I’ve been kicking around in the writing and publishing industry for over thirty years. And while the whole thing has been turned on its head, of late, with the e-book revolution, that hasn’t really changed the fundamentals.
- Commercial publishing is cut-throat, especially so when it’s churning over or in downturn. That’s why a lot of ‘mid-selling’ authors – the ones who don’t always hit the best-seller lists, but who keep a publisher’s lists going – have been ditched of late by the big houses.
- No matter how experienced you are as a writer, how well known, how many lunches you’ve been taken out to by your publisher, you’re still only as good the sales of your last book.
- Good books may not sell. Bad books may sell well. It’s a lottery. Sometimes it can be down to something as simple as the book not being distributed in time for release-week promotions (it’s happened to me more than once). Sometimes it can be because of a couple of bad initial reviews (it’s happened to me – a couple of leading military historians ganged up to destroy one of my books and managed to noticeably damage its sales).
- The e-book revolution hasn’t changed things – it’s still a lottery. A much harder one because now anybody can publish, so anybody (well, everybody…) does. The old barrier was the agent-publisher system, which filtered out most of the sub-standard stuff. Now the barrier is discovery – the good stuff gets lost in the sub-standard ‘noise’. One of the side effects, too, is that books turn over far faster. A print title that might have been sold and back-listed for two or three years now disappears in a year. Or less.
- The way to make a small fortune from writing is to start with a large one.
I don’t think things are going to change much either. The e-book revolution and its sibling, on-demand printing, has changed the way all of us publish. Even for commercial publishers, books that wouldn’t have been economic in the old days have become so. But that problem of being ‘heard’ amidst the ‘noise’ is a tough one. That’s because the general scale of the market hasn’t changed. It’s the same book-buying audience as always. And, like it or not, the scale of the book-buying market is TINY. Don’t be fooled by best-seller lists or sales figures or the multi-millions that household-name authors rake in.
It’s still a tiny market by comparison with the number of people who buy things (cars, clothes, food, washing machines…). That’s the reality of it folks. My answer? Well, writing might be a challenge in all sorts of ways, not least financial – but never forget to have fun with it.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016