Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Publish And Be Damned

Time for some world-class whining. With a rational basis.

Life for middle-class, mid-list authors, even those with a couple of traditionally published books under their belts, is getting worse. From fellow blogger SheWrites.com, because I couldn't put it better myself (this is a couple of years old, but more timely than ever):


Essentially, what’s happened is this: publishers find themselves in increasing financial peril; they need to make money, so they try to make safe bets.

The result for readers is a "narrowing of the breadth and depth and diversity of our culture: the quieting of all but the blandest voices, the elimination of all but the safest choices." The result for writers is that every year it gets harder to publish. Bestsellers reign supreme, and mid-list (or mid-career) authors have been shunted down the pecking order, taking the place that beginning writers used to occupy. As small presses (the home of many first-time authors) die in huge numbers, first-time authors may find themselves out in the cold.

It’s a kind of death of the middle class, but within the microcosm of our industry.

There are many reasons for the crunch: the publishing industry’s antiquated returns systems, the growth of the big-box store and mega-distributor, the rise of e-books and internet retailers, and the influence of ever-larger publishing giants.

A writer calling herself Jane Austen Doe described the crunch for Salon.com in 2004. Things have only changed for the worse in the succeeding decade:

Since I signed my first book contract, the publishing industry has changed in ways that are devastating — emotionally, financially, professionally, spiritually, and creatively — to midlist authors like me. You’ve read about it in your morning paper: Once-genteel “houses” gobbled up by slavering conglomerates; independent bookstores cannibalized by chain and online retailers; book sales sinking as the number of TV channels soars. What once was about literature is now about return on investment. What once was hand-sold one by one by well-read, book-loving booksellers now moves by the pallet-load at Wal-Mart and Borders — or doesn’t move at all.

I post this because it resonates. Writing is my profession, and it would be nice to have hopes of making  decent living from doing something one does professionally. I have one of the best agents in the industry, based in New York, with connections galore, and with two unpublished novels of mine on hand he's performing the labor of Sisyphus to just get a look in at traditional publishers. 

What my blogging colleague says above is true: The extinction of the publishing mid-list parallels that of the middle class. Both are being crushed between extremes. My hope is abroad. There are still traditional gatekeepers in Germany and Italy. But what happens here tends to soon happen there.... 

I've always fancied driving a bus.


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