Concerning publishing in this economy

So, like I blogged about earlier, the American economy is basically in the toilet, and to quote Roger Clyne, “Everything’s going down, flowin’ counterclockwise.” Regardless of direction, the fact remains that, besides the bailouts of AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, I’ve heard today that both Washington Mutual and Morgan Stanley are initiating sales of themselves (I know a couple of people who work for Morgan Stanley, and wish them the best).

New York/Manhattan is, obviously the epicenter of the financial industry. When the Dow sinks, it sank first in Manhattan.

Manhattan is also pretty much the epicenter of the publishing industry. And given that the financial climate is what it is, one would think that the publishing industry is every bit as concerned about its own welfare as financial sectors are concerned about their own.

And one might not be wrong.

For example, one of the regular publishing/agenting blogs I read is maintained by Lori Perkins, of the Lori Perkins Agency. Lori is extraordinarily well known in the publishing industry and has quite the agenting reputation. She is renowned and respected. This is her blog. I like reading her blog.

So today, Lori wrote about how the faltering economy might affect writers. Money quote:

It’s not all doom and gloom. I just sold another book for one of my clients to Harlequin’s Spice line. But the bad news there is that it won’t be pubbed until 2011.

And there’s the rub. These publishing companies work so far in advance, that when they decide to slow down acquisitions, they can literally just stop buying for 6 or 9 months. And that’s what I predict will happen here.

So my advice is to close on any offer that comes your way now, or try to get a three book deal, because it’s going to be very slow for the next few months.

Which is interesting, certainly. It gives me pause. It might not be doom and gloom, I guess, but, well, it’s a little doomy and gloomy. At least on my end. My end being recently graduated MPWer who studied with Sid Stebel and is currently seeking representation for his debut novel. That end.

But here’s the thing:

Perkins recently partnered with two colleagues to form Ravenous Romance, an e-publisher specializing in romance available exclusively online (no printing-on-demand, it seems). Perkins is, understandably and justifiably, excited about this: it’s a brand new publisher actively seeking new material. To wit:

There’s more than enough to go around, as we are buying over 400 books a year and at least 365 short stories.

Then again, it seems like an entirely different business model from that of ‘traditional’ publishing (we really need a better adjective for that). It doesn’t sound as though it’s based on advances; it sounds much like Harper Studio, the new Harper Collins imprint, which asks writers to either accept drastically reduced advances or forego it altogether in favor of greater sharing in profits. Which seems kind of cool, in a certain way; it’s certainly getting writers to put their money (books) where their mouth is. I’ve often thought I might fight for a higher advance but then reinvest it into whatever publishing company offered it and the marketing/publicity budget they had allotted me.

Arguably grandiose publishing plans aside, the timing of Perkins’ posts and venture is interesting to me. Sure, acquisitions from traditional publishers might slow, but meanwhile, Ravenous Romance is purchasing upwards of 400 manuscripts for e-publication. Also, actual publishing might slow, but a digital publisher inherently lends itself to faster production. Which is why Ravenous Romance seems like it might be a terrific alternative in an otherwise troubled time.

The question I ask, though, is of degree. I salute Perkins and really admire what she’s doing. But digital publishing gives me pause, if only because it’s so accessible to anyone. Publishing a printed book requires conversion, printing, and often distribution. Even self-publishing companies like Lulu affiliate with a printer because not just anyone can produce a professional-looking book, and even if they could, how might they get it into bookstores.

Digital publishing, on the other hand, completely obviates that need. In a few moments, give or take, I’m going to hit the ‘publish’ button here. The conventional phrase is that I’ll be sending this post ‘into the ether,’ which I suppose is partially true, but it’s an easily accessed ether, ain’t it? After all, you managed to find it. Ravenous Romance bills itself as an online publishing company, but aren’t Blogger and WordPress, too? One could make the argument, of course, that something like Ravenous Romance allows for a gatekeeper similar to the traditional publishing houses and somehow lends some authority/credibility based on the fact that any work published was somehow acquired, but then again isn’t that one of the problems with traditional publishing; since when has it been concerned with either authority or credibility so much as whether a book will sell?

