Is the Economy Ruining Your Chance at Publication

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 16 2008

With the economy tanking and all eyes focused on the election, do you believe non-genre, fiction writers might be wise to delay trying to peddle their wares until early next year? I ask because I have read that this is a dreadful time for fiction writers seeking to enter the marketplace for the first time. I’m considering shelving my medical thriller for the time being and concentrating my efforts on a new writing project. What do you think?

This is an interesting question. First let me tell you that at this point the election is going to have absolutely no impact on whether or not you sell a book. Publishers usually schedule their books a year ahead of time. In fact, in a recent conversation with an editor we were discussing what year it was and she said to me, “I’m already in 2009.” Editors buying books right now are buying for 2009. Some might have spots to fill with books in early 2009, but no one is concerned with the election when it comes to publishing; those books were bought in 2007 at the very latest and are now well into the pipeline. They are being edited or are even done with the editing process and the covers are even done or almost done.

As for the economy, well, it stinks. And yes, like everything else book publishing is being impacted. Costs are going up everywhere and that includes the cost of book production. Everyone is spending less money and books are not usually a need like food or fuel, so they are one of the first things to go when it comes to budgeting. In other words, not as many people are buying books. Does this mean you should sit back and wait until things clear out to start submitting? Absolutely not. Not, that is, unless you’re a seer and you know the economy is going to take an upswing in August. If that’s the case, though, could you give me a buzz and let me know what you know?

From an author’s point of view it’s always a “dreadful time for fiction writers to enter the marketplace.” I’ve never, in my 15 years in publishing, heard people talk about what a great time it is for beginning authors to launch their careers. At least I’ve never heard authors say that. Editors and agents will say that all the time. It is a tough economy and it is difficult for beginning writers to break out and find readers, but that’s not going to change that much when the economy hits an upswing. So my advice to you, as always, is to write the absolute best book you can write and proudly and confidently send it out to agents. If it doesn’t sell, get that next book out there. Don’t worry about the economy, the election, or anything else. Just write a good book (with a great hook).


20 responses to “Is the Economy Ruining Your Chance at Publication”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this dose of reality. I just got an agent for my debut novel and in my mind is the “dreadful market for fiction.” Glad to know that it is an ever present thing!

  2. Avatar Kimber An says:

    As a book reviewer, I say relax. I think, if anything, the sagging economy will improve the sales of books. The harder real life is, the more people need the comfort of imagination. This was true with Bugs Bunny cartoons between reel changes at the movies during World War II and it’s true now.

  3. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    Ha! I would also add:

    1. It’s a dreadful market for fiction.

    2. The midlist is getting smaller.

    3. It’s harder and harder to sell a first novel.

    4. It’s harder for novelists to stay published.

    I could go on, but I’ve been hearing these for over 20 years, and if you go back and, for instance, read some columns Lawrence Block wrote in the 1970s, the exact same things have been said for the last 50 years at least.

  4. Avatar Jessica says:

    Do you ever get tired of hearing that it’s a “dreadful” market for new writers?
    It seems to me that I’m always seeing debut novels and hearing about people selling.

  5. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Actually, from what I’m hearing on reader’s groups, it’s a wonderful time for fiction! As kimber an said, people need the comfort of imagination. When times are tough, do you want a depressing dose of reality, or a chance to fly free in a world of fantasy? Personally, I’d go for the fantasy, and from the way readers are talking on chat lists, that’s exactly what a lot of them are doing. Instead of the “big summer vacation,” it’s quiet days at the local pool and a good book to read while the kids swim.

  6. Thanks for the reality check. I’ve vaguely wondered about this before and am glad it’s one less thing to worry about when I do start submitting.

  7. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    That’s an interesting question. I know I’m reading more than ever.
    I don’t find much on TV/Movies of interest, but after a day of writing I need some excitement and the CA desert is stinking hot at this time of year. It’s nice to spend an afternoon in an air conditioned bookstore looking for treasures.

