So, I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but we’re in a bit of a recession. I know. I’ll let that sink in. I was floored when I heard yesterday too.
And the recession is coinciding with the rise of digital media and the Internet as a (mostly free) competition for eyeballs and leisure time. Fewer people have the disposable income to buy books, and if they had more money people would be spending more time on the Internet anyway. These two forces are currently squeezing the publishing industry for all it’s worth (and all its worth without an apostrophe too).
One of the big current questions I’ve been receiving is whether this is affecting what I consider representing. Here’s my answer: YES.
Publishers right now want the surest of sure things that are so sure it beats surety over its sure head. And agents have to adjust what they take on accordingly.
I don’t know if you’ve heard this news either, but there are very few sure bets in this business. So editors have to be really really really really really really convinced that they want to invest in a project in order to take it on, particularly for debuts, and particularly particularly for previously published authors with a mixed track record.
This means that editors are looking closely at fewer projects. It means that books that editors may want to acquire may not be cleared for acquisition or it may mean that the editor wants a revision and a perfect manuscript before making an offer. It means that authors whose sales have been respectable but not eye-popping may not have their contracts renewed, or if they are renewed the bookstores may only order half as many copies as they ordered for their last book.
No. Don’t… Don’t jump off the ledge! Come back! YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR!!
In the midst of my travels last week I became completely addicted to the TV show Friday Night Lights. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s about a small town in Texas that is completely obsessed with football and in particular its very good high school team. It focuses in part on the coach, the inestimable, talented, and at times beleaguered Coach Taylor.
Now, Coach Taylor is a really good guy. He has a heart and he cares about his players. But he also doesn’t tolerate any dissent and is fond of ending meetings with players with benedictions like, “Now get the hell out of my office,” which makes me giddy every time. Oh, Coach Taylor.
I’m going to channel my inner Coach Taylor on you now and speak in declarative sentences.
“Listen up! We got a big submission Friday night, and the publishers out there are going through some hard times. They want to see your submissions sparkling! They want perfection, and as the literary agent of this here team I aim to give it to ’em! It’s time to look deep inside yourself and step up yer game! This means everything from revising to your queries to your submissions needs to be absolutely 110% perfect. And anyone who wants to cry about it can take off their shoulder pads and get off my field!”
That was fun.
But honestly, we’re all doing the best we can in tough times. There’s more competition at every single stage. I’m getting more queries. There are fewer editors at fewer publishing houses acquiring fewer projects. Bookstores are ordering fewer books. It’s tough out there, and it’s not the time to complain.
It’s time, basically, to look inside yourself and step up yer game.