Me, I don’t know. Really, all I know is that though publishing may be changing in drastic and exciting ways, the more it changes, the more it will remain the same. Because all it is, really, is simple: words finding their way.

Which, I think, they generally tend to do.

7 thoughts on “Concerning publishing in this economy

  1. GOTHAMGIRL

    I like the word customary instead of tradtional. Does that fit your fancy?

    Romance stories on the internet is a little differn’t then other types of stories though. I mean, the internet was invented for porn (I don’t care what Al Gore says that’s why it was created and he didn’t invent it). So, having a webiste where you can go read stuff to… um, get you in the mood isn’t really invative.

    I always thought of books as the one thing that was still American made from the planning to the making. Do we not exsport enough books to other countries that the publishing companies wouldn’t be affected as much as other businesses?

  2. MAPELBA

    Might book sales also depend on the type of book? I mean, in doom and gloom times, wouldn’t romances sell better than some other stories?

    Surely someone out there has looked into how books sell during financially troubled days. Buying a paperback is, after all, cheaper than a trip to the theater (admittedly requiring more time and effort). People will want to be entertained no matter what. The bigger problem might be that people are simply reading less.

    Maybe they happen to be reading less while the economy tanks, but that doesn’t make the two connected. Doesn’t make them not connected either, I’m just wondering thinking in circle over here while I consider my publishing chances.

    How much should this affect what I’m doing? Should I stop sending out my work? Well, the odds are against me ever getting an agent anyway even if the economy soars to new heights tomorrow. I won’t be writing a category romance regardless.

  3. WILL ENTREKIN

    @Gotham: you make a great point in reference to porn. And I think you’re right that the US is the biggest part of the publishing industry in the world, but I was just saying, according to Perkins, they’ll probably slow down anyway.

    @Mapelba: I actually think you’re right that book sales go up because they’re less expensive alternatives of escapism. Then again, if publishers slow down, there are going to be fewer books to buy. Then again, given the sheer volume of books printed every damned week, that might not be a bad thing.

    As for your other question, though, I don’t think it should affect what we’re doing. I think our job tends to remain writing the best books we can, troubled times or not.

  4. ALMA

    I’m no expert on whether people read more or less during times of economic hardship, but I do think that economic hardship affects people in different ways. I think people are reading and writing in much different ways than they did in the past.

    I think people would be more likely to spend their money on movies than on books. For one thing, you can check books out of libraries for free. For another, going to the movies is a way that people can be together without really being together. When times are tough, there’s an isolation that sets in and it’s comforting to be around people. But it isn’t necessary easy to connect. And movies provide a total sensory escape that books just don’t provide–no matter how great the writing is.

    I remember, growing up as a poor kid, I could count the number of times I went to a theatre on one hand. My first theatre experience didn’t happen until I was 9ish. I spent a lot more time listening to music, going to the library, and being outside.

    Now, I think I probably would have done the same things. I don’t think I would have been online much because we couldn’t afford a computer until I was 18. My access to technology would have been at the library. And that’s true for thousands of kids throughout the world. There really are two different worlds out there. One is for people who have a little money and access to technology. They also tend to have access to education that will make them literate adults. Then, there’s another world where it is possible to have those same things–but it may be delayed or grossly difficult to obtain. But I digress…

    So, all of this is to say that I don’t think writers have anything to worry about. A talented writing does more than just books. You can morph your talents to meet the needs of the marketplace. You can exploit the world of the haves and get into publishing that’s more readily available because of technology. You can blog. You can self-publish. Hell, you can do what I used to do and publish a zine on a copier. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  5. WILL ENTREKIN

    @Alma: I think you also hit on why so many people do write; it’s perhaps the most accessible thing one can do. It’s not so easy to get a video camera. Or buy a guitar and learn it.

    But just about anyone can pick up pen and paper. And you’re right: everyone will continue to, and just figure out how to get it out there.

  6. ANION

    There are dozens of erotic romance epublishers already out there, with solid, established customer bases. Their authors (of whom I am one) earn very good money. This is not new.


%d bloggers like this: