Pub Rants

Is It Cold Outside In The World of Publishing?

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STATUS: I’m finishing up for the day and blogging fairly early.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IN THE MOOD by Glen Miller

Maybe it’s me but I read this article in the New York Observer today and I pretty much wondered why the points raised in the article were considered news. Dire predictions might be interesting to include in an article as a side note relating to a publishing news story but seemed a little lacking in substance to be the focus of this entire news bit. Maybe this is an Op Ed piece? I’m not a regular NYO reader but it didn’t look to be presented so on the website.

With quotes such as “the ecosystem to which our book makers are accustomed is about to be unmistakably disrupted” and “Soon, though, people [editors] may find themselves compelled to be more wary,” I was really expecting some cold, hard facts to back up the pronouncement that books are going to become significantly harder to sell in the next year.

Yes, I certainly can agree that the economy is in the tank and a lot of industries, including publishing, will be tightening their belts. Even with this I’m not sure I’m worried that I won’t be able to sell a new author in the next coming months. I’ve had an enormous success with a lot of debut writers.

I quirked an eyebrow at this quote: “Only the most established agents will be able to convince publishers to take a chance on an unknown novelist or a historian whose chosen topic does not have the backing of a news peg.”

Perhaps they are not referring to genre fiction? There did seem to be a bit more focus on literary fiction and I certainly have to agree that literary tends to be a much harder sell–with or without a bad economy.

Well, since I don’t include myself in the realm of “only the most established agents,” I guess I’m duly put on notice. What do you blog readers think?

As for debut sales getting harder, I’ll let you guys know as the year unfolds. Meanwhile, let me get back to my auction…

33 Responses

  1. Lehcarjt said:

    I remember hearing that during hard financial times people are looking for escapism entertainment. While I’d certainly expect less money in people pockets to mean less money spent on *all* leisure activities, I think genre fiction will be less impacted than non-fiction or literary.

  2. acpaul said:

    It seems to me that the worse the economy gets, the better some genres will sell. For example, fantasy. Who doesn’t want an escape to some magical place when times are tough?

    I don’t think you need to worry too much about what the NY crowd thinks, excepting that the publishers are there.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I am SO SICK of the media making everything worse. My hope is that sentiments prevail–and I think they will. Agents and Editors rejoice in books. Agents want to sell good ones. Editors want to buy good ones. And people, especially now, want to escape in good books.

    Thank you Kristin for not giving into this hype.

  4. Just_Me said:

    I think my novel will sell. Once it’s done being polished… I admit it still needs work, but I’m not worried. At this point it looks like I’ll be querying mid-spring or summer, and by then the editors will be buying for 2010? 2011? 2012? And most the editors will be expecting an upswing in the economy in the years to come.

    And upswing means more people buying books.

    If a long-term depression is expected I might have a harder time getting the backing from the house I’d love to publish with. But I write sci-fi. Main audience for sci-fi tends to be the major spending demographic, the teens and college students, and I expect books will still sell from that genre even on bad days.

    But I’m not rushing. I know agents are desperate to have *anything* at this point because the market is so hot. So, patience and perfection shall persevere?

  5. Kathleen Dante said:

    It sounded like they didn’t consider genre fiction at all; it’s not even on their radar. The article read like recycled doom and gloom from the 80s (1880s or 1980s, they’re probably the same). The rise of paperbacks, the dawn of radio/television, popularity of video games all supposedly heralded the twilight of a reading era.

  6. Rosemary Carstens said:

    I read a lot of books in preparation for each issue of FEAST (it’s my excuse for something I LOVE to do!). Some of the most compelling reading is the work of debut authors. So often, these books tell innovative, lively, wonderful stories. People love stories and have since we crouched around a few burning sticks outside a cave and the hunter of the day shared his adventures. Loving good stories about characters we learn to love and care about is a part of being human. That won’t be going away and I can’t believe there won’t be publishers around more than willing to make money on that desire. Rosemary Carstens —

  7. Anthony said:

    “What do you blog readers think?”

