Sunday, April 06, 2014

Writers Find Their Future on Shaky Ground

Lately, I’ve come across a couple of articles about successful traditionally published authors whose incomes have been steadily dwindling over recent years. An article The Guardian quotes authors who claim that the credit crunch of 2008 and rapid change in the publishing/bookselling world have hurt their bottom line so much that some of them are in dire straits and facing some tough decisions.

The article isn’t talking about aspiring first-time novelists who’ve enjoyed lucky breaks. It’s talking about writers who have an impressive body of work under their belts and multiple awards. The publishers these people work with apparently can’t afford anywhere near the advances they gave before 2008. Book review sections in newspapers and magazines has been drastically cut, the flood of freebie e-books and cheap novels has made books more competitive and ultimately the writers’ bottom line.

I’ve been writing for over thirty years, and I’ve seen and heard all this before. The merging of publishing houses all over the world, and especially in North America, over twenty years ago eliminated many midlist writers back then. Midlist writers are disappearing again, and so the cycle continues.

In a sciencefiction article, bestselling fantasy author Tracy Hickman told an audience at a conference that he was fighting for his professional life. He stated that he used to have blocks of people lined up at bookstores to buy his books, but with the bookstores dying out his fans can’t find him anymore. Like the authors quoted in the above article, Hickman has to do a lot more work just to scratch out a living, and after thirty years of writing, he’s not sure it will last.

And that’s the disheartening part. So many well-known, award-winning authors are now in their sixties and nearly broke. Now they’re wondering not only if their careers will soon end, but what will happen when their meager savings runs out.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? The answer is that none of the authors in the two articles have figured out what Joe Konrath and others have. That adapting is not only crucial but quite possibly highly profitable for writers who’ve already created fans and a body of work. Why aren’t they embracing the digital age? Hickman says that he’s lost readers because they can’t find him. Huh? Are all of his fans technically illiterate? Or is it that they know how to find him but there are so many authors now available the digital world that their attention has wandered?

In this business adaptability means as much as awards, advances, and lots of published books. It’s about taking those titles and awards and incorporating them into this brave new world. Maybe they should start by reading Joe’s blog.


The Daring Novelist said...

Just FYI: Hickman actually corrected Konrath's post -- the original person who reported what he said at that conference quoted him out of context. He's apparently thriving... with self-pulbishing.

Here is Hickman's response to Konrath:

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Oh, thanks for the info! I appreciate it.