The DragonPage podcast predicts and dramatic plunge in book deals because of the global financial crisis. So even if any of us write and impossible-to-put-down winner, do we stand a snowball’s chance in hell of netting an agent or a publisher these days?
Slowed, but not stopped, I think.
No difference at all. Allow me to show you the math.
The chance of getting an agent has ALWAYS been a snowball’s chance… ergo…
Snowball’s chance = 0
And as we all know… anything times zero… is still zero…
Thus… no change. You still need a day job. However, that may be more problematic if you use a computer and need to pay the electricity bill…
Homeless Writers Unite! We will burn the rejected manuscripts for heat! Meet us by the big green gargage can in the park!
As a non-published type who recognizes he has little hope of ever getting published and started writing for non-economic reasons I have been thinking about the impact that the global implosion may be having on folks I have come to care for. This in turn has caused a burning sensation between my ears which I believe may be related to me thinking. Ok, I lied, I know the smoke alarm is related to me thinking.
My thought is if this creates an opportunity for a newish marketplace. Something between an e-book and subscription service. A forum for readers to obtain new material less expensively yet still keeping authors fed. I imagine “it” would have to be a cooperative platform from the author/contributor perspective. What I haven’t really conceived is the medium for distribution. Then again there is so much out there already that there may be no interest in yet another option. Bah!
If it makes anyone feel better the kids are still buying books at a rate of about one per week. Hopefully other folks are starting to see books as alternatives to the cable bill…
On-line music stores have shown there is a market for individual elements of a larger package; that is to say, people who won’t pay $x for the package will pay $x/10 each for individual elements – and not always those elements marketed as the cream.
(One of the kids borrowed my copy of the Chieftains Long Black Veil. So for Valentine’s Day, I downloaded Van Morrison’s “Have I told you lately.” Easier and cheaper than tracking down a new CD.)
Does the business model translate to literature? It might be done, though the history of on-line literary publications is grim. The problem is that single-element sales – so far – have been for work which readers/listeners/viewers want to re-experience. I replay CDs frequently, but except for a few personal crotchets – Lear, Bleak House – I seldom go back to reread long literary works. And I suspect the same is true for most readers, whether of novels or short stories or essays or plays.
The material most likely to work in this setting I think would be comics. Probably there are others on this forum who can speak to that.
I was thinking more of an old fashioned “serial novel” concept. Buy a chapter, read it, like it, buy next, decide you like author, buy next book. Not sure that works. Content would need to be unique.
I don’t know if this is related enough or not, but:
Having a brother-in-law who is obsessed with Creative Commons issues and Open Source and the like, I’ve given the issue of the “new market for creative work” a lot of thought, and have come to a happy (in my mind) conclusion. The ability to widely distribute creative work online will mean more opportunity for those seeking to make money off their work, and less opportunity for those seeking to make a freaking fortune off their work.
I think the days of people writing screenplays and novels, hoping to hit the lottery, are waning. Conversely, I think the era of Artists Being Able To Make A Passable Living From Their Work are on the rise. The economic crisis may well speed up the process.
I’d love to go on at thread-killing length on this topic, but I’ll just throw that out there and wait to see what people have to say.
A few more specifics if you please Sean. No big words and reasonably short sentences(my half brain is only functioning at 45% capacity )
First of all, I’m going to be using the hated (by me) term “content providers” – if only because I don’t want to keep typing “writers, musicians, TV networks, record labels, etc.” over and over again.
My thoughts on this topic are based around a fairly logical premise: Content providers are well advised to act in accordance with the way people are ALREADY BEHAVING. Attempting to fundamentally change people’s behavior in ways that benefit the content provider over the user is not only a selfish idea, it’s bad business.
iTunes is a good example of this. People keep saying that iTunes re-invented the online music business, but that’s fundamentally untrue. All iTunes did was take the way people were already behaving – they were finding music online, downloading it and sharing it with friends – and made it easier, more reliable, and packed with little extras like advice from famous people on what they listen to. Steve Jobs was smart enough to realize that the one part of free music downloading people were willing to part with was the “free” part; as long as he made songs cheap enough and the user experience pleasant enough, people were willing to pay for songs. He turned existing behavior into a business model.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s a business model, but it’s not a tremendously lucrative one. It’s a DECENTLY lucrative one. I imagine that in his negotiations with the music industry, Steve told them, “Look, you crusty old bastards. The days of getting $15US for a fucking CD are over, so you might want to think about canceling that order for the gold-plated hot tub. You can either decide to live with less, or you can die.”
