Dashing Through the Bookstore, A Recession Underway

Friday, December 12th, 2008 • 4 Comments on Dashing Through the Bookstore, A Recession Underway

Have you heard we’re in a recession?  (In the United States, I mean.  I’m not sure of the economic status in other countries, but I gather things are tough all over.)  Apparently, we’ve been in a recession for a year, but now it’s official.  (Though, if you do a Google search of “recession” you will get a bunch of hits from over a year ago talking the coming recession.)  Run!  Hide!  Panic!  Stockpile the 50 lb. bags of beans and rice.  Sigh.  I was at Barnes & Noble earlier this week and the guy in the music/movie department said sales back there are going pretty well, but the rest of the store is down from last year.  The rest of the store being, of course, books.  (And gift card sales are off, too, he reported.)  Am I surprised?  Not really.

I’ve been writing forever (at least it seems like forever) and every few years the prediction is the publishing sky is falling.  Brick and mortar stores will be replaced by online bookstores (Amazon, of course).  “Dead tree” books will be replaced by e-books and e-readers.  Reading in general will be replaced by video games and social networks.  Etc., etc.

The reality is that the publishing sky hasn’t yet fallen and it’s doubtful this bump in the road of a recession will cause the utter collapse of publishing as we know it.  Of course, as a fiction writer I have to be sort of optimistic about such things.  It’s a little scary to think your job might become obsolete.  Of course, the gaming community uses writers and there’s always a need for writers in the television and film industry, so maybe I should get back to work on that screenplay.

The anonymous (mysterious) editor who writes the blog Mysterious Matters , has this to say about the recession and how it will affect writers:

One way to look at it would be this:  Your chances of rejection in 2009 are going to be even higher than usual (and, as you know, they’re already very high).  If you really, really believe in your project, you might be better off sitting out 2009 until people are feeling more bullish again.  We all can only hope that will be soon.

Not exactly cheerful news, but not exactly unexpected, either.

As I’m writing this blog post, I just received an e-mail forwarded from Roy Blount Jr., the president of The Authors Guild.  His message:

I’ve been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren’t known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don’t lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn’t in the cards.

We don’t want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let’s mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that’s just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they’re easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves.  Stockpile children’s books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they’ll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: “Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see…we’re the Authors Guild.”

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.
Authors Guild

That’s my message for today, too.  Buy books.  Buy lots of books this holiday season.  Bookstores, publishers and, yes, authors, need you to buy books.  I spent about half of my holiday budget at the bookstores (brick and mortar and online).  I bought books as gifts and books for myself and books to give away to my wonderful readers.  I have bought more books in the past month then I have probably bought in the past year. 

I know I can’t single-handedly save the publishing industry, but my gut instinct is that if everyone spent a little more time buying books (and, you know, reading them), maybe the recession wouldn’t hit the publishing industry quite so hard.  There is no bail out for the arts, folks.  Writers, artists, musicians and other creative types suffer when the discretionary income is going to pay the electric bill (and buy those 50 lb. bags of beans and rice).  So, buy a book.  Read a book.  And, writers?  Keep writing.  From a writer’s perspective, I like fantasy author Jim C. Hines’ plan of action best:

In the face of all this, here’s what I intend to do:

1. Keep writing
2. Keep submitting

Because everything else is out of my hands.

Look, I spent 10 years writing and submitting and collecting far more rejections than sales before finally “breaking in”. These past few years have been great, and I love the fact that I’ve been able to sell almost everything I’ve written recently. It’s an awesome feeling. But there are no guarantees. I didn’t start writing fiction in order to gain a stable, secure income stream. Don’t get me wrong, I love the income, but that wasn’t the purpose. I started because I love it, and I’m not about to stop writing because we’ve hit a rough patch.

The writers will keep writing. Because that’s what we do.

I’ll keep writing.  I’ll keep submitting.  I’ll keep buying books.

How about you?

Posted by Kristina in Life, Writing
  • Meagan says:

    I’m an MFA student… I finished the first draft of my first ever novel this October.  So I should be looking for publishers STARTING in ‘09 and when I heard the first reports of publishing drops, all I could do was cringe. Maybe this would be a good time to actually sit down and start revising all those short stories that I never got around to submitting…

  • If I ever stop buying books, someone needs to check my pulse and brainwave activity.

    But right now, I’m not buying books. Nor much of anything else. I’ve just bought a house – and that’s going to kind of crimp my spending on anything nonessential for a tiny bit while I rebuild my savings – I put 20% down, and had initially been planning on 10%, so had to do some last minute scrambling. (It sounds pathetic and sad, but I think I’ve got a good excuse. Maybe not as good as “a family member needs major surgery and we’re all pitching in”, but it’s one of the better ones.)

  • Count me in on all accounts.  I just bought a couple of books as gifts, and even one as a gift for me.  I just submitted a short story and am working on a query for the book I just finished.

    Write on, Kristina!  (sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  • Jennifer says:

    Well, god knows I buy myself books (sadly, my family does not read. Grr) enough to help out…

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