Okay, I've been dwelling on the dark publishing days we're living in right now, and not just because of that essay I just wrote. Remember the post at Shrinking Violet Promotion about authors who decided to move on to something else after publishing didn't work for them? Notice I didn't say "authors who quit." Quitting has a bad connotation. There's nothing wrong with deciding it's time to do something else with your life.
Well, I also read The Evolution of the Literary Agent at Writer's Digest a week or so ago. That's full of thought-provoking material for those who enjoy having their thoughts provoked.
For instance, while discussing changes happening in publishing "right now," agent Wendy Keller discussed the one million books published last year, three-quarters of which are supposed to have been self-published. She said:
"That many “unsupervised” books will definitely tip the ship in the reader’s favor. When all the people who have written and self-published books that don’t sell—and when all the junky books publishers have thrown against the wall using the old “see if it sticks” model have been exhausted—then there will emerge from this desolate landscape a new breed of books that are excellent, well-thought-out, well-formulated, actually useful to the reader (inform, educate, inspire or entertain). In other words, the pendulum will have completed its full swing, back to quality over quantity."
That sounds really great. But what it means is that fewer books will be published and that means fewer authors will be published. I've been hearing for around a decade that too many books are being published. Even before the explosion in self-publishing, conventional wisdom claimed that more books were being published than publishers could market, that more books were being published than the reading public could absorb. The reading "pie" was only so large and too many authors were trying to get a piece of it. As a result, fewer and fewer people were able to make a living with their pens. Or word processors.
But to this day I've never read anything that laid it on the table and made clear that in order to cut back on the numbers of books being published, some authors were going to be left out in the cold. Of course, some writers never get published and that is the way it has always been. But what we're talking about now is published authors, traditionally published as well as self-published, being, essentially, shown the door. And, of course, that's always happened, too. There have always been "one hit wonders" in publishing just as there have been in music. Sales have always been the key to staying in the publishing queue. Limited sales, no place in the line.
The difference now is that we're talking about bigger numbers of authors losing their place in line because so many were published over the past decade and so much money for library and school book purchases has just disappeared. Who will stay and who will go? It's kind of like Dancing With the Stars or American Idol or Last Comic Standing, isn't it?
I'm thinking that the key to survival may be to think about our careers the way we think about houses. In the '90s and early '00s everybody wanted a big house, just as we wanted a big career. But just as we're having trouble sustaining those big houses--the payments, the heating bills, keeping the damn things clean--we're having trouble sustaining the big writing careers with a new book every year or two and lots of public appearances. All we need to do is cut back to whatever we can sustain in terms of a house and a career. We can still have granite counters in the kitchens and bathrooms and some nice windows looking out over the yard, we just won't have so many rooms to maintain. We can still publish our writing, but maybe not as much of it or maybe in different venues.
Maybe we just have to accept that life doesn't necessarily end up being the way we think it will be. But it's still life.