The publishing industry is in a sad state lately, and bad wanna-be writers are just making it worse.
Publishers are used to spending the majority of their marketing dollars on a handful of blockbusters, leaving us mid-listers in the dust. With the economy in bad shape, and everybody and their mother wanting in on the action, it’s getting crowded and lean.
There seem to be a few factors. On December 12, 2008, Paul Greenberg’s article “Bail Out the Writers!” for the New York Times expressed that overcapacity was causing “snow-blindness” in publishers. God knows, if you walk outside your house right now and put up a sign that read: WRITER WANTED, you’d stop traffic in an instant. And because there are so many of us vying for attention, it’s hard for publishers to sort the wheat from the chaff, which leads to all kinds of bad behavior.
I recently joined the social networking site JacketFlap. This morning as I scrolled through some member profiles, I came upon the same messages from a few members. Each of them was a small ad for their own book. Each of them seemed to have been sent to every single member in the network. This kind of behavior is disgusting. I realize you’re trying to promote your book, but spamming people is just unprofessional. These are probably the same people who would steal your seat at a conference when you get up to use the bathroom, even though you left your notebook there. Yes, this happened to me.
Then there’s the fact that new technology has made it easy for anyone to publish a book. Bowker reports that the number of titles every year is increasing, but who is publishing those titles? According to Motoko Rich’s New York Times Article “Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay Tab” it’s increasingly the authors themselves. And because you can publish a title for $99, you will be responsible for doing all the promoting you can on your own, which can lead to more bad behavior. You can, for more money, purchase a marketing kit with some vanity presses, but these prices go into the thousands.
Self-publishing is enticing. I could have my next novel available at Amazon in a couple of months if I wanted to. And for a couple of hundred dollars out of pocket, earning 45-55% of the cover price and selling for $12, I could make back my money after the sale of 37 copies and the rest is bank. Who wouldn’t? (Actually, I’m thinking about it. A LOT)
Some authors have even found traditional publishers this way after selling several thousand copies on their own. Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll be that diamond in the rough. Then there are the independent bookstores being innundated with requests to sell self-published titles that may not be any good. One such bookseller said, “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published.”
Harold Underdown on his Purple Crayon site has a new article “Working in Children’s Books and the Recession of 2008-09” that breaks down the current economic trend as relates to the publishing industry. Harold is always pretty positive about the way things will turn out. I’ve known him a while and have never known him to grouse. He writes that Hachette Book Group recently handed out bonuses after a banner year, but since Hachette publishes the “Twilight” series, and those books sold more than 2.5 million copies in Nov/Dec 2008 alone, I wonder how much of those bonuses came driectly from the Stephenie Meyer or Rob Pattinson fan club. Even Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” won’t get those kinds of sales, and it won this year’s Newbery!
With a bad economy, everybody self-publishing, rock-star authors and their marketing-$-sucking-power, and authors behaving badly, I’ve had about all I can take.
The current state of affairs may be bringing out humor or a can-do attitude for some. I for one, feel the pressure of my shoulder to the grindstone. Every time I write, it just feels harder. And maybe that’s the job (one that I would do regardless), but I dislike sugar-coating except on pastry. It’s not pretty out there, people. So those of you who kind of suck at writing, (you’d know who you are if you read what you wrote) could you just roll over? The rest of us are feeling crowded.