“Hard Times Come Again No More….”

These are hard times in the writing business.  Yeah, I know:  you don’t want to hear about it.  Frankly, I don’t want to write about it.  But sometimes we have to move past our likes and dislikes and deal with reality.  And the reality is that the publishing business is in disarray right now.  

I was talking to a friend of mine about this the other day. She’s not a writer or an editor or an agent.  She’s just a normal person, whatever that means.  And she asked me if the writing business suffered in times of recession the way other businesses do.  The short answer is, yes.  When people have less money to spend all businesses suffer.  And when corporations are worried about their bottom line they become more cautious, more frugal; they’re more likely to take a hard line in their negotiations with long-time employees (or contractors, which is technically what we novelists are).  It’s perfectly understandable, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant for any of those involved.

But there is more to this recession — and more to its impact on the publishing industry — than just the economics of it.  The world is at a technological crossroads.  The internal combustion engine, which drove the economies of the 20th century, has reached the end of its utility.  Communications are being transformed before our eyes.  The desktop computer, which revolutionized the last 25 years of the millennium, is already becoming obsolete.  Simple everyday tasks that were once completed with a pen and a piece of paper are now done on a screen.  Today, if it’s not mobile and electronic and “green” it’s not relevant.

And we write books.  Now books are highly mobile.  Just like newspapers.  And we see how well that’s working out.  Books were once a technological breakthrough — a vast improvement over the stone tablet and the parchment scroll.  But given all the other changes we’ve witnessed, it’s really quite remarkable that books are still being printed.  Will they still be around twenty years from now?  I have no idea.  I like books.  I like the way they feel in my hand.  I like the fact that I DON’T have to look at a screen to enjoy one.  But the environmentalist in me does have some trouble with the fact that they’re made of paper, that they have to be transported, usually by truck, that they have to be stored in vast warehouses.  It’s hard to imagine them surviving the broader cultural and innovation upheavals that are carrying us from the remnants of the 20th century to the promise of the 21st.  The publishing industry has to deal with these new technologies, and as a writer, so do I.  At the risk of being slightly offensive, I don’t want my career plan for the next thirty years being dependent on the reading habits of the Amish.

So yeah, as I told my friend, this economy is tough for writers and publishers alike.  We’re facing a hundred different kinds of uncertainty, and that doesn’t make for an easy time.

Which begs the question, what do we writers do to make it easier on ourselves?  How do we survive?  I only have one answer, and I’m afraid it’s not very satisfying.  We write.  That’s what we do.  Perhaps there’s a better business plan out there.  Maybe I should be looking to change careers (because this is SUCH a good time to be looking for a new job….).  Maybe I should redouble my self-promotion efforts (and probably I will).  But when it comes right down to it, I’m a writer.  And at the risk of being overly optimistic, I believe there will always be a market for good stories.  They might not be printed on paper; it may be that there’s another screen in my future.  But reading will not vanish, and, to be blunt, neither will I.

Are contracts for writers harder to come by?  Yes, right now they are.  Are advances smaller than they have been?  Yes.  Will my next project buck these trends or fall victim to them?  I haven’t a clue.  I do know that I still have ideas that I intend to turn into books.  I also know that I can write faster and still turn out quality work.  I used to write one book a year.  Now I’m up to two, and I think I can get it to three.  Am I willing to work harder to keep my career going strong?  If it means that I still get to write stories, you’re damn right I am.  When I first broke into this business, I met a writer who was writing full time and doing quite well at it.  Even then, this was a hard way to earn a living, and I asked him how he managed to do it.  And he said, [Paraphrasing]:  ”You don’t sit around waiting to write a bestseller.  You become what I call ‘a production writer.’  You write and you write and you write some more, and you make your living by the sheer volume of what you publish.”

Work harder, write more, become more efficient, get more books out there into the market.  That’s a business plan that can survive these upheavals.   Times are hard and people are struggling, including people in the writing business.  Any of you looking to break into that business know that this is true.  The fact that you’re trying anyway means that you probably love to write.  Maybe you love it as much as I do.  Good for you.  Put your butt in the chair, keep your head down, and write.  Don’t write to trends or markets.  Write the books you want to write.  Work hard and produce stories.  That’s the best advice I’ve got, and I’ll be following it myself.

David B. Coe




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  1. 1. Adele

    Well it hasn’t slowed my buying. Books are the last luxery item to drop away when times get tight for me. Of course as much as I try I cannot single handedly prop up publishing. ;)
    The environemental question with books is an interesting one.

  2. 2. Kenneth Mark Hoover

    I think the answer “we write” is very satisfying. What else is there for us to do, whether the times are economically good or bad? A writer writes. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter what else is happening in the world.

