There's been a lot of discussion lately about the dire state of the publishing industry. (For example, see Maya Reynolds' always-useful summaries here, and Nathan Bransford's imploring here). Apparently, like the auto industry and the banking industry and the real estate market and retail industry and pretty much every other profession you can think of (except, of course, for funeral homes), the publishing industry is seeing declining sales as people try to keep more of their money in their pockets. These are hard times economically for a lot of people, and that blows.

But I don't really care.

Or...that's not exactly right. I care. I wish people were doing great and, as relates to the publishing industry, I wish people were buying lots of books. Tons. Scads.

What I mean is, despite the fact that I just got an agent and haven't made a first sale yet, and despite the fact that, in a market that's turning downward sales might be harder to make and advances and print runs smaller and readers less likely to buy, I can't possibly worry about all that.

It was like when the stock market first tumbled a month or two ago and people were freaking the f*** out. A friend of mine, who is younger than me, sent an email to a bunch of friends talking about how scared she was and how her 401k had lost half its value. Um...okay. I guess I understand how economically bad times can be a little frightening, but it wasn't like she had just been laid off--her job is as secure as a job gets nowadays. And she is FORTY YEARS away from taking anything out of her 401k. So why the panic?

That's how I feel about the sorry state of the publishing industry at the moment. Sure, I would love for it to be booming and for houses to be beating down my door throwing checks at me like, well, ticker tape at a ticker tape parade. But if it takes longer for my book to sell (fingers crossed), or if I get a smaller advance than I would have last year*, or if there's a smaller print run or smaller sales, well...okay. BOO! but okay. It's not like if I don't sell The Book in the next two weeks I can't pay my mortgage.

And there's no point in getting all worked up about it and fretting and having panic attacks about WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE FUTURE OF BOOKS IN GENERAL AND ME IN PARTICULAR!!!

It doesn't mean a whole lot, really.

And since it doesn't mean a whole lot, it's better not to get myself all tied up in knots worrying about it. The market will recover. For books and for cars and even ::shudder:: for stock brokers. But I can't make it recover. All I can do is live my life and dream my dreams and work my ass off trying to make them happen. I can't control the timing--all I can control is me.


*Not that I'm willing to be lowballed, mind you, and theoretical editors at publishing houses who want to buy a really well-written and engaging YA book with a great protagonist and an almost-equally great love interest (or two), CALL ME. Or, rather, call Agent Ted. He's very nice.


They've been predicting the demise of books for years. They're never right. Oh, I'm sure in this day and age there are the TV watchers and the computer gamers and all that but there will always be a decent-sized market for people who love to read words on printed paper. That market will wax and wane like everything else but books have been around for how many centuries? Let's not get too worked up about the publishing industry.

Plus, the publishing industry is just going through a shakeout. Just as Hollywood has flooded the market with too many new movies per week (thereby ensuring that most new movies flop because they have no time to build an audience, even when they're decent movies), the publishing industry has been on a binge. How many books do we need by former politicians that nobody reads? Honestly, did anybody slog through President Clinton's massive autobiography? How many more books capitalizing on the latest trend do we need? (The Da Vinci Code sold like gangbusters? Quick, everybody write something like that. Vampires are in vogue? Get us some new vampire novels STAT. It doesn't matter if they suck. OK, that was a BAD pun.)

The market for really good, well-written fiction and nonfiction is actually quite small and the publishing industry just needs to realize that and plan accordingly. There will always be surprise books that break through (Harry Potter and stuff like that) and move millions of copies but very few books will reach those sales levels.

They've tried to change reading for years. How about a computerized tablet that lets you hold an electronic book in your hand and you can scroll through the pages? Sorry, folks. Nothing -- and I mean NOTHING -- beats the old-fashioned feel of holding a great book in your hand.

I guess the way I see it, even if the entire industry were to actually collapse and vanish, there would be those of us who would write books and copy them by hand, if need be, because we want to share stories with the world. Just as there will always be people who will want to read books. Of course, if the industry does collapse, let us hope that it does so a year or so after your novel hits the bestseller lists, OK?

Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 2:39:00 PM EST  

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