    The thing that has changed for me is, I’m reading more mystery and suspense. Dare I say it, even on ocassion, a thriller. And those things used to scare me.

  8. How refreshing to read an optimistic take on publishing. I’m in backlash mode about the economy. I don’t want to read, hear, or see any more news reports about the terrible shape we’re in. I get that every time I’m at the gas pump or the grocery store. Thanks, Jessica, you brightened my day.

  9. I’ve said it before. People always need an escape.
    Why do you think monster movies were big in the fifties? And why paranormals got so hot. The worse the reality the bigger escape we need.

  10. Avatar JES says:

    No precognitive abilities in this corner.

    But one thing about the question itself caught my attention: a mistaken assumption that writing is a profession like, say, engineering or teaching or car repair. I mean, not to ennoble it overmuch, or assign it a magical/mystical quality that it may not have. But it honestly does seem to be a “career” which people go into completely independently of the odds of making much money at it.

  11. With gas prices so high and rising higher, I barely leave home anymore. However I can go to faraway lands, real or imagined, in a book. I don’t think I’m the only one to think this way.

    The new mood has even coined a new term – the staycation. Because of that, I think we will see greater book sales in the coming months and while the economy remains poor. We may not have huge sales but things will stay steady.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Excuse me? Writing IS a profession, and a darned hard one at that! Publication is the dream.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thanks Jessica. I’m the one that asked the question. Good to know the terrible economy is not, as I feared, going to suck our unpublished works into a vortex, never to see the light of day.

    But being mostly Irish, I’m a pessimist at heart. So here’s something else that has me fretting: I get the sense that waiting until about mid-August to submit queries isn’t a half-bad idea with the big Apple mostly deserted in mid-summer. True or not true?

    PS Thanks everyone for your positive input – And worry you not: I’m not just sitting around twiddling my thumbs, fretting the summer away. After taking off a few weeks, I’m again (happily) in the throws of outlining and researching the next book.

  14. Avatar JES says:

    Anon@1:51 – Sure it’s a profession. I said it’s not a profession “like, say, engineering or teaching or car repair.”

    Publication is the dream, surely. But publication to the level where you make a living at it? No, there are way too many people who write despite the odds. That’s all I meant.

  15. Avatar Tannat Madiran - The Darkest Grape says:

    like many here, i think such a statement is crock. wine and alcohol sales go up, way up during a recession. movie ticket sales do not fall off. heck, even gas consumption is on the rise, despite the costs. books, good ones i should say, will never fall out fashion. they are one of the last legal drugs we have, one of the cheapest and purest forms of escapism left.

  16. I guess I’m being overly optimistic, but the economy doesn’t worry me.

    If I write a compelling story, it will sell and people will get caught up in it. The story isn’t going to change because of the news. People will either get lost in my world or they won’t due to what I write. The burden is on me.

    Who knows what will happen in two years?

  17. Avatar Steve Stubbs says:

    Refresh my memory. Was it Erasmus who said he only bought food if he had money left over after buying books?

    Some people do consider books a necessity and food and rent nice to have but not essential.

  18. Steve, yes, it was Erasmus who said that. I have the quote above my desk at work.

    Maybe it still boils down to a stellar application, a powerful query and an unforgettable cast of characters.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  19. Avatar Jana Lubina says:

    It’s proven that, in times of economical difficulty, alcohol consumption goes up drastically.

    Some of us prefer a different form of escape though, and as the above posters have stated, fiction is great for escaping reality.

  20. Avatar Ciar Cullen says:

    Um, just had a conversation with a pal who’s a buyer for a big box chain. Said book sales are about to tank, big time. That they already have started to tank.

    I suppose it depends upon your socioeconomic circle, but I know a lot of folks buying rice and beans to cut back on grocery bills. That incidental paperback purchase at the grocery store or Target will have to take a bit of a hit as well.

    Disagree away! Doesn’t mean a great book won’t get picked up, of course.