Tuesday, January 06, 2009

But what about the writers?

I am an optimistic sort of a person. Apart from the odd moment of irrational fretting, I tend to think that everything will turn out in the end. So with everyone banging on about the state of the economy and the looming Great Depression #2, I have either decided it won't be that bad, or buried my head in the sand, whichever way you look at it.

Today I just had a pause for thought. With Bookman Beattie re-posting a Telegraph story about the closing of the famous Murder One bookshop in Charing Cross Road, and indeed Charing Cross Road's status as a beacon for booklovers being threateneed, and with that story coming after lots of other stories about stores going under, publishers (local and overseas) making massive cutbacks on staff and parties etc etc... I just thought: but what about the writers? Where does that leave us?

Because I don't think I've read anything about that. Does this mean that the books we are slaving over will get turned down by publishers? Will publishers stop publishing all but one or two block-busters per year? I heard Laura Kroetsch saying on Radio NZ National the other day that literary fiction will be the big loser on the day, but again, she was talking about the sales of the books themselves, rather than the authors of those books and where that leaves them in terms of whether their books get published at all.

This leads me on to all kinds of ghastly questions I might ask but suddenly I feel the urge for a nice sand-bath.

Thoughts anyone?


Damon Young said...

Bugger - I got into writing for the economic security!

Speaking seriously, it's difficult to say what will happen. If publishers decide the sky's going to fall on their heads, they may well publish more conservatively. I've already seen staff fired - I'm sure writers will be next.

This might mean some masterworks (including potential prize winners) never see the light of day. The 2008 Booker list (if I remember rightly) was packed with small sales. This is a frightening thought.

But some authors might learn to speak to a wider audience; to sharpen their prose, or seek more arresting ideas, stories. For some, it could be a genuinely enlivening challenge.

Rachael King said...

I like the idea of it being a challenge. I suppose I have taken that on in some respects. Not consciously writing a more commercial book, but definitely going for the most arresting ideas I can think of.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Pamela Gordon said...

Happy New Year Rachael,

I think that most authors earn so little that they needn't fear the effect of a recession on their writing income. You can't lose what you don't have!

But to have writers silenced as well as poverty-stricken would be no good.

Perhaps there will be more internet publishing (costs are low), or more small independent and cooperative presses. Or self-publishing.

The trend until now has been towards just a few gigantic publishing firms swallowing up every independent press just as it got up on its feet.

The book-sellers have had a strangle-hold too, on what we are allowed to read, by imposing a mass market model of high rotation and brief shelf life.

Maybe our choices and our opportunities will actually increase if those gate-keeping monopolies fail and bookselling is given back to people that love literature.

I'd like to think that good books would be one of the constants that people turn to in hard economic times. It's just anecdotal, but I read in the newspaper that NZ bookshops did a roaring trade this Christmas, as though people were looking for something worthy that would last.

Hope your new novel is coming along well!

P x

Anonymous said...

Maybe those print on demand kiosks that I've read about will take off - there will still be the problem of promotion and getting your work on their database I guess.
Maybe literature could go zine style selling self made pamphlets of chapters a la Dickens? is that going forward or backward?

Catherine said...

Everything goes in cycles, so it might be a good time to start a book, because by the time it is finished the publishers will be publishing again.
After all there was the big sharemarket crash in the 1990s, and other economic crises before that.
The depression in the 1930s didn't spell an end to publishing. It did see the rise of the quality paperback and the establishment of the Penguin Press.
Hope your office is airconditioned. The thermometer here (just north of the Port Hills) is reading 35 degrees in the shade

Anonymous said...

Breathe, relax, reflect

Charing Cross bookshops have been dropping off the street for the last ten years, largely because of the rent ( not subsidised by London Council I was told, though there was a call for it to keep the street on the bookmap) and the massive chains. That one closes due to the 'economic crisis' I doubt, when at Borders or Foyles or whatever chain store ( not to mention Amazon UK) you can get books cheaper...

All this hysteria of economic crisis only makes more of it I am afraid.

Keep Calm and Carry on.

Andrea Eames said...

I received another rejection last night (it never rains but ...) and this one cited his major reason for declining as thinking the book would be hard to sell in the current economic climate - it was too quiet. :P So it does seem to be having an effect, at least in this very micro microcosm.

Rachael King said...

Thanks for all your comment and thoughts - the consensus seems to be that I should put my head back in the sand where it belongs - it'll all work out fine. Or am I being wildly optimistic in my readings of your comments again?

The post wasn't actually about loss of income, but about loss of publication all together. However, that loss of income is something to think about another day. Most writers don't do it for the money, although a bit of financial reward means more writing rather than some other job, so I'm all for it.

Cat - angents/publishers have been using that excuse for years: "too quiet" coupled with "current climate". I think it's just a standard excuse that they will now be trying to pull out with more sincerity.

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Rachel - I worry about this a lot! Having just finished the draft of a novel (after working on it for YEARS) - and having only ever published a handful of short stories before - I think it would just my luck for the publishing industry to start collapsing as I finally finish an actual book.

There is some hope here though:

Maybe just a blip, but I'd like to hope not ...

I think writers will have to be very resourceful in the coming years though. Something I've been pondering a lot lately ...

Johanna (usually a silent reader of your blog)

Rachael King said...

Thanks for the link, Johanna and for coming out as a reader and posting! And good luck with the novel.

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Rachael - a very late comment ... I'm not sure if this is of interest, but I've set up a blog that looks at this topic, among others.


(If you ever happened to feel like contributing a comment or a guest post - of course I would be delighted! Please feel free to email me.)