Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Market News

There is no doubt that the economy has had a huge impact on publishing. Too many editors to count have been laid off and publishers are publicly announcing that they are cutting back on the number of books they are acquiring and subsequently intend to publish. What I’ve noticed most however is that even those houses that are doing well and holding on are taking a much closer look at every book they buy, risks are fewer and farther between, and because of that agents are also becoming more careful about adding new clients to their lists and even about the clients they do already have.

When I talk to editors, few are giving specifics these days on what they are looking for. Primarily I’m hearing about what they are not looking for or what they have too much of. One romance editor talked about the glut of paranormals on their list, and while the books are definitely still selling they aren’t actively seeking any more right now. Mostly though, editors are sticking with what has been working for them, authors and ideas both. They are looking closely at numbers and evaluating why something might be working or not working and basing buying decisions on those.

In nonfiction I talked to an editor who made a comment that I thought made a lot of sense. She said that her house was looking at books that had need-to-know information versus want-to-know. In other words, they were only looking at topics that they felt readers would think they had to have to survive or take those next steps. Fun, informative books that weren’t essential to a reader’s life were less likely to be considered.

So what does this mean for writers? This means to write the best book you can. Competition is fierce, competition has always been fierce, but in an economy like this you’re not only competing against other authors, but against a buyer’s precious budget constraints as well. That means there’s no room for disappointment. So don’t just come up with a great idea. Come up with a great idea, write a fantastic book, and then edit it to within an inch of its life. At that point, get it out there and start that next book.

It’s not pretty out there, but books are still selling quite regularly. In fact, I’m happy to report that BookEnds has been holding up very well and we’re continuing to sell books as well as take on new clients. We’re just working them all that much harder.



James King said...

Thanks for that post, Jessica. It's always good to get an insider's view. Given current market conditions, what should writers be doing (in addition to writing the best book possible)to increase exposure and help drive sales of their book(s)?

Mira said...

It's good to get an inside picture. And I'm really happy to hear that Bookends is weathering the storm well.

I do wonder though if some writers are waiting to query until the economy shifts.

I guess the main problem is the 'no re-query' rule.

Have agents considered inviting some individuals to re-query once things ease up? Or would that complicate matters too much?

Mira said...

Oh, I also want to say I'm really sorry to hear about the lay-offs.

I'm very glad that economies are cyclical.

Rick Daley said...

Jessica, Kim, and Jacky:

I's great to hear that your hard work is paying off in these tough economic times. It says a lot about your professional abilities and adds weight to the advice you provide here.


SM Blooding said...

There seems to be no end to the depressing posts out there. *sigh* Well, I for one am just going to keep on writing.

One day I SHALL break through and I SHALL be a traditionally published author. It will be great! My name will be in lights -- maybe dim lights due to cost cuts, but in lights, dog gone it! -- and my book will be in Hollywood -- probabley a bad B flick, but in Hollywood -- and I'll win many awards for my stellar writing -- you know, the platic ones you get out of the gumball machine, but HEY! I'll still get them -- AND I will be able to retire before I'm 90! *beaming grin*

Darn it! Gotta keep the dream alive somehow.

But...holy cow! I can't WAIT for news to start to get good again.

Dara said...

The market news just keeps getting better, doesn't it? :P

I'm with Mira; at least economies are cyclical and this too shall pass :) Hopefully within the next year or two.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I've definitely been on the receiving end of this one. It's discouraging to be passed by simply because the economy stinks and some agencies are only focusing on their current clients and well known names. On the other hand, it's nice not to read that my novel was passed over because it stunk. Hopefully that's the case and the "economy line" wasn't just a cop out.

While I'm waiting for the economy to get better, I'm doing what I can to keep edit my manuscript into perfection and to keep writing new stories.

Sabina E. said...

how's the market for LITERARY FICTION novels?

Weronika Janczuk said...

Thank you for this post -- It raised my spirits. Your insight is ever appreciated.

I've chosen to ignore the economy and to write. It'll be at least another year before I begin to query, and what the situation will look like then will determine how I proceed. I hope that this talk hasn't discouraged too many writers.

Betsy Ashton said...

If I wait for the economy to be perfect, I'll never write another word. Instead, I am educating myself, writing the best literary fiction piece possible, entering contests, writing for a local weekly newspaper and querying like crazy. Who knows? Maybe an agent will see a good future in my work. If not, I'll continue to crank out pages, edit and re-edit and submit.

Stephanie Faris said...

Competition has always been fierce, definitely. I can't help but notice, though, that romance novel sales are up, which has to be good for those of us writing those types of books. Of course, the main source of that good news was Harlequin and Silhouette and agents generally don't represent newbie authors targeting those publishers...

Stephanie said...

Thanks for keeping us updated!! Maybe this is a good chance for all of us to work and learn and really master our craft.

Kate Douglas said...

FYI, Jessica is NOT kidding about working clients harder.

ryan field said...

Nice to hear good news for a change.

Mark Terry said...

On one of my listservs, there has been a recent thread by multiply-published authors who either left their agents or their agents left them, and how they're having problems picking up an agent. That's an indication to me of how cautious things are being.

