Monday, March 16, 2009

An Economic Effect

I know that both Nathan Bransford and I have mentioned that 2009 must be the Year of the Query. It’s unbelievable how many more queries we’re both seeing this year, and I can’t imagine we’re alone in the situation. I hadn’t thought too much about it, figuring it’s just the beginning of the year influx, until I started talking to an editor over lunch. I’m not even sure how it even came up, but this editor casually mentioned that she is, for some reason, receiving more submissions than ever before. She has actually had to alter her schedule to get up earlier in the morning just to stay on top of the piles.

And that’s when it hit me, really hit me, it’s the economy, stupid. Sure, I think there are a number of unpublished authors who are hoping that a quick advance check [hear me snorting with laughter here] might help tide them over until the stimulus package kicks in [fingers crossed], but I think the real scary truth is that a lot of these submissions are coming from published authors who have found themselves dumped by their publishers in an economic house-cleaning. What does that mean? That means that publishers are looking more carefully at the sales numbers of their authors and trying to determine how financially viable they still are. Some publishers are trimming lists (which means publishing fewer of one kind of book each month), while others are just cutting authors (which means not buying more books from them).

From the editor's perspective, she’s seeing a lot of submissions from authors (through agents) who are looking for a new house for their new ideas. From my perspective, I’m seeing submissions from published authors seeking new representation, unpublished authors seeking first-time representation, and everyone in between. How does that bode for all of you? Other than slowing response times it really shouldn’t matter. You are competing against all of these people anyway. If you’re not competing for an agent, you’re competing for an editor; if not an editor, a reader. So please be patient with all of the bogged-down agents and editors out there and continue to submit your best work, because despite the news above, houses are still buying, agents are still offering representation, and great books are still in demand.


Jessica

30 comments:

bon said...

Thank you for the positive encouragement!

R. Battles said...

Thanks Jessica!

DebraLSchubert said...

Once again, a great post, although I have to admit I felt much better when I got to the end: "despite the news above, houses are still buying, agents are still offering representation, and great books are still in demand." Whew!

Eden said...

Our lit journal has also seen a spike in submissions (quality subs at that). We thought it was a New Year's resolution bump in January but it's continued since.

Yunaleska said...

I think books are one product which can't become extinct :) Thanks for the post!

jimnduncan said...

It will be interesting to see if you numbers return to 'normal' when the economy begins to pick up again. I hadn't even considered the fact that many authors have been dumped by publishers and were now looking for new agents and editors. I'm curious how you take these when they come by you. Do you give more consideration or look harder at these authors who are already pubbed? Or do you still base it solely off of the writing, considering former publication just a bonus for when it comes to looking for an editor?

Steven Till said...

What kind of recommendations would you make to first-time, unpublished authors seeking representation? Do you think it's wiser to wait until the economy picks back up, or should they just submit as normal? Are their chances any better, or any worse, of getting published during this time?

Anonymous said...

I've heard it's often easier for a "debut author" to get signed than a mid-list author w/ a poor sales record. Also publishers can offer lower advances and there's aways the hope they can "break out" like Twilight. Your thoughts?

What factors do you consider when taking on new clients in tough times?

Josephine Damian said...

I was also thinking with so many people out of work, maaybe they're taking advantage of the down time to write that novel.

L.C. Gant said...

Just about every agent and editor blog I follow has posted about this subject at some point this year. I still can't believe how widespread the situation is.

I already know many unemployed would-be writers are querying to get a quick buck (ha, ha!). What really surprises me is that published writers are doing the same thing after getting dumped by their publishers. That's such a shame. I understand the dollars and sense aspect of it of course, but still...It seems unfair.

beckylevine said...

I forget where I heard this, but someone mentioned they'd been talking to some freelance editors who are also overloaded with clients right now--and the thought was that some people have decided that a lay-off/cut-back is the opportunity they're going to take to really focus on their writing, even if they're still looking for that new full-time job at the same time.

For me, I'm just coming back to that write the best things I can and hope, hope, hope! :)

Kate Douglas said...

For every author I've heard of being cut by a publisher (and I am hearing that a lot lately) I'm hearing of new contracts for others--both new and previously published writers. Numbers may change, but editors will continue to look for the best of the best, and agents will continue to go for the best deals they can for their clients. This business is as cyclical as every other--as writers, we need to keep it in perspective and continue to write and submit.

Anonymous said...

What if you're previously published with less than scintillating results market-wise, spent the last decade writing, writing and more writing to improve yourself, and now want to submit something new in an all new voice? Are you doomed by your previous record, even with the time lapse and significant advance in writing quality? Is there any hope at all?

Colorado Writer said...

Thanks for the reality check.

Juliana Stone said...

The lovely Kate Douglas is right. Some pubs are cutting lines, so getting your option renewed will not be a slam dunk. But, the houses are still buying.( My agent brokered three, three book deals last week alone.) So, the only way to sell? Keep writing, and make sure it's stellar, amazing and absolutely wonderful! And good luck!

Anonymous said...

