Monday, May 9, 2022

The Times They Are A Changing

 Q: How has the book industry changed since your first release, and polishing your best crystal ball, where do you see the book industry heading in the next ten years?


- from Susan


My first mystery novel was published in 2010, having been sold in 2008. What’s changed that I can see? 


The huge rise in self-publishing means thousands more books are launched every year. Many of those books are very, very good, deserve readers and, I hope, find them. Others needed way more editing or critiquing before going live. The mentoring role of the agent and publishers’ editor has been exchanged for just getting the damn book out there, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers, guardians of the “quality” of what hits bookstores. These gatekeepers, mind you, salivated for the bio of a New Jersey reality TV actress under 30 years old, and the ghost-written cock’s-crow book on how rich he was by a former reality TV show actor and subsequent president of the US (we sure can pick ‘em). 


Going along with that are self-created marketing and sales initiatives, some smart, some just throwing mud on the wall to see what will stick (clue: not much). One such marketing tool is giving away the book, which seems like a losing strategy to me, but what do I know? What’s newer still is the growth of “hybrid” publishing by respected, traditionally published authors whose publishers didn't renew contracts but who still have stories to tell.

Another change is the rapid assent of e-books and the equally rapid embrace by readers. Unfortunately, the companies that make the devices on which to read the e-books can’t seem to put aside their differences and make it easier for e-books to reach all readers without a lot of software hassles. Kindle by Amazon has the upper hand (why am I not surprised?). As one who sacrificed half of her only suitcase on a long trip to Bali one year to the books she promised herself she’d read while lying in a hammock and listening to rindik music, I am delighted we can carry scores (hundreds?) of books this way as long as we have international plugs for our chargers. 


I don’t know if it’s that more of us have become writers and are out there querying, or if agents are burning out, or that agents know publishers are buying fewer books, but it’s getting so hard for a first-time author to find an agent, even to get an agent to read 50 pages, and that’s a sad change – or, I think it’s a change. I know personally a half dozen wonderful writers who deserve attention, but just can’t vault over the wall onto an agent’s desk. 


One sparkling, positive, and exciting change and the one I saved for last because it’s the one that makes me happy, is the rise of underrepresented authors getting published and seeing their work entering the mainstream of available books, media reviews, bookstore placement, and writing awards. Finally, there are editors (some, finally, of color) at major publishing houses who don’t buy into the idea that only black or brown readers would want to read about a black or brown protagonist, or that no one wants to read the adventures of a trans woman dodging literal and metaphorical bullets to triumph. 


There’s more to do. There always is more to achieve, but I was grinning and teary at the recent Left Coast crime awards dinner when Naomi Hirahara won for her touching and revelatory tale, Clark and Division, of a young Japanese-American woman navigating her post-internment world in Chicago; Raquel V. Reyes for the Caribbean flavoured Mango, Mambo, and Murder; and Wanda M. Morris, who with great joy and stated appreciation for Crime Writers of Color, accepted the award for her debut novel, All Her Little Secrets


I don’t have a crystal ball, just this: Change comes, whether we like it or not. We have to deal with it however we can and encourage each other every step of the way.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

A great post, Susan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Josh Stallings said...

Great post,I feels the same, I was overjoyed to watching the diverse and stunning crop of new authors. The future looks bright.