Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bad Time for Publishers... but What About Writers?

What is going on in the publishing industry right now? It seems like a rather scary time for people in the business. I read not long ago that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books. So if you have submitted a manuscript to that house or its many imprints, don’t expect to hear anything any time soon. I’ve never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring. One wonders what acquisition editors do at times like these.

At the same time, Simon & Schuster cut 35 positions from their staff. And Random House, the world's biggest publisher, announced a sweeping reorganization of its publishing divisions. Bantam Dell (the imprint publishes Danielle Steel and Dean Koontz) and Doubleday Publishing Group (Dan Brown and John Grisham) both lost their publishers. Not fired, but resigned. And imprints are being combined or dropped.

Some insiders are saying they’ve never seen anything like it. I guess that means they weren’t around ten years ago when HarperCollins cancelled more than 100 contracts and laid off more than 400 people. The industry survives these challenges, just as other businesses do during a tough economic time. But what does it mean to you and me?

Well, if you’re published by one of the majors you might well be nervous about your next book seeing print. I, on the other hand, have a book placed with a small press. The management has not changed, and I don’t’ think acquisition policies have either. And despite the harsh economic climate, people around me seem to still be buying books. In fact, bookstores I was in this last weekend were doing brisk business, even without the 55 books I signed.

The situation today might be bad news for most of the books published by the big companies, but most of them never turn a profit anyway. Maybe this economic climate will force them to trim some of the fat, to lose some books that just don’t sell anyway. For those of us in the small press or self-published world, the big news may be no news. We already know how to work lean, we already work at marketing smart, we already look for every opportunity, and we know how to cut our losses if stuck with a loser.

So for me, and folks like me, the publishing recession might represent more opportunity than disaster. If Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Simon & Schuster stop flooding the market for a while, maybe more people will notice my work.

Am I overly optimistic? Probably. It may be impossible for me to thrive while the giants stumble. But at this time of year, I remember the words of Rogers and Hammerstein in Cinderella:

The world is full of zanies and fools,
who don’t believe in sensible rules,
and won’t believe what sensible people say.

And because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes
keep building up impossible hopes,
impossible things are happening everyday!

Happy holidays and all the best to all my writing friends!

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