Live with less or die. I think that’s key, and I think that applies across the board for all content providers, even writers. And yes, I think that involves a degree of “giving it away for free”, because that’s what digital files and the internet have wrought.
My friend Straw Man – against whom I win an inordinate number of arguments – grumbles that “Stephen King never gave his stuff away for free.” Really, Straw Man? Bullshit. Stephen King sent his short stories and first novels to hundreds of editors before he sold Carrie, and I’m guessing none of those editors paid for the right to read his stuff. On the contrary, King is the one who paid: for copies, for postage…
In the coming years, those hundreds of editors are going to be replaced by readers, who are going to download stories and novels to their computers and Kindles and, yes, to their iRead (or whatever it ends up being) for free, or for very little money. And they’re going to decide what they like, and what they’re willing to pay for.
Straw Man answers back: “But why would anyone pay? People will just read for free!” Some will, yes. Just like some do now with their library cards. But some will pay – as long as we sell them stuff in a way that honors the way they already behave.
“Pay for what?” says Straw Man (he gets like this when he drinks). Well, here’s an example off the top of my head: The future internet tycoons at literatureandlatte.com decide that they’re going to run a site that features work written with Scrivener. They have a section for, say, short stories from newcomers that you can download for free. If an author becomes popular – that vic-k spins some pretty good pirate erotica! – then you can download his stuff for 99 cents. And he’s writing a novel you can download for $9.99. And if you’re a purist, we’ll even bind his book for you and send it to you for $15. And users are encouraged to email those stories, and even the novel, to their friends, because that’s how people discover new authors – BECAUSE THAT’S ALWAYS BEEN THE WAY PEOPLE HAVE DISCOVERED NEW AUTHORS!
Does vic-K get rich off his writing? No. Do a bunch of people “steal” Vic’s work? Yep. But some will pay for it, and if he cranks out a story a month, and a novel a year, over time, if he’s good enough, he can make a living. And maybe he sells a story to the movies. Or maybe online libraries all over the country pay $9.99 to put his novel in their Adult Pirate section. That sounds like a hard way to earn a Euro. Know why? Because making great stuff month after month is fucking hard, and it always has been.
Anyway, I told you this was going to be long. I’m just saying, so many of us get so fixated on the internet’s ability to take money (mostly theoretical money, at that) out of our pockets, we forget that that which taketh away also giveth. It potentially gives may of us a shot at a loyal, dedicated audience who is actively seeking our work. And a lot of that audience is going to pay, if for no other reason than they want to see us write more. You don’t think people will happily pay for that reason? There’s a thread in this very forum – something about Scrivener 2.0 – that proves you wrong.
Next up: I save the comic book industry with vending machines.
And a good fist of the specifics you
ve made too, young master Sean! Even with depleted cranial capacity, I ve manage to wade through that lot, without actually feeling as though I
ve waded through anything at all. Before my noggin goes into shut-down mode, Ill quickly say ( before going away to digest the points you`ve raised), I suspect, your a bit of a romantic at heart.
FWIW, my agent tells me good fiction is still moving in NYC, just not as fast, and often through smaller houses, and usually with much smaller advances. But editors still are buying; they’re just being a lot more selective, and a lot more cautious, and a lot more penurious than they’ve been in the past. (And they have a lot more slush to winkle from the pile, now that every out-of-work stockbroker/teacher/truck driver is writing a book fictionalizing his or her experiences doing what they’re no longer being paid to do, and hoping they can soon be doing something so terribly effortless and lucrative as writing. For which: snort.)
Well, the editors aren’t being more tight-fisted–most of the ones I know, including me, would happily empty the dark corporate overloads’ pocketses into the deserving hands of writers. It’s just that the overlords make those decisions in a nexus of evil called an Ed Board Meeting, where the Editor is a mere supplicant whose hands must at all cost be kept out of the dark overlords’ pocketses, which are, if you read their profit-and-loss statements to shareholders, are truly getting very empty indeed.
