Publishing— It Sucks There, Too

by wjw on September 22, 2008

I’d like to take time out from the current world financial meltdown to talk about publishing, and how and why it totally sucks.

This article from New York states it very well, although for some reason it concentrates on best-sellers, and the heart-rending stories of newly-minted writers who got seven-figure advances for their first novels, only to find their price sinking into the low six figures by their third books.

Someone like me, who after thirty years in the business is about as far away from a seven-figure advance as I am from the moon, finds it a little hard to summon up a lot of fellow feeling for these flashes-in-their-pans.

Bet your money on someone with a thirty-year track record, why don’t you? You can’t do worse than you’re doing now.

The article pre-dates the current financial contretempts, which compels me to add this footnote: publishing runs on credit. The money that is paid to authors is borrowed from banks. Banks aren’t even lending to other banks right now, let alone businesses with the tiny profit margins we see in publishing.

Short form: Doomed. The lot of us. Doomed.

Ralf the Dog September 22, 2008 at 11:10 am

Walter, All of my annoying jokes aside, your problem is that you respect your reader. You assume the average reader has a better than average mind.

Try turning on the TV. Watch Deal or No Deal (Please, only once). Those Americans that retain the ability to read are viewed as elitist.

If you want to make money, Don’t use so many words. You need lots of bright pictures with lots of primary colors. Remove any conflict other than base comedy caused by people in award social problems caused by their own stupidity.

Try to write as if you were writing to a retarded second grader only with more sex.

Daniel Abraham September 22, 2008 at 7:11 pm

Well, but the reason the banks aren’t lending to the other banks is they don’t know how bad the lendee’s situation really is. When you’re not sure the guy you’re lending to will be around next week, you get antsy.

No one’s going to wonder whether Tor is holding a bunch of mortgage-backed stocks; they aren’t. It’s not what they do. Publishing is still a low-return game, but it’s the *same* low return game it was before, and a bunch of the high-return games just went away.

Plus which, book sales are actually up, and cheap entertainment is a good place to be during a depression.

I can make a pretty good case that this is a pretty good time to be a publisher.

halojones-fan September 23, 2008 at 12:49 am


halojones-fan September 23, 2008 at 12:52 am

Based on my careful analysis of the modern popular fiction market, your failure to make a big impact is due to a critical lack of gay vampires in your books. If only you wrote stories about gay vampires you’d be all set. (Teenagers having lots of sex is also helpful.)

Try to make sure that you base your characters on currently-popular film actors, because that helps your agent pitch your script to the movie studios.

Thai September 23, 2008 at 2:28 pm

It is all about fractals! Might make a good Sci-fi book to teach techies a little more about economics, evolutionary systems and bubbles… but halo-jones fan is correct, if you don’t add a gay vampire to the story your readership will probably remain small.

Sorry your getting caught in the credit crunch- trust me, we will ALL get caught in it. I have been following events VERY closely for years with increasing fear (have even been slowly buying in ETFs)… the truth is the problem has barely begun for most Americans if we don’t learn how to ration.

I can send you a few links on the subject if it interests you (though they might be in the more eschatological realms of the blogosphere- those commonly referred to as ‘doomers’ or ‘apocalyholics’).

Glad you enjoyed the restaurant in DC


Thai September 23, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Sorry: GOLD ETFs

Sean Craven September 23, 2008 at 3:39 pm

As someone who’s just starting off as a fiction writer this is exactly the kind of thing I want to hear. Which will win — my ability to live cheaply or the market’s unwillingness to pay for beans and onions?

I keep telling myself that many of my favorite writers worked during the Great Depression. It’ll be good for me, right? It’ll build character, right?

Ralf the Dog September 23, 2008 at 3:47 pm

I have the solution. In times like this, people look to fiction for escapisem. Authors who want to make gigabucks should write about filthy rich gay vampires that own gas stations and give fuel away for free.

Trust me, your readership will jump by the trillions.

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