    Traditional media is often incapable of understanding the pros and cons of globalization because they feel threatened by it. The author is providing a flawed analysis based on a complex economic trend. Take her opening:

    “A frost is coming to publishing. And while the much ballyhooed death of the industry this is not, the ecosystem to which our book makers are accustomed is about to be unmistakably disrupted.”

    This is melodramatic, but a good predication of change. Unfortunately, she goes to quote:

    “Think of it like a supply chain,” said one publishing executive who would not speak for attribution. “If the newspapers have fewer ads, they’re running fewer book reviews, so therefore, for those books that don’t have a pre-established audience, there are fewer opportunities to appeal to the consumer….

    This is a self-referring prediction of doom that defies logic. There is no “if”. Newspapers have fewer ads because people are increasingly not buying newspapers. This was true before the downturn. Is there a correlation between newspaper ad revenue in the last five years and book buying habits? Alternatively, will other forms of marketing (like, oh I don’t know… THE INTERNET) step into the decline?

    I stopped reading the article right there.

  8. Julie Weathers said:

    I’m not really concerned. If the story is good, I think it will sell. We just need to make sure our work is as strong as it can be. That should be done at all times anyway.

    I get tired of the negative doom and gloom news.

  9. Yoda47 said:

    They must not have been talking about fiction. Most of the books I read have nothing to do with a hot news topic at all. 😉

  10. Elissa M said:

    I don’t know why the media behave as if the sky is falling. This is not the worst recession we’ve had in recent memory, even if 20 somethings don’t remember things this bad. There’s no way it can even approach the depression my grandparents had to contend with.

    Books are really cheap compared with other diversions. Sales of hardbacks will likely fall off, but mass market will probably sell the same. I just really don’t understand all the panic and hand wringing all around.

  11. BuffySquirrel said:

    I’m blanking on how much more publishers can rely on celeb books…they seem to dominate the market already! Not that I look at them too closely on my way to find something to read.

    Honestly, do people only go into bookshops on the basis of a newspaper review? It seems unlikely. But then my husband and I have a sort of pact–he drags me past Waterstones and I don’t let him go into HMV! lol

  12. Stephie Smith said:

    I think fiction — especially romance because of the happy ending — will actually do better. Just in my own circle I have a friend who, in the past, spent some evenings at home reading but usually sought entertainment outside the home (dinners, movies, concerts). She’s reversed her position now because everything outside the home is so much more expensive–not just gas and ticket items, but all the menu prices have gone up. Books, however, have not. She’s reading a book a week now instead of one per month.

    Also, there’s nothing that lingers in one’s heart as long as a wonderful story, and books are tangible items that you can share. With all the stress people are living with, they need that. As writers we need to bring new readers to our genre. Take some of those wonderful stories you own and pass them to friends who are just “sometimes” readers. They just might get hooked on books.

  13. Chris Bates said:

    ‘Content is king’

    Always has been, always will be.

    Also … ‘Talent always finds a way out’.

    But I suspect you already know this, Kristin, otherwise you wouldn’t be making a living out of this game.

  14. Amy Nathan said:

    I don’t want to downplay the effect of the economy — but everyone is scared and cranky. I have a writer-friend who is so convinced that it is soooo hard to get published that she is delaying sending a manuscript to agents who’ve asked for it! Why? Because it’s doubtful she’ll get published…because of all the reasons you listed in the post. All I could do was to shake her by her cyber-shoulders and say that people get agented, and books get published EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Why not her?

    I think the key is to realistic, but tempered with optimism whenever possible. Otherwise we’ll do nothing…

  15. Joanne said:

    In tough times, people are cautious, wanting the most for their money. $20-$25 buys many hours of entertainment in a book, without getting in the car, fueling the gas tank, buying food, etc. Books seem like a great value to me.

