Showing posts with label changing markets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label changing markets. Show all posts

24 June 2019

The Times, They Are A-changing

by Steve Liskow

Some time ago, I pointed out that writers have to change with the industry, especially if they're self-pubbed.

About ten years ago, I attended a conference where an agent warned the audience that he and his colleagues wouldn't even look at submissions from writers who had self-published. At that time, prevailing wisdom said writers were self-pubbed because their work couldn't meet industry standards.

Mystery writer Joe Konrath and others disputed that claim, saying they were treated badly by the traditional monopoly and could make more money on their own. That argument gained weight when NYT bestseller Barry Eisler turned down a half-million-dollar advance from his traditional house and began publishing his books himself. It's worth noting that because of his successful track record, Eisler had thousands of followers, an advantage the average writer can't claim.

Everything influences everything else, and sometimes that's not a good thing. Self-publishing continues to grow, and it takes a substantial bite out of traditional sales. Last year, nearly a million self-published books appeared. Even if they each only sold one copy, that's a million books that the Big Five didn't sell, and it affects their bottom line.

Traditional markets have consolidated or disappeared. Since there are fewer paying markets, the remaining ones are swamped, for short stories as well as novels. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine receives over 1000 submissions a week. Even if you read only the first page, 1000 minutes is over 16 hours, which means the slush pile grows more quickly than the rejection letters can go out.

The numbers hamper novelists, too. There are five independent book stores within thirty miles of my condo, and while they all say they support local writers, they do it by charging fees for shelf space and offering consignment splits that range from generous to usurious. They have two reasons for this.



First, self-pubbed authors won't offer the same 60% discount and free shipping and returns for a full refund that traditional publishers do. Bookstores need that break...unless they can stage an event that guarantees lots of sales. If it rains, snows, is too hot, or another event nearby falls on the same day, audience may not show up. a large audience doesn't mean large sales anyway.

Second, traditional publishers take manuscripts that have already been vetted by an agent and will edit them professionally, maybe more than once. It's no longer true that all self-pubbed books are terrible (see Eisler, above), but the only way to find the good ones is to read them. How long would you need to read one million pages to make your choice?

Most libraries follow the same reasoning. I offer a discount and free delivery for libraries that order several of my books, but few accept my offer because their guidelines in the face of annual budget cuts insist they focus on Lee Child and Stephen King because they know the demand is there. It makes sense, but it deprives the patrons of finding new authors to enjoy.

I suggest to those libraries that they buy digital copies of my work because the price is lower and people can borrow several copies simultaneously. That's not making headway either, but I'm trying to offer more options so my work gets read. Besides, if more people read my stuff, I might get more workshop gigs. Those have tapered off because of those same budget cuts.  I'm finding new venues and splitting fees, but nobody is making out like Charlie Sheen here.

If your book is on a shelf somewhere, it needs an eye-catching cover. My cover designer does brilliant work. He's also my largest set expense, and I'm not selling enough books at events to break even.

More change...More adjustments...

My next novel, due out at the end of this year, will probably be my last paper book.

I have four stories at various markets and four more in progress. By the end of the year, I may be releasing the unsold stories in digital format. I'm studying GIMP so I can design my own covers.

When you're a writer, you always live in interesting times.

What are you doing differently now?

03 July 2012

Brief Versus Short

 by Dale C. Andrews

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
    Last week I received an eagerly awaited piece of mail – a check.  The amount of the check, paid in compensation for a 26 page document I wrote this year, may not have been huge, but neither was it all that modest.  It was, for comparisons sake, more than  my annual salary  back in 1972 when I was still programming computers.  It was also about 8 times more than I have received in total for the short stories I have sold over the past few years.  Unlike those stories, this novella length document wasn’t fiction at all.  The check was payment for a legal brief that I agreed to write in a case involving a challenge to new consumer regulations published by the United States Department of Transportation. 

