Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Write Books

Why Write Books” is the title of a Forbes article by Elisabeth Eaves. The article is fairly long, but well worth reading. Eaves sums up the recent New York Book Expo America, as well as the current publishing industry. She doesn’t believe the publishing industry is dying, but she does admit it’s changing.
Publishers will automatically make new books available in a digital format, suitable for the Kindle or other e-readers--though mid-list authors may have to ask, or arm wrestle, publishers into digitizing their older books.
She does, however, admit the industry has problems.
Meanwhile publishing, for better or worse, has had no discernible system beyond trying to do what has worked before. Spooky Dracula novel sold well last year? Throw a million-dollar advance at the author of a spooky gargoyle novel this year. Books about pets and atheism are flying off the shelves? Get one about atheistic pets.
Her conclusion?
In short, book-writing is a worse-than-ever means to a livelihood, and mass-market renown is disappearing as a concept, fractioning into a million niches. Ultimately the only good reason to write books remains what it probably always was: The compulsion to try to entertain, persuade or make meaning is irresistible, and the process absorbs you like nothing else. If it doesn't, there's no reason to bother.
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23 comments:

  1. That's horrible marketing within the industry. "After thought" thinking. A publishing house that could get a visionary (or group - think tankers, maybe?) on staff who can predict what the next big trend in popularity WILL be would pull WAY ahead of the crowd if that's how the majority is going about it.

    The Old Silly From Free Spirit blog

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  2. Grocery stores do tons of research to find out where to shelf product in order to sell it. You'd think the publishing world could do some research and get ahead of the game instead of trying to catch up. Thanks Marvin.

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  3. This part struck me… “In short, book-writing is a worse-than-ever means to a livelihood.” Yep, that sums it up nicely. My first book was a modest success. The metric? Publisher bestseller—However they measured that. Still, I lost way more money promoting it than I ever made in royalties.

    I tell new authors: Write for yourself, for the joy of completing a project, for dreaming-up all the story elements and tying them together in a meaningful whole. If someone beyond friends and family read it, so much the better, but-—if you can-—just write it for you. Everything else is a bonus.

    Best Regards, Galen.
    GalenKindley.com

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  4. Wise words, Galen.


    "...and mass-market renown is disappearing as a concept, fractioning into a million niches."

    I actually find that quite heartening, if that's a word. It has to be better than a, literal, handful of writers accounting for 90% of sales.

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  5. I have to agree Anton, assuming it's not 5 big authors getting 80% of the sales and a million other authors splitting the 20%.

    Galen, you are so right. You better love what you do because chances are you will spend more than you make.

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  6. If it is true that an author is likely to spend more promoting their book than they make in royalties then the book industry truly is doomed. If I went the "traditional route" only to find that I lost money then I wound never do anything but self-publish via Amazon from that point on. I mean, what would be the point?
    ~jon

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  7. For now, I'll focus on this point that "the only good reason to write books remains what it probably always was" ....

    Otherwise, I may never finish writing.

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  8. Some of us continue to write because we can't stop. If all the traditional publishing options are closed to us, we'll choose to self-publish or we'll just keep writing stuff and putting it away in a box. Isn't that the weirdest thing?

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  9. Nah, not weird, Patricia. Not to me. On the other hand, it could be that it means I'm weird.

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  10. Guess I'm weird as well.Couldn't stop if I wanted to. Well, guess I could, but I won't. Love it too much.
    Karen Walker
    http://www.karenfollowingthewhispers.blogspot.com

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  11. Referring to the research done by grocery stores, now that's actual facts & numbers. Publishers & agents 'guess' using their gut & feelings. No wonder they get it wrong so often!

    L. Diane Wolfe
    www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
    www.spunkonastick.net
    www.thecircleoffriends.net

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  12. I'd like to make money off my books, but for now I guess I'll have to be content to write for the joy of writing.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton
    http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

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  13. It seems to me that if you didn't love writing, it would show in your book. Part of writing and getting published is also learning.

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  14. Hi Helen,
    Thanks for the visit to my blog today and for the speaking advice. Yes,it's time to come out of my comfort zone even more. Big sigh!!
    Karen Walker

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  15. Gee, was there ever any OTHER reason to write novels? :)

    --Lisa
    http://authorlisalogan.blogspot.com

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  16. Great discussion, Helen. Thanks for starting it. And I'm in the "I simply have to write" camp, although I do like some kind of paycheck now and then. I think that is why some of us also freelance as editors. Some years I make more at that than royalties from my books. :-)

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  17. Always gotta make sure you're doing it for YOURSELF, for your own satisfaction. This is a good reminder. Thanks!

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  18. You could write even if you didn't like it. Tons of people do jobs every day that they don't like. But writers do it for the pay. Writers, for the most part, write for love because no one is going to pay them to write. They may eventually get paid for what they wrote, but while they're writing, they better love it or they'll burn out quickly.

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  19. Hmmm, I am staying at my lucrative job so that I can afford to keep writing. I guess that makes it a compulsion...

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  20. Things definitely seem to be changing in the publishing industry. Not only the digital version of books, but the growing trend to self publish. With so many POD options I wonder what the bottom line will be on traditional houses.

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

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  21. POD and ebooks and self-publishing are certainly changing things.

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  22. Helen,

    Well, I have to agree with Elizabeth Eeaves on one item. The publishing world certainly is changing, as are governments, mulit-national corporations, and pop culture. The world is a dynamic and ever-changing micro and macro universe and one must be ready to shed off their old wine skins in favor of new wine skins if they are to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

    Yes, there are problems, but with problems come opportunities for the prudent author to recognize opportunities as problems typically represent old publishing models that they would be wise to steer away from. Instead, authors, especially aspiring authors, should look to emerging publishing models that are eating away at market niches from traditional publishers.

    Personally, I see opportunity galore for aspiring authors. I’ll post blogs this week regarding unknown authors over the past 150 years who have hit it big by going the non-traditional methods of publishing. Okay: sneak preview – Mark Twain, John Grishom, and Christopher Paolini (Eragon) among many others.

    Thanks Helen for posting this article. You have a terrific site that I like to visit.

    Steve Tremp
    http://stephentremp.blogspot.com/

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  23. Thanks Steve. It's helpful to be reminded of those who now are considered great or popular authors, but who didn't start their careers with hug advances and big print runs. They took a different route.

    I'll look forward to your blog post on it.

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