ingredient for getting published, so that hasn't changed. And humanity's natural hunger for stories will never be satiated. We'll always yearn for more. We may skip that vacation to Mexico, may not splurge on the spa day, or we may cut back on dining out. But reading?

Writers write, and readers read. That's never going to change either.

T. M. Hunter said...

Sounds like my book coming out as an e-book happened just in time...

Seriously, I'm with Karen on this one. For the vast majority of us, it's not going to seem much different than before.

I'll just keep on plugging away on the short favorite one just boosted their story rate to $15. Woo hoo!!!!

Elissa M said...

I'm sorry, I just don't agree with all this doom and gloom. I've lived through worse economic times and my parents and grandparents lived through the worst.

There's nothing new here, really. I totally agree with Jude Hardin above. The bad economy is just one more excuse to use to put off writing, revising, submitting, and anything else you want to put off.

Worriers whine and moan and quit. Successful people just deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, who are you, Ms. Doom and Gloom, hand-wringing, media-hype-buying agent and what have you done with the real Jessica Faust?
You know, the strong one? The one who wouldn't ever get sucked into a vortex of puffed-up Media depression-sessions because she knows it really ain't all THAT bad and that publishers MUST continue to buy manuscripts or cease to freaking exist.

Ugh. Come on, people. Yes, it's bumpy and wild, but it's not 1929 and it cannot ever again be 1929 as we have a completely different economic infrastructure today. (P.S. Am very familiar with the credit markets and that's where we are having troubles. Once they loosen and the banks make nice to each other again (lend to one another), watch the markets rally.) If you have a 401k, welcome to the investment world. If you're under a certain age, leave it alone. That article in the NYO was so puffy. I can't believe it took over Jessica's body. Well, that's my rant. Now I'm off to stock up canned goods and dried eggs for the apocalypse.

Matthew said...

I'm wondering how this will affect the small presses. Would they be more or less likely to survive these economic times? I am concerned because a couple of my works in progress would certainly be enticing to small presses rather than the major publishers (yes, I know, it won't pay the bills).

Guess I'll just have to hope my wife and I can find decent work when we move to the US.

Anonymous said...

I was about to submit a query, but I guess I won't bother right now.

Dara Edmondson said...

I'm already seeing the trickle down effect. I've participated in 2 multi-author signings in the last month. At the first, not one of us sold a single book - that's never happened to us before. At the second, a total of 3 books sold.
When books don't sell, bookstores close, then publishers close. We're all in for a bumpy ride.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Small presses have converted to POD and don't offer advances anyway. I think they may be in the best position if the big houses are struggling, because their up-front cost is reduced and they can offer that escapist fiction for less.

I started a small press company this year, and I'm pretty optimistic.

On the other hand, I haven't quit my day job, yet, either.

Anonymous said...

I figured as much; still it's almost as if what's the point in trying if you're previously unpublished?

I'm not going to give up though; I'm not going to let the economy mess up a lifelong dream :)

Anonymous said...

I am in the midst of trying to sell a book proposal through an agent. I've already heard many houses have rejected me based on the economy. I understand that my project is nothing in regard to The Sun Also Rises or maybe To Kill A Mocking Bird, but it is a good and unique story, and for a first time writer like myself, a wannabe who has no set fan base it is heart breaking to know that the economy is a reason to put this on the back burner, so to speak.

Such is Life.

Write On.