    I know, I know.  I make a point here and elsewhere of being a “recovering” attorney.  But this case tempted me back into the legal arena since I was asked to defend regulations that are pro-consumer, and with which I personally agree.  Also the payment would be, well, generous. 

    The last 20 years that I practiced law I was the Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the Department of Transportation’s litigation office.  For a host of reasons I enjoyed that position much more than I had my previous 15 years of practice in the private sector.  At DOT almost everything that I did revolved around the written word.  I specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation, so there was no interviewing of witnesses or trial work for me.  Rather, I spent my years writing and editing the writing of others.  When I was in private practice it bugged me no end to think that every hour I spent on a project needed to be billed to someone.  Time and money were stapled together at the ankles.  Separating hours worked from compensation received is one of the greatest joys in working for the government.   While work still stacks up, there is nevertheless the opportunity to give each task the amount of time it requires rather than the amount of time that can justifiably be multiplied by an applicable hourly rate.  Nonetheless, I am human, and I like money as well as the next guy.  So I admit that it was the prospect of those billable hours that enticed me to write that brief this year.

    By contrast, each of us here at SleuthSayers, I will bet, is marching to a different drummer.  You basically can’t make anything close to a living writing short stories.  The last mystery writer who may have been able to eke out that sort of living was Ed Hoch, and I would be very surprised if there are any more of his ilk out on the horizon. 

    This was not always the case.  O. Henry wrote virtually only short stories, and apparently lived well.  Shirley Jackson left a handful of novels, but was principally known for her incredible short stories.  Faulkner, Hemmingway and Steinbeck each cut their teeth on short stories, as did Stephen King. 

    It is interesting to speculate as to what has changed since the heyday of magazine fiction.  John Floyd, in a column last week, set forth a list of outlets that currently pay for new short stories.  That list is paltry compared to the publications that were readily available at neighborhood news counters in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  And why is this the case?  Economics teaches us that the magazines that are no more ceased to exist only because readers stopped purchasing them.  It’s pretty simple – when readers go away the market contracts.  Since the demise of many of those short story outlets coincided with the rise of television it is tempting to link the two.  Did readers leave because of the advent of television?  If so, why was that the case?  Mystery stories were a hallmark of radio programming before televisions entered our living rooms and yet the market for printed short stories thrived alongside radio dramas. 

  Thinking about this I was reminded of an episode on the Twilight Zone – actually, the 1985 re-boot of the show on CBS.  The episode, part of the 1985 Christmas show, was titled “But Can She Type?” and centered on a much-abused secretary who was transported into a parallel universe where secretarial skills were revered.  The scenario of that episode is not unlike the situation that short story authors find themselves in – we seem to be stuck in a universe that no longer fully appreciates our contributions.

    It is possible, with the advent of epublications and stories and books that are obtainable over the internet without ever being published in hardcover, that the pendulum may now be swinging back to a more amenable position.  But I still am a bit of a skeptic.  After all, the demise of all of those mystery magazines that we bought as kids was not a fluke – they left the shelves because the public stopped buying them.  Does the ability to download a book or a story heighten the public’s interest in acquiring the story?  Of course from an economics standpoint it could be that the readership market, while still narrow, is also deep, and that on-line availability of mystery fiction will appeal to those still interested in the genre who, for whatever reason, are not frequent purchasers of hardcopy books and magazines. 

    Regardless of whether these new outlets are harbingers of better things to come, at least, as John pointed out last week, there are markets that are out there right now.  But there are also strange disparities.  I spend roughly the same amount of time on a short story that I spent on that brief to the D.C. Court of Appeals.  My writing style changes somewhat when I shift from fiction to persuasive rhetoric, but it doesn’t really change all that much.  I still end up using the same words, the same organizational approach, and pretty much the same cadence.  But one of those efforts, if successful, brings monetary rewards that are probably at best only about five percent of the potential of the other. 

    In any event, no matter how the economics sort out, those of us committed to spinning yarns are in this for non-monetary gratification.  We are also in it for the long run!