Note to Readers
Feature Article: Tumbling with the Trends
Best Book(s) I’ve Read This Month
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Spring’s early this year! Tulips delight the eyes, lilacs scent the air, and thunderstorms roll in with increasing regularity (and noise!). But I’m ready for a stiff wind to blow away the past and make way for the new...in fact, I’m filled with anticipation. Nature abhors vacuums, you know, and who can tell what will show up? Life can certainly knock us around... but it can also be joy-filled and exciting.
I’ve experienced a lot of changes in the last couple of years and, now, my work is proving no exception...
FEATURE ARTICLE: TUMBLING WITH THE TRENDS
... my publisher isn’t interested in pursuing the HOME series beyond the fifth book, TAKE ME HOME, which will be out in September this year.
“Why not?” I’ve already had readers ask. “I’ve loved them.”
And I thank you for telling me as hearing from you is the biggest kick I get from this job and the reason I do it!
Actually, reviewers have loved them, too. As for sales, they haven’t been doing too badly either. Holding their own, as a matter of fact. The last one was even a featured alternate by some very major book clubs.
So how does this happen?
In today’s market, “holding their own” isn’t enough. Reasonable sales aren’t enough. An author’s talent, no matter how promising, isn’t enough. I’ve watched numbers of fellow writers whose work is marvelous fall off the map (for a while at least) and others not sell.
Anymore, the numbers need to be better than good. It’s a matter of dollars and cents and bottom lines. Driven by market conditions, consumer buying habits, and trends. And paid attention to by stockholders. Did you know most (large) publishers are owned by non-publishing corporations? And all except a few (actually, there’s only one I can think of off the top of my head) are publicly-held. Publishing is, first and always, a business and books are the products, and nothing sticks around long that doesn’t contribute—and contribute meaningfully—to the bottom line.
That doesn’t mean publishing houses aren’t populated by dedicated people who love books. They are; but these people have a mandate to make money, not spend it, no matter how worthy they think a writer’s work might be. If an editor doesn’t think a book will sell and sell big—and often the only indicator is that a similar book has already done well—and buys it anyway (or, rather, takes it to the committee and pushes them to buy it anyway)... well, that person won’t be an editor for long. There’s simply not the time or money to nurture authors or grow readerships like there once was.
New books from midlist authors (those writers that aren’t household names and don’t appear with regularity on the tables at Sam’s Club)—actually, publishing as a whole, for that matter—fight the realities of a shrinking market: factors include a decreasing number of “slots” in mass market outlets like your local grocery store, Wal-Mart or drugstore—the places where most books are bought these days; consolidations of the middlemen (the distributors) who order and stock for many of these markets; the influence of big box bookstores who can ask for and get bigger discounts and more generous return policies...
As well as a decreasing number of readers.
There’s increasing competition from other entertainment venues: Reading for fun vies for your entertainment dollar with online Solitaire, Halo, My Space, YouTube, American Idol, the Sopranos, and Blades of Glory which also vie with other uses for your discretionary income (which is also declining). A Subaru... a Chippendale... a vacation to the Caymans.
Too, most publisher promotional money goes toward established names (John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Tony Hillerman...) or those titles a publisher decides will be a surefire hit. Right now, erotica and vampires and paranormal stories are hot sellers, along with those perennially-favorite bestselling authors. One type of book makes a hit, and others proliferate as everyone chases...well, the DaVinci Code.
Makes sense that, as a business, you’d spend money where you know there’s money to be made. Where you’ll get the biggest return on your dollar. Or, at least, have the biggest hope of it.
But that means there’s only a relatively small promotional and purchasing budget remaining for other authors. For promotion, budgets for midlist authors usually extend only to the mailing of ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to reviewers and possibly design of an ad that the writer pays to place in a magazine or on a web site, plus what is called co-op: something I’m not fully versed with (the information is privileged) but secures a title’s placement on a table at the front of the big box bookstores or on an endcap or in a spot right next to a cash register or inclusion in the bookseller’s consumer catalog. It’s a much bigger deal than consumer marketing. Still...