  16. WendyCinNYC said:

    The NYO is pretty much a giant OpEd newspaper. They tend to like sensational or gossipy Manhattan-centric stories like “Our Snobbish Ranking of the City’s Top Prep Schools” or puff pieces on Tinsley Mortimer. Sometimes they have decent local news, but it has a definite point of view.

    It used to be delivered to my building for free.

  17. Hudak said:

    It’s the news media’s job to scare people and make them worry about what’s to come, because when people are scared and worried, what do they do? They stay glued to the television watching the news or they buy more newspapers to see what disaster is happening. Nothing is as bad as the media makes it out to be, not even our current economic problems are as bad as the media would like us to believe. And I know the first thing I want to do these days when I get home from work is sit down with a good book and lose myself for an hour…

  18. Lori Devoti said:

    I had pretty much the same reaction. I thought there were a number of holes in the piece. One that stood out was the strange trail of bread crumbs from lack of advertising in newspapers to lack of book reviews to lack of book sales. While book reviews may sell a few copies, I certainly don’t think you can pin a book’s success on them. And, honestly, if newspapers thought those reviews were important to their readers (highly read)–they would run them and cut something else. Although as you mentioned, the entire piece was much more directed to literary fiction than genre. And book reviews probably are a lot more important in lit fic.
    But all that said, I am not ready to pack my toys and go home…or go searching for that job at Mickey D’s.
    Lori Devoti
    Oh, and all this on the same day we are getting reports of bookstores having good sales in August.

  19. Jeanie W said:

    There’s no better way to go out of business than to stop producing things people will buy. Only completely irrational publishers are going to reject all the salable manuscripts that come their way. And who wants to work with completely irrational people?

  20. The Rejection Queen said:

    Another literary agent has this same subject posted on their blog..and this is what I say..
    “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 themselves lucky if they even sign on with an agent at this point in time. This only makes me feel more discouraged.

  21. AR said:

    I think everyone has made intelligent comments here. I would add that newspapers of a certain political bent may have an ideological stake in making the economy out to be as bad as possible. After November 11 the economic doomsday stories might not be flyings quite so thick. We’ll see.

  22. Anonymous said:

    Oh, no! Oh, NO! I’m in the middle of querying!!! IS THERE NO HOPE FOR DEBUT AUTHORS LIKE ME???? Just my luck… Why, then, continue?

  23. Thomas said:

    For comparison, I work in movies and I’ve been reading and watching reports on the death of my industry for a decade now.

    Apparently pundits have been ready to bury the film industry since the first televisions were sold.

    We’re still here and, despite the hype to the contrary, we’re as profitable as ever.

  24. S William said:

    I’m reading more and more based on site reviews and blog recommendations, and that is pulling me away from the heavy hitters pushed at checkout lines.

    I think this is true for many, but not all. My wife is still a checkout line junkie.

    So, I am more wary than I was five years ago, but it’s not generally towards the big names in the game.

  25. Ebony McKenna. said:

    Great topic Kristin

    I’m thinking people who buy lots of books – up to 20 a year, may buy less books. They won’t read less, they’ll go to the library. Libraries will have an increase in patronage and they’ll need more stock.

    People who buy maybe 4 books a year will probably still do so – because it’s not that much of a dent in the budget.

    What people will do is:
    Wash their own dogs
    Wait longer between hair cuts
    Make their lunch each day instead of buying it
    Cook more food instead of buying take-out
    Go out less
    Do their own nails etc

    But then, maybe this is all wishful thinking because I’m a writer and I think none of this applies to me?

  26. Deb said:

    This is op-ed, and not nearly well enough backed with facts.

    I buy maybe 6-12 books per month, for myself and my family. This is maybe 1-2 books fewer than I bought before gas in my neighborhood hit $4.25 a gallon. Never once that I can recall have I bought, or not bought, a book based on what some newspaper said about it, and never once have I done so based on a newspaper ad.

    Blogs, however…