I agree with J. Stone and K. Douglas. I've been previously published, too, with much the same experience as you, anon 11:20, but I will never give up. I'll never stop writing and I know my writing is good. I will be published again despite my previous record. It's only a matter of time.

Sooki Scott said...

After the dust settles on our economic woes, I suspect many published writers will see an improvement in their careers, as well as in their writing. It's easy to become complacent and write what has worked in the past, but when threatened by termination or financial need, inspiration and creativity soar.

As for unpublished writers, we see the possibility of unsettling the status quo. What worked for publishers before, might not now, so they'll look elsewhere with a more open eye.




Confucius say; when called an idiot sometimes is better to be quiet than to open mouth and remove all doubt.

Sheila Deeth said...

I guess it just brings the competition home a little more. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the need to make fun of the struggling, unemployed, hungry masses of people. Unemployment doesn't equal stupidity.

While a small percentage of those new, unpublished writers who have begun writing since losing their jobs are hoping for a "quick advance", most of them are simply using this time to do something productive that they've always wanted to do.

So, no, I don't think you really get it.

Dawn said...

Excellent post. You had my heart racing there for a moment, but it was a happy ending.
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

----Sure, I think there are a number of unpublished authors who are hoping that a quick advance check [hear me snorting with laughter here] might help tide them over until the stimulus package kicks in [fingers crossed]---

Jessica, I didn't get snarky out of your comment, just awareness of the uninformed and inexperienced writer. Plus, a healthy dose of optimism about the strength of our economy to bounce back.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder why you bother to help us. You're damn if you do, and damned it you don't.



Anon 2:41 A big cookie on the way to you.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, and I have to ask a stupid question about the following statement:

"I’m seeing submissions from published authors seeking new representation, unpublished authors seeking first-time representation, and everyone in between."

Probably no one else has asked herself this, but I cannot help wondering who comes between published authors and unpublished authors.

Are you saying you are getting a lot of submissions from other agents?

BookEnds, LLC said...

in between might be previously represented authors who have never been published or published authors who have never had representation to name a couple.

I will try to answer some of your other questions in new posts.

--jhf

clindsay said...

Jessica -

You're right. The increase in query numbers is staggering. I'm getting about 500 electronic queries a week, and - for the most part - they seem to be from people who shouldn't yet be querying.

And I'm also seeing a rise in the number of mid-list authors looking for new representation as well as authors who managed to get published without an agent at some point looking for representation as their publishing houses are dropping their options.

I'm also hearing from a number of editors that - unofficially - they're not buying much right now, riding things out until the middle of year to see if things get better with the economy.

The fact is that most editors at trade publishing houses now have twice or three times the work to do from having had to pick up the slack from their colleagues who were laid off. I had one editor tell me quite frankly that he planned not to buy anything at all in 2009, because he just had too much on his plate.

I think that the most important thing that would-be authors need to realize right now is that they need to develop a great deal of patience.

Yes, editors are still buying things, but you can tell just by reading the Deals section in Publishers Lunch that the acquisitions are way down compared to this time last year.

I'm convinced things will get better, but right now? Patience is a writer (and agents!) best friend.

Best,

Colleen

Anonymous said...

"What if you're previously published with less than scintillating results market-wise, spent the last decade writing, writing and more writing to improve yourself, and now want to submit something new in an all new voice? Are you doomed by your previous record, even with the time lapse and significant advance in writing quality? Is there any hope at all?"

Yes. It's called a pen name. (It's the reason pen names were invented).

Manny Fresh said...

I'm also betting that there are lots of first time authors from those who were laid off and thought, their unique life story would make for good reading. While its very unlikely, there is still a probability and a lining of hope. No matter how far we've come with technology, all great things still start with wriiting it down. Thanks for the posting a very balanced blog.

Liz said...

and look for more vitality going into the self-publishing market as a result of this trimming and dumping by the publishing houses. Writers gotta write. Writers also gotta pay bills. Conventional publishing isn't the only way to get that done.

Anonymous said...

Apparently I am alone in finding the following remark:

"I think there are a number of unpublished authors who are hoping that a quick advance check [hear me snorting with laughter here]"

out of character from an agent whose critique I value and whose blog I visit routinely. If the reason for the increase in queries is the economy, perhaps more unemployed people now have more time to write the long put-off book they always knew was "in them." Given the number of posts on this blog reminding authors to, when querying or editing or promoting, be professional in dealing with their agents, I'm surprised you don't behave as you advise.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:45,

I think her comment is about uninitiated writers' lack of knowledge about how publishing works, not a dig on the plight of the unemployed or dreams of the unpublished.
I was an unpublished writer who took two years to get an agent. My agented ms. took over a year to sell. It took seven months to see my first advance check from the day I received an offer. This was long before the bottom fell out of the economy. And people tell me my publishing experience was fast.
The part that made me snort is the idea that anything in this business is quick, much less an advance check for a currently unpublished author. Replace that line with "...hoping that a quick lottery win..." and most people would question the wisdom in that as far as a means of paying the bills.

The First Carol said...

Heck, and I thought we were all escaping into fiction. You know, that world we THINK we can control.

Hahaha, writer thinks she can control her characters!