Sunday, September 29, 2013


In the writing field I am most familiar with--mystery and suspense--author after author has been telling us on the Internet, and in conversations at conferences, that their book sales are down. Oh, we do sell books, but income is measured in dribbles, and one author recently asked, "Are we destined to be starving writers?" I suspect this drop in activity is being experienced by authors outside the mystery field as well.

It's time to admit that, in part at least, we have created our own problems. We have found the enemy, and it is us.

As long as I have been writing for publication, selling writers have been telling fledgling writers how to be successfully published. In workshops, seminars, and conference panels and talks, authors have smiled happily and painted rosy pictures of our profession, sharing pages and pages of how-to advice. (Yes we did--and still do--this.) Oh, we have warned about rejections, but that was just a temporary blip on the road to fame, if not fortune.Writing was circled with a halo of creativity, romance, and excitement. It would become fulfilling if only Ms. and Mr. fledgling stuck with it, kept writing and practicing the craft, and continued submitting.

We have been too good at this kind of selling. Much as we love sharing and talking about our work, we have been busy creating our competition. At one point I read that 83% of all Americans now want to write a book. Too many of them are actually doing it. We once trusted that the bad writing would be weeded out by agents and publishers, so the increasing number of writers probably didn't worry us. Of course there were what we have called vanity presses, but most everyone knew who they were, and their output was small compared to "legitimate" publishers. In addition, their output had a reputation for being poorly written and edited, and it often was.

As the number of writers expanded, small publishers who were selective and did edit their output also began expanding, and the selection offered in bookstores expanded as well.

And then, along came Amazon.

Today, anyone who writes a book can be published, and the output can range from gold to garbage. Of course there is much that's good about this ability to publish, but I bet you can picture major negative consequences as well. Bookstores of all types are losing business to on-line outlets that offer cheap, fast service. Hand-held readers are easy to carry anywhere, loaded with dozens, if not hundreds, of books. Unless they know your name, potential readers have few ways to find your work  Many valued bookstores that used to display shelves full of printed books so browsers could could find authors unfamiliar to them are closing. It has become increasingly necessary for us to promote our own work, and the Internet that is killing us is also the avenue whereby we accomplish this. But working the Internet can be confusing, and is certainly a time suck How do we know what sites, lists, and social media outlets are best for us? Quite often no one really does know, and the ways to get our names and our work out there are changing frequently, with new avenues popping up almost daily while others fade away.

What's now required of us?

Each author must find a more-or-less comfortable way through this current torrent of expansion and changes. Do we care enough to do it? Most would answer "You bet!"

We can still say honestly that the writing life is exciting. And, assuming we love the creation of sentences that sing to us, even if to us only, we will continue as authors.

Radine Trees Nehring


Morgan Mandel said...

Much of what you mention is very true.
It's a challenging time for authors, but once writing is in the blood, the urge can't be ignored!
Morgan Mandel

Susan said...

Radine, you've put voice to a thought that I'll bet most writers have had. Writing is just about the only career where someone can just declare their desire to be one and poof! they are one.

I'm on both sides of the fence - I love the freedom and the immediacy of self-publishing, but I also miss the days of the gatekeepers, when at least some standards were enforced. Now - anything goes, and I mean anything. There are self-pubbed books out there that are nothing but first drafts hammered out by wannabes who don't know what spell-check is. There are also fantastic books out there that would be great books no matter how they were published.

I keep hearing that 'the cream will rise to the top' and such, but it does seem that the dreck is (hopefully momentarily)in the ascendant. Sigh. We do live in interesting times.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Amen to all you said, Radine. Selling our books is easier in some ways and much, much harder in others.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Third time -- I have tried twice to post a comment and have it vanish.

Thanks to Morgan, Susan, and Marilyn for writing here. I admit to posting these thoughts with a degree of fear and trembling! I didn't want to hurt or offend, but after weeks of being tickled by them, they just "busted out."

Jean Henry Mead said...

Amen, Radine.

Marilyn Levinson said...

So true. I have almost 500 mysteries on my Kindle, and I didn't pay for any of them. Many are well-written; a few I discard after reading a page or two. As you said, anyone can publish a book these days.