Thursday, December 03, 2009

This Is The Way It Is (at the moment)

While I was in Hong Kong, I talked to a wide range of writers about getting published. This is always a great topic to delve into, but most particularly in HK, where there are hardly any publishers interested in fiction by HK writers. Having spoken to a few (publishers, that is) there seems to be a perception that most writers in HK are not worth publishing. It's simpler and easier to buy in fiction from other countries, often "mother" countries such as the US and UK. That makes it really hard for those living in HK - given that the number of publishers are small, and they don't seem too interested, writers there are forced to continually send their work overseas. This brings with it all those questions about markets and where to send and how to send it.

By the way, there are lots of bookshops and publishers in HK but mostly they deal in books in Chinese - the perception is that the ex-pat, English-speaking community there is too small to sustain local publishing. So many of the conversations I had were a bit depressing in one way, but not so much in others. After all, HK is a fascinating place, with a community of relationships and lifestyles that almost begs for stories to be told about it. Several people whose manuscripts I looked at were doing exactly that. Is this of interest to the wider world? Why not? Lots of readers love stories about people in other places, and most particularly about how they get on, or don't get on, with each other. (I must say, HK also has the most fascinating murder stories!)

But of course part of the conversation must be about what effect the GEC (global economic crisis, if you didn't already guess that one) is having on publishing. From the numerous newsletters I receive, and the various discussion lists I'm on, it would seem that the UK publishing scene is in dire straits, the US publishing scene has suffered huge layoffs and cuts, and the Australian publishing scene is ostensibly trundling along as usual, except ... less books are being accepted, some contracts and overseas deals are being cancelled, and more and more books are being let go out of print.

How do I know? Evidence turns up in my letter box. Very nice but apologetic letters about "out of print" and "cancellation" and "much lower sales than expected". If you are a new writer with great hopes for your manuscripts, it's easy at this point to feel quite despondent. To consider giving up. Or just stopping for a while. How long will this go on? Who knows? Children's and YA books are faring better than others. The feeling is that if you are writing adult novels, you had better keep your day job! Nonfiction needs a platform and a heap of promotion. Authors are told/nudged/bulldozed into social networking (not so subtle marketing that can easily alienate people if you approach it in the wrong way).

This is the way it is right now. It's out of our control, really. All we can do is go on as we are with our marketing and our websites and our whatevers, keeping ourselves out there and busy and at least feeling like we are a part of it all and not the baby being sucked down the plughole! But really - what matters to you? If you are a writer who relies totally on publication and book sales and a bit (or a lot) of fame to make you feel like a writer, then you probably will give up. There's not much of any of that around at the moment.

But if you're a writer who loves your craft, who is still working hard on your 10,000 hour apprenticeship (that's another blog post), who is still brimming with ideas, who is excited nearly every day to sit down and write, no matter what ... then think of this time as an opportunity to grow in your writing, to continue your apprenticeship, to keep doing that market research to see who's likely to be open to new ideas and manuscripts once the industry recovers a bit.

You know, there are more than a few publishers who are coasting right now, re-publishing bestsellers in new formats, resurrecting old favourites, trying to trade in on the nostalgia and familiarity/safety factor. That won't last. When they start looking for new, original work, do you want to be ready with a manuscript to knock their socks off? Make the most of this downtime to ramp up your writing, attend some classes, get some high-level feedback on your work, and get ready to submit when the tide turns.

1 comment:

Snail said...

I could imagine that stories based in Honkers would have a much wider appeal, esp. in the UK. It strikes me as one of those places where anything could happen within the fictional world of a novel and be entirely believable. I'd read it!