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6.22.2009

Publishing and the Economy

There's no getting around the fact that we're living in rough economic times. At the top of the food chain, we see leading economic indicators like construction spending, retail sales and approved credit applications tanking. On the local level, we see schools slashing their budgets and wholesale job losses among our friends and neighbors. We look up and down the block and see the foreclosed homes with the tangled yards and yellow auction notices posted on the front doors.

And on an individual level, we feel it in our disposable income. It hits us where we live in terms of how we spend those few rare dollars we have for entertainment. One of the places that it's being felt hardest, it seems, is in publishing.

I won't rehash the dearth of open markets out there right now in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and horror. No sense in that, as it's been done to death in the last month on the internet. I will, however, thank editors Eric Marin and Chris Cevasco for their dedication to advancing our little corner of the literary universe over the last few years. Their magazines, Lone Star Stories and Paradox, respectively, will be sorely missed.

Anyone with a stable of active submissions knows the market is just extremely tight right now. Slush wranglers must be going nuts with the glut of submissions pouring into the few markets that are taking submissions right now, and it all makes for a competitive situation for us writers.

Here's the sentiment found in the introduction to Year's Best SF 14, written by editors David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer:

Basically, SF book publishing is being forced into a contraction by rising costs without rising sales, and it is likely that fewer books will be published in the genre by trade publishers--at least for awhile...there is a collapse in advertising expenditures, that affects the internet as seriously as it affects print media, and is driving some mainstream print media to the brink of bankruptcy.

The editors go on to lament the shrinking landscape for publishing speculative fiction, which begs the question: What will you do to adapt?

The last time we saw the bottom fall out like this, publishing adapted. Maybe they started a flawed business practice after the Great Depression in creating the returns system, but they did adapt to the economy and they did weather the storm.

With the growing popularity of push-button publishing, podcasting, PDA readers, Kindle and print-on-demand technologies, the contemporary writer needs to be agile and market savvy. Web hosting sites like Scribd are now featuring Simon & Schuster titles and Amazon's DTP technology has been the talk of the internet for the last month, thanks to experimentation by writers like Joe Konrath.

There's the direct support method that has worked well for some. Who knows where revenue streams will come from in the future, but the contemporary writer needs to tinker with formats to find out, I think.

I think the contemporary writer needs to explore all of these avenues while still pursuing the carrot of being published by the big boys in New York. I've got one story coming out on a podcast in a few weeks, and another that will be featured on the net and delivered to a huge number of phones and PDAs. I'm looking at how I might best use Amazon's DTP, and I'm working on draft zero of a book I'm hoping my agent can bring to publishers before the holiday season this year.

And I'm holding on to a lot of my work. With so few magazines taking submissions, I'm just being very judicious about where I send my fiction. I'm writing my ass off, but when it comes down to the process of researching submissions, I'm spending more time looking into alternative platforms and writing cooperatives as other options.

Times are rough; we all know that. But let's be honest--writers don't stop writing stories and, if they want those stories to be read, they'll have to find a way to introduce them to the world...

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