Thursday, June 30

Writers Despair

Writers Despair

Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes:
[W]hat I've seen this past month from established writers is an abundance of despair. I got a sad phone call from a friend, had a lot of sit-down conversations with writers who were ready to give up their dreams, and a nine-page single-spaced e-mail from a hell of a writer of dozens of published books, wondering whether or not to quit altogether.
What are these writers despairing about? Lots.
Books that would have sold five years ago don’t sell now. Series that are growing are getting bounced from their publishers for not growing enough. Agents, unable to sell product, are telling their mystery clients to write romance novels and their romance clients to write thrillers. Other agents are starting backlist e-pub companies and robbing their clients blind. Still other agents are blaming the writers for the fact that nothing is selling well and encouraging them to sign terrible book contracts.

Bookstores don’t carry paper books any longer. New York Times bestsellers can’t find their backlists in stores. American authors with bestselling novels overseas are being told that foreign countries never pay the promised royalties, only advances.

Traditionally published bestselling writers look at their royalty statements, see that their e-books sell only 30 or 100 or 200 copies in six months, and wonder how the hell upstart self-published writers whose books have ugly covers and whose interiors need copy editing manage to sell tens of thousands of e-books each month.

Editors who once had to tiptoe around their biggest authors are telling those writers to change what they write because their sales have decreased, and clearly, their writing has gotten worse over the years. Writers whose rabid fan base numbers 10 or 20 or 50K get told that their books no longer sell to that fan base even though the writer is constantly getting e-mails from that base and is signing brand new books for that base.

Publisher sales figures are impossible to get. An estimated laydown of 50,000 becomes an estimated 17,000 one month later. On the royalty statements issued six months after that, that laydown then becomes 5,000 books with another 5,000 in the reserve against returns. But, that same book, tracked by Bookscan (which only covers 50%-70% of the book market [and maybe less now]), shows sales, sales (not books shipped), of 30,000.

But even if Bookscan’s numbers are true, the book’s editor says, thirty thousand is pretty insignificant for that genre or for that particular series or for that particular writer. The writer will have to take a smaller advance and accept worse contract terms. Or the writer doesn’t get offered another contract period.

And of course, of course, it’s the writer’s fault. The writer misread the numbers, wrote down the wrong amount in the initial phone call with the editor on the laydown. Oh, it wasn’t a phone call, but an e-mail? My bad, the editor says. It was a typo. I didn’t mean 50,000. I meant 5,000.

So, the writer says, if you only printed 5,000 and I sold 5,000 and the book is still in print and still being ordered, then my book is doing well, right?

Wrong. We overpaid your advance, the editor says. We never ever should have paid that much money on a book that would only sell 5,000 copies.
What's the solution?

First: Know that
It’s not you. You’re fine. Your writing is as good as ever. The business is changing and you’re caught in the crossfire. It’s not personal, even though it feels personal. You are caught in the middle of a nightmare. The rules are changing, and no one knows where any of this is headed. Talk to other writers. You’ll see. It’s happening to all of us.
Second: Read Kristine's article.

Photo credit: "Between life and death" by Kathryn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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