That said, I'm starting to get the sense of a lot of people using the economy as an excuse. There seems to be an awful lot of we-can't-do-this-because-of-the-economy. I think the tipping point for my wife and I was the manager at the local McDonald's chewing out my wife when she asked for a donation of cups and orange drink mix for the Marching Band Camp, something McDonald's has done for years and that the other manager said was no problem. But the manager my wife talked to (she is president of the Band Boosters) got all snotty and rude telling her how tough business was for McDonald's in this economy, blah, blah, blah. McDonald's? Whatever.

K.C. Neal said...

Thanks for the scoop! I recently found your blog, and I really appreciate the straightforward info.

Seems like "the economy" is affecting all kinds of trends and decisions, but the advice is the same as always - create the very best product you can. And things WILL turn around. :)

Anonymous said...

"how's the market for LITERARY FICTION novels?"

As always, crappy!

They either win the Pulitzer prize or they don't sell at all. Guess which outcome is 10,000,000 times more likely?

My recommendation: sell a pulp series for bazillions and then you'll be able to write whatever you want for the rest of your life! If you're that good of a writer, you can do it, right?

amberargyle said...

Yeah, I really got into the game about a year late.

But it won't stop me. Just the people that aren't dedicated enough.

Anonymous said...

"Just the people that aren't dedicated enough."

You mean, ...WHO aren't dedicated enough.

Elisa said...

Excellent post. I'm passing it on. Thanks so much!

Dan Holloway said...

This is one of those posts that raises SO many issues. Thank you. First, yeah, like Mira said, it's a good job economies are cyclical, and it's horrible when anyone loses their job. Before we're writers, agents, editors, publishers, we're human beings with human stories (and AS writers, editors, what have yous, let's never forget that we exist only to communicate those human stories to others - OK, Dick King Smith aside and blah blah).

A slightly less optimistic note though, Mira - economies are cyclical, but the cycles are never quite the same and publishing needs to realise this. The downturn in the 80s in the UK saw traditional manufacturing go belly-up. The economy came back, but it did so through a growth in service, IT, and finance, not a return to manufacturing. Likewise this recession will end, and people will still be buying stories, but that's no guarantee publishing will look the same.

Jessica is so right about publishing houses scrutinising every book they buy - what I do wonder is whetehr they pay enough attention to the economic cycle to realise the books they buy NOW are the ones that will be released in the UP-CYCLE, though. It worries me that they're snapping up recession-busting titles. Great, but if they don't also think about what people will be buying in 18 months' time, someone else who has thought about, and has a leaner business model, will come along and in 18 months, the traditional houses will struggle.

The only other point I want to make is about the non-sequitur at the end (OK, that's too strong a word, because many writers still - and for very good reasons [though some of them who still do have bad reasons] - want a publisher, but there's a logical leap that needs to be pointed out). You talk about the state of the publishing industry, and then talk about what it measn for writers. All of what you say is true for writers who wish to remain within the model, but it ignores the wide open spaces the current situation is creating outside that shrinking system. Whatever you think of them, these opportunities are there, and people will be trying to take them. Yes, like we saw with the internet bubble, most of these will fail. But most writers who want a publisher will fail. Some of them, though, will succeed. And some of those will succeed spectacularly. Some of them at the expense of traditional publishers. The industry needs to think about it. And it REALLY needs to read "A Brief History of Time Warner"

Mira said...

Hi Dan,

I think you make a very good point that difficult times can bring change; but in my optimistic opinion, I think they frequently bring good change. New ideas, new viewpoints, new solutions.

And then, of course, new problems. :)

I think the main challenge to the publishing industry isn't the economy. Books really are a very inexpensive form of entertainment, and entertainment needs go up during downtimes - especially for comedy and romance. Well, I haven't done a study on that, I'm just guessing, but I think that might be right. ;)

But I think the main challenge to the publishing industry is the upcoming electronic explosion. It also appears as though the publishing industry tends to pull in and conserve, rather than look for new ways to expand and strengthen. I think a paradigm shift in the industry would be helful for it's long-term health.

Dan Holloway said...

Mira, I think you're absolutely right about the need to expand and explore in the light of the e-revolution. I think the problem the industry has is that this has come at a time when it's financially difficult for it to do so.

I certainly don't see doom and gloom. As a writer I see great opportunity, but I also think that publishers who look to the future and try to be at the forefront have great opportunities. I agree they need paradigm shifts (most of all, I think, in accepting they have to work more as lots of separate small companies with technical specialisms, and less like a big centrally-controlled one) - the real key is to make these paradigm shifts now, whilst you're acting ahead of the game, rather than to wait for them to be forced upon you. That gives you the time to get it right.

Mira said...

Dan - I agree!

And paradigm shifts don't necessarily have to cost more. It's all about thinking outside the box, and looking at things from a new angle.

There were people who got rich during the Great Depression. They found where the markets were.

Okay. Once again, I sort of made that last paragraph up, but I bet it's true.

Dan Holloway said...

:-) I'm sure you're right. I know it was true during the recession at the end of the 80s/start of the 90s.

Unfortunately the other thing that's true is a lot of charlatans spring up aand get rich out of recessions, and it's often only hindsight that helps us tell them apart. there is a very good post today from Guy Le Charles about the new face of Vanity Publishing:

I think this is one of the reasons I keep the focus of what I do with other writers on collectivity, and refused to set up a business when I started Year Zero Writers. I'd rather stay poor and see writers flourish than get rich and see them flounder, and the deal is that people who work with me - inasmuch as they work with me - sign up to the same.