So, I’ve been thinking — a sometimes dangerous thing (yes, I once thought tuna and PB sandwiches would be a good thing — on a hike…I am surprised at times that I made it home from summer camp). But thoughts of late are of how do you keep things sustainable — worlds, careers, lives, etc, etc, etc.
The works usually applied to green living these days — a very cool, hip in-thing, and let us hope it stays cool and hip and in long enough to make a dent in changing excessive living habits. But even this seems difficult when you have folks wanting to gut the EPA which cleaned up the air, and BP trying to pretend all that oil has magically gone away. It can be difficult, too, to sustain your art…sustain a writing career…which is always a struggle, since need books must be thought of and marketing a book is as vital as writing it. And the current publishing model is not sustainable.
Fellow author Stephanie Laurens has come up with a blog Of Dinosaurs and Daffodils which speaks to this same point, with publishers taking the dino part of the analogy. And we all know what happened to them — some of them became birds. More of them wound up creatures no longer able to sustain themselves. This is very bad for writers whose work is attached to those bones.
And the main thing is, a writer used to be able to make enough from a few books to keep writing books, to keep improving craft. A writer could start out and work a career path. Publishers could and would work with writers, grow talent, help writers get past that occasional stumble. I’ve known writers who did this–heck I’ve watched Stephanie grow as a writer. But I don’t know anyone who has done this of late with a NY publisher. It seems more like authors hit, or the starve. And the middle ground is what’s fading into memory.
I know a lot of midlist author friends who can’t even think about writing for a living–and they are getting what’s considered a decent advances. But that’s all they get. The print runs are shrinking, and with Borders on the edge of dino-land, that’s going to get worse. There’s no real promotion for a book that’s expected to do okay. And with distributors ordering based on an author’s name and waht the last book did, good luck getting growth in that career. It’s just about getting the next book out–oh, and keep them coming.
Now it’s true that not everyone can be a bestseller. There are factors that have nothing to do with talent–and sometimes nothing to do with the book. Sometimes things just hit. But the publishing business is starting to look like one that only wants the hits–and doesn’t want to spend money building its future (and future talent). This may well be due to the debt conglomerates carry–or it may be that the world is changing too fast for them. Adapt or die still holds true.
And one thing the Internet does really, really well is to satisfy niche markets. (Yes, there are horse shows for folks who customize model horses and take pictures of the outfits and settings and compete with these — something I find fascinating, and no way would this happen without the Internet since how else would you find a fellow horse model shower?) So, actually, the Internet does better with niche books — and it doesn’t do so badly with mass market either. This gives it an evolutionary edge.
There’s another big advantage to digital publishing — we’re coming back to the author being in full control of the publishing.
Back in the day…way, way, way back, before New York publishing became mega corporations, publishing started off a much more intimate affair. Someone put money on the line to print and publish books–that someone might be the author, or it might be the individual printing the books (the publisher), or it might even be fifty-fifty for them, and they’d split the money. I’m not advocating we go back to that model — I’m not even sure that’s possible. But it shows that change comes to every business. So what you have to look at is what’s sustainable and what’s not.
And what sustains your own self and craft.
I’m biased here. I think artists need to step out on edges, to be daring, and sometimes stupid (see earlier note re tuna and pb — which has since evolved to a much better, and more sustainable tuna curry). One thing that sustains art is trying new things — coming up with new things. That’s not something big corporations do very well, not unless they’ve structured and built themselves around the idea that their job is to innovate.
The next big thing to hit publishing already has hit — Kindle and Nook and they didn’t come from publishing houses or New York. The next ones after that aren’t going to either. Meaning time for authors to look at all options for what really does sustain a career, or a life, or your art.
What gets you going and keeps you going?
And what puts food on the table and a roof overhead and a computer, or pencil and paper, in your hands to give you time to keep writing?