I think what you mean is that authors and publishers should take a chance on writers they believe in and hope the public gradually catches on over the course of many books. I agree with that, and sometimes this works out. But you can blame (in part) bookstore chains for this disappearance. With few exceptions they base their orders strictly on what the last book sold. It’s incredibly hard to get them to stock and promote an author whose first book didn’t sell. They never seem to consider that a third book could be the one to take off.
The corporate mindset of profitability over long-term sustainability is no different in publishing than it is in the real estate market. Exhibit A: Mortgage lenders packaged together subprime loans that had no chance of holding long-term value. Exhibit B: Publishers/Bookstores tried to make a quick profit on certain books without investing in authors with long-term potential. Let’s add Exhibit C: the environment. Making a lot of money off of SUV’s while mountains of evidence show our reliance on oil is hurting the planet.
All told, it’s a mess out there. And if you thought that it was hard to get published five years ago – when there was a frenzy of consumption and mortgages (or author advances) were being given out more regularly – it’s going to be exponentially harder today. In some way, the terrible economy is actually good for self-publishing. That is, in theory – self-publishing will lose its stigma because getting traditionally published is increasingly challenging, but it will also be harder to sell books, as fewer people buy books of any type in a down economy.
Case in point, look at these letters sent to Kristen Tsetsi – a “real thing” writer, someone who has a lot of books in her, an original voice, and should be given a shot by any publisher who understands good writing. A publisher wrote her back:
Thanks for your email.[Redacted], alas, has made a corporate decision not to publish fiction. I wish I could overturn that – but it comes from our owner.
I’m also afraid that trying to sell a novel these days is harder than ever. Novels are the riskiest of all projects for publishers; and now, with sales down about fifty percent (I’m estimating) industry-wide, there’s not a lot of appetite among editors to take a risk on fiction. Lists are being cut rather than added to.
An agent wrote back similarly: “It’s tough to get fiction sold unl;ess (sic) it fits into categories such as thriller, mystery, chick lit, historical etc.”
We’re living in an increasingly risk-averse economy – across most every industry. The publishing industry was already risk averse about taking on new writers, and now it’s going to be even worse. Take a look at this speech about all the layoffs and loss of value in the publishing industry: it’s eye-opening. Such as, “Random House CEO Markus Dohle (12/3/08) acknowledged the impact the current economic crisis has had on his company, stating that ‘our industry is facing some of the most difficult times in publishing history.’”
So self-publishing will lose its stigma in part because of the recession. I’m not advocating that anyone jump right into self-publishing, because getting some kind of advance and widespread distribution is preferable. But don’t be surprised if rejections from agents and editors increase, and don’t write off self-publishing outright – because in this economy, it may be the only option.