Understandably, but unfortunately, consumers don’t buy a product they’ve never heard of. Word-of-mouth is all well and good... except the number of people who hear of a good book is also determined by the book’s print run size... and the effectiveness and size of the publisher’s distribution system and sales force. In some cases, everything—including and not discounting the fact that the book needs to be a darned good one—converges to help make a hit.
In others... well, many books never have much of a chance, even if they’ve got that “darned good thing” covered.
New book sales are sluggish particularly in the mass market paperback venue. Like the music industry, artists (that’s me and my pals) don’t get paid royalties for second-hand sales or pirated work. (Used book sales don’t count; e-bay and Half Price Books and buying discounted on Amazon don’t count. If you’re interested in learning why not, cut & paste this address into your browser to read an article from Novelists, Inc.: http://www.ninc.com/general/usedbooks.asp).
Does that mean I (or most writers) think readers shouldn’t pick up a deeply discounted book? Heck no. I’m with you. A bargain is a bargain is a bargain. But until publishers can address this issue effectively (and they’re trying, although maybe not as hard as us writers may like), lobbying for changes so the Big Guys who sell used books and can track sales, not only do it, but pay publishers a few cents a book, publishers (and so their authors) won’t make money from used book sales. And, so, those numbers, no matter how big, have no impact on that all-important bottom line.
I’m not offering up any of these things as excuses for why the HOME series must at least temporarily end. Like many of things in life, despite my efforts, and my editor’s and publisher’s, and your readership, it just... has.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the idea of the HOME series completely—I have ideas for books 6 and 7. Trends change, after all. When I started in this business not all that many years ago, the historical novel was “dead.” Now look at them!
But, right now, I’m turning my thoughts and efforts to another kind of book... a women’s fiction book that I hope many of you will one day have the opportunity (and desire!) to read. Right now, this partial manuscript is being reviewed by a number of editors. I’m hoping one of them buys it. You can bet if they do, I’ll let you know.
And if it eventually gets published, please don’t be offended that I’ve taken a different tack when so many of you have purchased the HOME books and followed my characters so avidly. I don’t like saying goodbye to them, either. But my new direction isn’t a betrayal of you or them... or even due to my wish to stretch and grow as an author... it’s also an effort to keep paying the mortgage by writing. After all... us writers have a bottom line, too.
BOOK(s) I’VE READ SINCE THE LAST NEWSLETTER:
THE LANGOLIERS, Stephen King
Shades of Twilight Zone. It’s an oldie, but I hadn’t read it in a long time. Hasn’t lost its zing!
FALLING INTO THE WORLD, Karen Brichoux
This is an up-and-coming author to watch. Wonderful story. (And I’m not just saying that because she’s also a friend—part of the reason she is her beautiful way of looking at the world.)
AROUND THE NEXT CORNER, Elizabeth Wrenn
Fun (and touching) for any woman at midlife. The scene in Victoria’s Secret is worth it alone!
PRIOR BAD ACTS, Tami Hoag
Another sound thriller from a popular author!
FLINT HILLS COWBOYS: Tales of the Tallgrass Prairie, Jim Hoy
I love the Flint Hills in Kansas and I love this book. It includes lore, history, fact. A great read.
Hyatt Regency Dallas
Wednesday evening, July 11
5:30 to 8:30
Romance Writers of America “Readers for Life” Literacy Signing
Over 500 authors (many of them household names) gather to sign their books; all profits go to ProLiteracy Worldwide. Last year, over $64,000 was raised. Over the years, the total in donations from RWA (including its local chapters’ efforts) to promote literacy exceeds $500,000. The event is open to the general public and is free.
January 5, 1924 to March 23, 2007
Rest easy, Mom.
Fiction for and about women rediscovering themselves