Good thing I’m just finishing a book (my first in Scrivener), and expect in a few weeks to see my agent shopping it forlornly around the pinched halls of NYC. I don’t foresee any exchanges of emails about “what can we get?” I’m just hoping for a line or two about “what can we settle for.”
I may (or may not) have answered your PM. I wrote something, anyway. What the infernal machine chose to do with it I couldn’t begin to say. It claims to lurk still in my outbox, and it isn’t in my sent folder, and when I send it again I send it neatly to myself, but then I already knew what I meant to say, and didn’t very much enjoy reading it all over again to see if my opinions had changed.
These kids and their infernal machines…
Whatsoever of ye raises me that PM-sending ability, he shall have this gold ounce. Or a top-maul to the keyboard.
I believe they sit in the outbox until the recipient opens the communique on their machine. This gives you a chance to edit typos you missed or whatever. It is delivered, they just haven’t looked at it yet.
Next you’ll be telling me someone’s invented a magic box that receives moving pictures from far away.
Well, I do feel it’s important for the elderly to learn something new every day, and sending something that isn’t sent until it’s received is a new one for me. And it makes perfect sense to boot.
It’ll give me something to mull over while the ticker-tape machine ratchets out the news of how my shares in the buggy-whip manufactory are doing in These Horrible Times.
Ahab I am sorry for where this post is going, but I can’t help myself.
Would Melville have made the “white whale” an elusive search result in Google? A tricky hardware issue? Or maybe even a complex software conflict that no one could resolve but only really bothered the modern Ahab?
I am thinking the software conflict would hold to the original story better, but it woudl be better to have the modern Ahab actually succumb to the hardware failure.
I think the modern Melville would have been far more likely to have sent his Ahab hunting software developers with a harpoon. An elusive Google search may sometimes put me in a snit, but it hardly triggers a damp, drizzly November in my soul.
Here’s a wonderful essay on writing from Elizabeth Gilbert’s website:
This bit from it seems appropriately suited to this discussion:
“I have a friend who’s an Italian filmmaker of great artistic sensibility. After years of struggling to get his films made, he sent an anguished letter to his hero, the brilliant (and perhaps half-insane) German filmmaker Werner Herzog. My friend complained about how difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood and how the world has lost its taste…etc, etc. Herzog wrote back a personal letter to my friend that essentially ran along these lines: “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.” I repeat those words back to myself whenever I start to feel resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated with regard to my writing: “It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work.” Always, at the end of the day, the important thing is only and always that: Get back to work. This is a path for the courageous and the faithful. You must find another reason to work, other than the desire for success or recognition. It must come from another place.”
You may also want to watch her speech at this month’s TED conference:
That’s just wonderful - and I don’t even like most of Herzogs’ movies.
A Zen monk once said about meditating: “You don’t have to enjoy it, you just have to do it.”
And now for something completly different: Think about the bright side of the crisis - all those people having suddenly so much free time, they probably will read even more books.
Conclusio: sit down and start to write - [size=200]now[/size]. 2000 words a day. Go. Cut the cable to your phone, your internet connection; switch off your mobile phone; gag your kids/partner/parents/pets.
After finishing your 2000 words - wash your hands. Oh, and don’t forget your kids/parents/partner/pets; they deserve better, don’t you think? Remember, you’ve been writing the whole day…
I love this thread. I was about to start one on the exact same topic but thankfully I took the time to read the existing post titles first. Sean, your posts are enormously encouraging. I am way past the point in my life where making a killing from my writing would be remotely possible or even significant. Making enough to supplement what looks like is going to be a severely truncated version of our original retirement package would leave me delirious with gratitude. So you’ve shown me a possible vision of the future I can live with, and one that seems eminently moral and fair, and I’m very grateful to you for it.
I would also like a subscription in advance to the future pirate porn site, vic-k, and will happily pay any dues forthcoming. So to speak.
As for 2000 words a day, zikade, I stand (sit, actually, my back is killing me these days) in awe. I religiously do my 1000, but 2000 is beyond even contemplating. The cocktail hour can never come soon enough for me; with a target like that I would die of thirst. I bow to your prodigious productivity.
And once again, Keith, huge kudos to you for Scrivener, which I get down on my knees and thank you for every day, as it makes it actually possible for me to get those 1000 words out and keep my mind off fretting about the economy.