Writing realities:  the current economy and what it means for writers this holiday season

This holiday season is definitely going to see significant changes in the world of commerce, and writers are being affected.  Many are discovering they have to completely rethink their strategy, while others are finding their publishers are changing the rules of the game and, the way the contracts are written, their hands are mostly tied.

A glut of one-off works from emerging authors has created a new reality for writers.

This year has not been a good one for small independent publishing houses.  Staff upheavals, business failures, and the over cost model of the publishing industry has created a brave and rather scary new world for writers.  Several small publishers have failed and several more have reoriented themselves away from mainstream genres to niche houses.  These changes have created issues for many writers under contract, especially with some publishing houses retaining legal counsel to retain the rights to the contracts even after business failure.  This creates problems for writers with unpublished manuscripts who want to bring new works to market with stable publishers but, through no fault of their own, are stuck in “option” clauses which preclude them from bringing those works to other publishers because said story may fall under the umbrella of the contract.

For the average writer, a novel, short story or medium sized prose is more than just a labor of love.  It is the end result of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours of brainstorming, editing and re-editing, sending drafts out to trusted critics, and baring their creative souls in groups which can be supportive at best, caustic and trolling at worst.  The life of a writer in the current economic climate is nothing short of exhausting, and only the strongest and most productive tend to survive. Moreover, established authors with marketing support are more suited to bring new works to market and keep readers going because their works are, for lack of a better term, consistent.  Productivity is now the keyword; the publishing world is full of “one hit wonders” who may be highly quality and entertaining, but simply couldn’t keep the juices flowing and now find themselves either in bad contracts or out of ideas.  This has had a deleterious effect on the publishing and writing world with respect to emerging authors.

The vast majority of writers never make a true living from their books or blogs.  Most of us are the equivalent of “Single A” baseball players, plying our trade out of a labor of love, singing for our supper, and working “day jobs.”  It is the rare author who becomes famous and that’s usually through a combination of hard work, the right contacts and, let’s face it, blind luck.  Still, those of us who love to write do it out of a sense of creative drive, a calling.  It’s a damned painful thing to do at times, and the current economic climate for publishing is doing us no favors.  Still, writing is what we do, and so we continue.

This holiday season, keep the writer in your life in your thoughts.  Give their work a try and leave a review, positive or negative.  You never know the sort of impact such an act may have on their lives.


Six Questions for Writers to Pay Attention to in 2015

Happy New Year!  The new coffee maker (Hamilton Beach FlexBrew – you may cut me that $5 endorsement check tomorrow) is running at peak capacity and my Starbucks Blonde Roasts K-Cups are kicking some serious inspirational hiney, so let’s get down to business.

There has been tremendous controversy surrounding Amazon’s Prime membership service, with the hubbub being centered on several prominent established and emerging authors doing a Taylor Swift-style “opt out” as a result of declining revenues thanks in part to Amazon’s compensation structure being vastly different for Prime than for conventional royalties.  This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg for the publishing biz, which has seen an immense amount of transition since the start of the decade.  Here are six questions writers need to pay close attention to in 2015:

How personal will marketing really get?  Targeted marketing has always been important in the publishing business, but 2015 will see a quantum leap in how authors connect with readers, and ways readers drive the market.  While “premium” memberships have always been available, more and more free material will begin to be “leaked” by emerging authors as a way to hook new readers into buying their products.  Other authors will likely be holding contests for fans in which a lucky reader will be written into a book as a character.  Of course, barter agreements between authors and various providers will likely rise, as these are both tax-deductible for the providers, and useful for authors.

Is this the year “microbooks” become major money?  A tremendous rise in the quantity of short-read titles, so-called “microbooks,” has turned this once-niche format into a cash cow for many small and medium-sized publishers.  These “dollar books” are some of the hottest sellers on Amazon and other outlets, and many of their authors are not only emerging, but extremely eager to connect with fans and are leveraging these format to sell more traditional-length works.  This interactivity bodes well for a format once exclusively the province of doctors offices, novelty shops, and adult bookstores.

Does erotica jump the shark?  The long-awaited movie adaption of Fifty Shades of Grey hits theaters this winter, and both fans and critics alike are looking forward to seeing how faithfully filmmakers follow E.L. James’ controversial story.  James’ success has been decried by some as a mere flash in the pan, but worldwide bestselling trilogy is hard to argue with.  What this series has done, however, is make a genre once considered the province of spinsters and dirty old men mainstream.  Now the question becomes simple – can Fifty Shades continue to be the erotic standard bearer, or will a poor performance at the box office cause erectile dysfunction for the entire genre?

Which small publisher will hit a grand slam this year?  Every so often, one small publisher seems to come out of nowhere and hits a literary ball out of the park.  Some publishers, such as Solstice, have been enjoying marked success with their focus on e-books.  Other publishers have been spending 2014 getting their houses in order and are now focusing on blowing “out of the gate” in 2015. There are so many small publishing players outside of New York’s legacy “Big Five,” there is always the possibility an author will go viral and come out of nowhere to become an instant hit.

How will self-pub business shake out?  There have been tremendous changes in the world of self-publishing in 2014, with some vanity publishers being exposed as cash-hungry scam artists, and the rise of websites such as Fiverr to provide budget-minded authors with editing services.  The continuing success of CreateSpace and Smashwords is certain to see many writers try their hand at self-publishing, but this could very well be the year many wanna-be authors realize they are glorified fanfiction writers and bloggers.

Could this finally by the “Year of the Indie Author?”  Bloggers, critics and analysts have been asking when indie authors will finally see their breakout year, and 2015 could very well see it happen.  The 2014 debut of Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices was an exercise in celebrity marketing appeal gone horribly wrong, with sales of her book dropping faster than gas prices in December.  This has made established publishers a slight bit skittish about big-money celebrity book deals, and the rise of emerging authors has turn the telescope towards deserving new writers who have been fighting to rip the spotlight away from Hollywood authors.  Publishers have been awakened to a very stark reality – celebs popularity on the screen doesn’t always quite translate to the bookstand.  Look for some blockbuster emerging titles in 2015, and many touching on controversial storylines, ranging from homosexual love to race relations to conspiracy theories.

There they are – six questions which could have major implications for the publishing business.  Time to sit back, sip on some coffee, and enjoy the festivities.