- Hope for the Unpredictable Fairy to bless my book.
This is not about the recession. It's not about ebooks. It's much more because of price-cutting over the last seven years. This means that publishers have to sell more books - shift more units, as they charmingly put it. They can do this either by working harder to sell more of the full range, or by choosing to publish only books which will sell in large numbers.
Overwhelmingly, they are choosing the latter. This leaves writers with two choices:
- Decide that writing what we want to write won't sell or let us be/stay published but do it anyway because we love it.
- Do 2, and also find other ways to earn money - diversify, building a portfolio of writing-related or other activities to support our writing.
So, as well as diversifying, which I'm already doing successfully, I'm now also going to be compromising. Specifically, I am now using a machete while redrafting my work in progress, leaving behind what I hope is a great commercial idea written in a stripped back, fast style, subsuming many of my favourite bits - the meaningful ideas or powerful description. And then I hope - and my agent firmly believes - it will be ready to sell, and we hope lots and lots of lovely readers will want to buy it. Suprisingly, with my reader's hat on, I rather like what I'm left with... It's fast-paced, exciting and fun. If I was a young reader, I hope I'd like it. After all, I want my readers to enjoy themselves above all. So, maybe there's no compromise - it's just a different way of writing. It might even be better.
Selling out? Personally, I call it selling. I call it doing a job of work and doing it as well as I can. If people don't want to read something else, who am I to say they must?
Edited to insert my subsequent comment from the conversation that follows, because I need you to know this: "Thanks for all your comments, people. However, I've not made myself clear. This is not some theoretical whinge; this is not about a definition of commercial; and any comment about books that are being published now or recently has no impact on my point. This is about one thing: what publishers are saying yes to NOW and what authors are earning now and in the next round of royalty cheques. (Books that have been published are not books that publishers are saying yes to NOW.)It's worth also adding that Allan Guthrie, who is not only a successful author but also an agent with Jenny Brown Associates, mentioned this post on Twitter, calling it "despressing but stunningly accurate." He sees this as an agent, and they are at the front line. They see it shortly before authors do.
I have been talking to a lot of agents over the last few weeks, as well as authors who have been dropped or whose advances have been slashed. Here's the situation: books which would have been accepted 18 months ago are now not being; publishers are pulling the plug or threatening to pull the plug on commissioned books if sales of the first ones are not doing well enough; and the next round of royalty cheques are going to be seriously down for most writers.
Yes, writers have never been able to earn decently from many sorts of writing but now those sorts of writing are fewer and the amounts being earned on all but the most "commercial" books are slashed.
Definition of commercial - simple: sells a lot. It doesn't mean bad: it means popular. End of.
Sorry to sound so dogmatic, so pessimistic and so harsh. We will find a way through this but you need to know that the situation for most writers and would-be writers is very very difficult if what we want to do is earn directly from book sales."
(I will be talking about this in Glasgow on Wednesday 11th August - upstairs at the Universal Bar, in Sauchiehall Lane, just behind the Waterstone's store on Sauchiehall Street. This is an informal gathering, free to enter, and happens every month, with two speakers each time. My fellow speaker is Linda Strachan. DO COME! Doors open 7.30.)