I’m privileged to have many writing friends — authors with whom I chat, connect, and commiserate. Some are trad-pub authors who came up around the same time as I did. Some are agented authors on submission, or querying authors hoping to land an agent. A growing number are self/indie-published authors who’ve taken matters into their own hands. Across all author stripes, all experience levels, and all genres, there’s a common feeling of late. One of them put it succinctly:
Writing is great, publishing is hard.
The Publishing Industry’s 2008 Fallout
I saw a tweet from Kameron Hurley this week that piqued my interest:
I feel folks do not understand how fucked up publishing was after 2008 fallout. So many books canceled. Hundreds of publishing people lost their jobs. Advances crashed and have still not recovered.
— Kameron Hurley (@KameronHurley) May 31, 2018
I started writing seriously in 2008, and didn’t attempt my first novel until 2009, so apparently the f-ed up world of publishing is the only one I knew. I was curious about what this “2008 fallout” was and what brought it about. So were others who replied to Kameron’s tweet and asked for details. She didn’t provide any, so I did some digging on my own.
There’s a great in-depth article in New York Magazine from September 2008 — Have We Reached the End of Book Publishing As We Know It — that tells part of the story. Obviously 2008 was the start of the most recent economic recession and that certainly played a role. Major publishers had made some bad bets. Borders was struggling. Amazon was on the rise.
In brief, the ramifications of the 2008 fallout were that lots of independent publishers shut down, many people in publishing lost their jobs, and numerous book contracts were canceled. In short, it was a crappy time to be an author on the trad-pub route.
Notably, the U.S. economy has largely recovered. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which hit a low point of 6,443.27 in March 2009, is currently at 24,415.84. Regrettably, however, neither book sales nor author earnings have quadrupled in turn.
Invisible Book Sales and Author Earnings
Speaking of author earnings, I read an entertaining blog post by Mark Williams on The New Publishing Standard about privacy and accuracy questions related to the Author Earnings report. If you aren’t up to speed on this, here’s a quick summary: A few years ago, Hugh Howey partnered with an analyst who calls himself Data Guy to try to infer e-book sales and author earnings by monitoring Amazon sales rank.
Over the last several years, these Author Earnings reports have been the source of big news in the publishing industry, providing a contrasting (pro-indie) view of the e-book market to the reporting by AAP and the traditional industry. Basically, their numbers suggest that self-published books, which are largely untracked by industry reporting, have come to dominate the genre fiction e-book market.
The fundamental problem is that Author Earnings reports don’t have actual sales numbers. They have estimates based on a snapshot of the bestseller lists and book ranks from a single day. The shakiest part, of course, is the part where Data Guy takes a book’s sales rank and guesstimates how many copies have sold. Numerous indie authors provided Data Guy with their actual sales numbers to help fine-tune the algorithm, and he claims it’s 95% accurate.
Everything was fine and good, with indies championing the AE reports and what they herald, until Data Guy announced BookStat, a commercial service that he’d provide to customers with >$10 million in annual sales. Long story short, he cashed in, and lots of indie authors were unhappy. See The New Publishing Standard for Mark’s interesting (if not completely unbiased) analysis.
The Author Struggle Is Real
I think we can all agree that trad-pub, hybrid, and self-published authors are all struggling right now. Most recent changes to the industry — shifting markets, the dwindling KU payout, etc. — make our lives slightly worse. In these dark times, we look to authors who’ve been around the block a few times to provide a glimmer of hope.
Gail Carriger has a nice piece on her blog on the truth about authors between books. I think this was in response to some people seeing their favorite authors on Twitter and wondering, why aren’t they writing. Gail talks about what it’s like to be on the author side and why we sometimes need to not write.
Mark Lawrence wrote a wonderful bit on how all of it is never enough. Basically, it’s about how we can manage our goals as writers and maybe come out a little bit happier because of it. A short but worthy read.
That’s all for today! Go out and find some happiness, my friends. The Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy blog series will return next week.
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