Fictionomics

As someone hoping to publish fiction in the near future, I keep a close eye on the industry and the news surrounding it. Just as I receive numerous emails from various retailers I watch, I also read several blogs and receive a few emails relating to publishing. For the most part, they have all been depressing–poor sales figures, missed quarterly earnings, and job losses galore–but for a writer attempting to break in, the news from the publishing world has been bordering on apocalyptic. The world of books, as we know it, is coming to an end thanks to your friendly neighborhood digital age.

So, what does all that mean on the microeconomics level where I sit in my chilly study and write my little stories?

That depends. The mood among unpublished writers like me tends to very pessimistic. In the forums and on the blogs I’ve read recently, the growing consensus is that new work should be put on hold until the economy turns around. The argument in favor of this tactic is that publishing houses, firing staff left and right and, in some cases, shutting down all acquisitions for the foreseeable future, have made it virtually impossible for a new author to break in. There are exceptions–there are always exceptions–but the odds of getting published now are possibly lower than they have been since a guy named Gutenburg developed a little machine to start the whole ball rolling.

The publishers, their editors sweating behind their desks and wondering if that last manuscript they bought, the one that didn’t do as well as they projected, might be the one that gets them sacked, begin a domino effect that makes the agents more choosy on who they decide to represent. An agent’s time is valuable beyond the comprehension of most mortals and taking the time away from their proven clients to try someone new is more of a luxury than a necessity. Every agent would like to find that diamond in the rough, but right now, amidst the financial chaos, those diamonds are having to shine a lot brighter, but cut a lot better, and already be set in a nice engagement ring to get noticed.

Now, all of this stems from one tragic truth–people aren’t buying enough books. With no Harry Potter to bolster sales, no Dan Brown page-turner to reel in the casual buyers, books are dying at the retail level and the rest is just a side-effect. Fingers are being pointed in every direction–the economy reducing disposable income, the publishing houses putting out worse books, the writers producing crap in a 10-point font. Regardless of the cause, people are not buying books the way they need to in order for things to improve.

And all of this, every last bit of it, is okay with me. I’m fine with it.

Having been in the business side of things for a long time, I understand the struggles of retail. When the economy is bad, people buy less. When it is good, they buy more. That’s what makes the world go ’round. The exception to this time-honored tradition is the item that causes such a stir in the culture that we have to fork over those hard-earned dollars just to be included in that special club of ownership. It’s the Tickle Me Elmo. It’s the Wii. It’s the ShamWow. It’s that little sperm cell of marketing that gets in and impregnates the egg of our fiscal responsibility. In short, it’s all about the product.

New writers can break in, even now in these dark times. Of that I am sure. The real question is this: how good is your product? Do you have the story that must be read or is it a testimony to your own ego? Are you savvy about the business side of publishing or do you think one semi-creative idea should be enough for the world to beat a path to your door? Do you have a passion for writing, regardless of whether you can make money at it, or do you think if Stephen King can do it, anyone can? If you answered the latter on any of these, please step aside for those of us who are serious. All you are doing is taking up valuable time and energy from those the rest of us want to reach.

Whether or not you believe in evolution, there is something to be said for survival of the fittest. I want competition. I want to know that I’ve risen above other worthy writers to see my name in print. In business–and I assure you, publishing is only partly about the creative process–competition is what determines success and, when a company or individual falls short of that competition, failure.

So, instead of sitting on my recently completed manuscript, waiting for better times, I’m throwing caution to the bitter wind blowing through here and sending away. Even if one book is chosen for publication next year, I want that one book to be mine. I have no time for people who don’t want to be the best in what they are doing, particularly in something they profess to want to do. I want to win every award, top every list, and be the best writer I can be regardless of what challenges lie beyond my study door. Success is measured in increments, sure, but only in increments that are achieved, not those where we fall short. Next month, after the publishing world has recovered from their holiday breaks, a number of agents will receive a carefully crafted query letter talking about my new book and I hope at least one says, “This is that diamond.” Lord knows I’ve spent enough time cutting and shining it.

Anyway, as I put away my soapbox, I’d like to announce my one completed Christmas short story should, barring some unfortunate delay, be posted on here tomorrow. It’ll be the first fiction on here, so I’m very hopeful that someone will read it and perhaps even comment. So long as the comment is positive, of course.

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
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