Jennifer, a publishing M.A. student, has asked me if I agree there is a crisis in the publishing industry regarding mid-list authors.
(Hang on a moment. What, exactly is a ‘mid-list’ author? But since I seem to fit any definition I can think of, that’s probably all right.)
(And what, by the way, is a crisis? A mass extinction of a certain kind of writer? I doubt it. Writing careers can be beautiful and short, but there will always be more writers, writing all sorts of stuff. What matters is whether enough people want to read a particular sort of writing. And – let’s be brutal about it - if they don’t, then will its loss really matter?)
Those two questions begged, let’s go on. Here is some of what I said to Jennifer.
Yes, it seems to be harder these days to persuade the bookshop chains to put non-best-selling titles on their shelves. Yes, libraries are closing. Yes, there’s less space for book reviews in the print media. Supermarkets are selling best-selling titles at discounted prices, which means that the big profits aren’t as big as they used to be, which is why bookshops are struggling and publishers are risk-averse etc. All these things hit the business model that the less-well-known author depends upon. Sure. But we’re not going back to the Net Book Agreement, are we?
I’m optimistic. Not necessarily about my own career, which could die tomorrow. But people want to write and people want to read, and they’re going to find ways of finding each other. What we’re looking for is a business model that makes that possible. No one can yet predict is how the rise of blogging and on-line selling, and the advent of the e-book, will change things. Will on-line ‘buzz’ concentrate around the few titles that everybody is reading, or will bloggers will take pride in discovering things that no one else has discovered, so that otherwise unheard of titles will start to get momentum? I think the second is more likely. Doubt me? Here’s a review of WE that appeared on a US site. It’s very nice, but the point about it is that WE isn’t even published over there. The reviewer got it off Waterstones on-line in e-book form. Her review was picked up by a popular SF site, also in US. More people saw it. And the first to get in touch with me about it was living in Argentina. Doors close, guys. But the thing about them is, they also open.
And don’t give up on publishers. Don’t give up on booksellers. Most people in this industry got into it in the first place not because of the money but because they like books. They are being showered all the time with good, creative, stuff from people who want to write. Of course they can never publish more than a fraction of it. But if they can persuade themselves that this one here or that one there might really catch on, then they’ll get it out there.