Friday, February 08, 2013

The Writer's Glass - half-empty and leaking...

Today I sat down to continue reading Writing From the Inside Out by Dennis, but as I read his ideas on psychological blocks and strategies, a few things came together in my mind. And one was: any new writer starting out would be entirely forgiven right now for just throwing in the towel and going off to do something else.

Whoa! I’ve been teaching writing for many years and I love helping people to learn the craft and get published. I had to sit back a moment and ask myself why I was being so pessimistic. Well, it’s coming from a variety of things right now, and here are some of the things I have gleaned from industry newsletters, blogs, sources and online chat.

1.      Advances. How low can they go? Some publishers are trying to get writers with debut novels to sign contracts with NO advance. They plead that the market is untried, the budget is strained, the writer is new … Why would you spend several years (at least) working your guts out on a novel and then accept no advance? Because you really want to be published by a “legit” publisher and you figure it’s worth it. The problem is: it’s not. No advance means no real incentive to market your book. You’re on your own with that.

2.      Along with lower and lower advances (citing the state of publishing right now) comes the warning to the less-than-best-selling writer. You’re mid-list and you’re not selling millions so we are forced to reduce your advance. There are murmurings in the UK and Australia that some publishers are starting to “shore up” their argument for lower advances by assuming that PLR and ELR will “make up the difference”.

3.       A lot of children’s and YA writers in particular are feeling jammed between the rock and the hard place – the dollar-making (but often brain-sapping, inspiration-sucking) series treadmill and the stand-alone quality novel that might get shortlisted for an award. If you want to write what’s in your heart and do your absolute best with it, where is there for you to go? Only a few books each year make important shortlists, and then sell more copies. If that’s what you want to write, you can be forgiven for wondering if you have any hope of getting it published. But with every second writer trying to pitch a series, that’s a torturous road, too.

4.      The move to self-publishing, especially in e-books. Yes, 50 Shades of Whatever is making a bomb. So are some others. An awful lot of writers are self-pubbing because they can’t get their books published by traditional publishers, and yes, a lot of those books maybe shouldn’t be published at all. Let’s not get into that. Let’s ask ourselves why writers with really good books (like Hugh Howey with Wool) are self-publishing and then retaining e-rights, or after years of trad publishing, are going it on their own.
Why is this happening?

Because the internet for writers is a combined publishing news service/information update/gossip hub. Savvy writers read and listen and see what is happening, and they don’t like it. They don’t like the low advances and the way they’re expected to do the marketing themselves, so they figure they might as well do it all anyway. If you were an author with a popular blog and a lot of followers on FB and Twitter, wouldn’t you consider it?

You know, I wish I had some answers to all of this. Two years ago, I thought by now that things would have settled down, and to some extent they have. E-book buying has leveled out. Mad-selling books are still with us but we don’t get quite so het up about them. Publishers are still doing great things with great books. But I also wonder (sadly) if trad publishers, in the backs of their minds, are relieved all those writers are self-publishing, and hoping they’ll all just go off and stop submitting unsolicited, and let “real” publishers get on with the job of making money out of “real” books.
Sheesh. I need a glass of wine. While I can still afford it! But I will return - with a post on the glass half-full (metaphorically speaking).


Ellen Gregory said...

Great post, Sherryl. But now I'm definitely looking forward to the 'glass half full' view!

Sherryl said...

Hope i can "raise your spirits" with it, Ellen (groan!). It is hard to be optimistic at the moment, though. I'll try to find some happier forecasts.

Katie said...

I wonder about point three a lot, too, especially when it comes to avoiding the inevitable series. What happened to amazing books that stand on their own? Or books that don't end in pointless cliffhangers? That seems to be all we're able to buy in the library I work in at the moment. And they're almost inevitably clones of whatever is popular at the moment.

It is quite frustrating.

Sherryl said...

I'm so glad to hear that from a librarian, Katie. I'm writing a stand-alone at the moment and trying to ignore the niggle that keeps popping up - what if they want a sequel? Because I don't have one and don't want to be forced to write one!

I enjoyed writing the Our Australian Girl books (4 of them) but that was because I was really only telling one solid story over the four.

Stand-alones are the books that resonate, that have the depth and complexity, and the heart. They're the ones that change kids' lives. But it's a brave publisher that can turn its back on series!