Saturday, February 11, 2012

Publishing's Changing Landscape

Some “definite changes to the publishing landscape” have arrived. They can either can be believed or fought, but “carry a strong measure of truth,” according to Delmarva Review editor Wilson Wyatt, Jr., who recently attended the annual Writer’s Digest Writers Conference in New York.

Mr. Wyatt raises some fascinating points in his blog that I’d like to weigh in on. “Thanks to digital technology,” for instance, “there are more authors than ever … more content … more books.” However, “90% of all books (traditional and self-published) sell under 1,000 copies.”

That seems to translate into a smaller and smaller writing pie--maybe now it’s more like a slice of one of those old Hostess fried apple pies in cellophane. I’m assuming the stats are from reputable sources in the publishing industry; they certainly match up with my own intuitions and anecdotal evidence.

So you can’t really make any money at writing anymore (if you ever could, except by teaching) unless lightning strikes--as it did for Louisville and national best-selling author Sena Jeter Naslund with Ahab’s Wife, which earned her a half-million dollar advance through a literary auction. This happens less often than literally being struck by lightning, I’d guess.

 “The value of good writing is more important today than ever,” Wyatt says, as the marketplace fills with more books.” This, I find encouraging since it mirrors both my values and professional efforts to improve. However, Wyatt doesn’t mention whether the number of readers is in decline now; we know the number of book stores certainly is.

I also wonder if fewer books are actually being printed, as opposed to produced digitally. Or if overall book sales are being juiced by a few kinds of writing.

I do find it encouraging that, “The boundaries between genres of fiction are rapidly becoming blurred, as a combination of ‘high impact fiction’ and ‘literary’ writing influence all of them.” I happen to love mystery fiction; I’ve read hundreds of crime novels. I even wrote my “extended critical essay” (the MFA equivalent of a Master’s Thesis at Spalding University) on the topic, “Mysteries Are Literature.”

One fact that is definitely not a mystery: when it comes to the business of writing, writing is not getting any easier. I’ll have more to say in response to Wyatt’s comments in future posts. And I'd certainly be interested in what Active Voice readers think, as well.

(You can read more of what Mr. Wyatt said at:  Wilson Wyatt Jr.)

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