    So I think your philosophy is a good one because it will see you through this tough patch. A lot of people who want to be writers, or who weren’t really serious about it…they’ll drop by the wayside. Writers who adapt will succeed, I firmly believe that.

    Real writers will always survive because for them there is NOTHING else but writing. Anyway, this will all shake out eventually. Someone will finally come up with a sustainable model. But even if it never happens I personally don’t care. I will never stop writing, come what may.

  3. 3. NewGuyDave

    The challenges faced by the publishing industry are both scary and exciting. I was fully against ebooks because I too love the feel of a paper book in my hand. That said, I tried reading on my iPod touch, and the sheer convenience of being able to read at a moments notice really made me think.

    As devices become easier to read from and the idea grows less Frankenstein, I could more people going electronic. (If the screen on my iPod was a bit bigger and I didn’t have to advance so often, it would be awesome.)

    I don’t see books going away because anybody who stares at a screen all day likely won’t want to stare at one to read. Besides, we’re creatures of habit, and laying on the sofa with a good book in hand is tough to beat.

  4. 4. David B. Coe

    Adele, thanks for the comments as well as for your efforts to keep the publishing industry going! Lots of people feel as you do and will continue to buy books, but sadly there can be no denying that sales numbers are down across the board.

    Thanks, Mark. That determination to keep writing, that professional stubbornness is probably the best thing we have going for us in these times. As you say, if we weren’t devoted to it, we might find some other line of work. But we’re writers and the stories aren’t just going to go away.

    Dave, I agree with you that as technologies improve more and more people will switch over the e-books. And as I say in the post, there are certainly ecological imperatives for doing so. But I would hate to see books as we know them vanish entirely. I like seeing them on my shelves. And I like holding my own books in my hands when they’re published.

  5. 5. hervy

    Relax you guys!You are waaay ahead of the change curve with your skills as a writer. It might mean a shift from books to ebooks or other digital forms but content is one of the highest sought after commodities of the new technologies. (Green included)

    It may mean a shift or addition of how of how and where you apply your writing skills but you can will definitely be able to make money writing.

    Internet marketing and advertising will only continue to grow. I only wish i could write as well as some of you guys because the only limit to future sucess is creativity and the ability to bring that creativity to the masses effeciently.

    Writing is perfect for this and the internet has and will continue to provide you with the means to excel at it.

    i got a story to tell that i need to turn into a fiction so that it won’t hurt anyone’s feeling or alter other people’s perception of the subjects in the stories. I hope one day i will have enough time to sit down on a deserted island somewhere to seriously began writing!

    Well good luck to all and i am sure i will be dropping back n on u again sometime if its ok.

    Oh and make sure you look into the world of ebboks and internet marketing i think you’ll find even more reason to love your craft and welcome the coming changes of the world!

    Well, guess u can see i like writing too!:-)


  6. 6. Laura

    As you said, there will always be a market for a good story. The medium will change, but not the love.

    And it’s during the hard times that people need an escape, another point of view, heroes real or imagined more than ever.

    Now is not the time to stop writing, but to BRING IT ON! In all of it’s varieties.

  7. 7. David B. Coe

    Thanks, Hervy and Laura, for the kind comments and encouragement. I agree with both of you. Good stories will always sell, regardless of medium or “delivery system.” But the uncertainty of these times is having an impact on the publishing business and it’s quite a process to watch. As always, writers will continue to succeed if we pursue our passion for writing, meet our deadlines, and produce quality work.

  8. 8. Alan

    My books already sell better in ebook format than print, but that’s partly due to the publishing model. Regardless, there will always be work for good writers and there will always be people that want a real book on their shelf. But times change and we have to change with them or get left behind.

  9. 9. Brian

    Re: ebooks, Im new to ebooks, and I have enjoyed reading in that format the past two weeks. I would like to continue, but the price for a new ebook is still too high even at Amazon. I get coupns to buy printed books, so it ends up being cheaper to buy MMP’s. So as an incentive, how about lowering the price of ebooks to about 4.50 each?

  10. 10. David B. Coe

    Alan, I couldn’t agree more. Our writing careers will straddle the greatest changes in the history of the publishing business. Either we play the role of dinosaurs and fail to adapt, or we find a way to make these new technologies work for us.

    Brian, if we had any control over the prices of our books . . . well, let’s just say that we don’t and move on. Yes, the prices should be lower and the royalties paid to writers on ebook sales should be higher. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for either of those things to happen.

  11. 11. Chris Coen

    As Kenneth says, a writer writes. We may also have to be concerned with what happens after the book is written, but we can’t market what we have not yet produced.

  12. 12. David B. Coe

    Agreed, Chris. We are business people, and we have to concern ourselves with book sales and such in order to survive in this business. But we are writers first, and getting the words down on paper (or on the screen) and honing the story until it’s right — those are the first things, always. Thanks for the comment.

Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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