Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
Part 1 of 3
Unless you live in a cave you have been bombarded with negative, anxiety-producing information of late. In less than one hour of listening to news today, I heard that Baby Boomers find themselves unable to retire because they saved no money, instead counting on their now-nonexistent home equity. The same news story said that if those penniless Boomers continue to hang onto their jobs, there will be no room for young people in the economy. The college education those GenXers got? Not worth the price paid. I also heard that 4 out of 10 people have more in credit card debt than they have in savings. And guess what? Cell phone companies will be charging more and giving less. Oh, yes, gas prices will soon be above four dollars a gallon.
Those are just the stories I remember. The economic sky is falling.
And how about publishing? Not a day goes by without a discussion of the demise of publishing as we know it. eReaders are making traditional publishing obsolete. Agents are going the way of dinosaurs. Authors are getting lower and lower advances. Publishers aren’t promoting the books they contract anymore. If an author’s sales figures aren’t up to par, he’ll never get another contract. Kids aren’t reading anymore. No one’s willing to pay for a book these days. Information should be free. Brick and mortar stores are a thing of the past. I could go on and on, but I’ll let you fill in the rest. It would seem the publishing sky is falling as well.
What I want to tell you is this: Don’t believe everything you hear.
I won’t even take time to unwind the economic bad news I led with. Yes, there’s truth in each story, but it’s skewed toward the negative because it makes a far more compelling story. It’s interesting to note how little attention comparatively was given to the Dow hitting an all-time high of 13,000. It’s the same with publishing. Bad news rules.
My colleagues all across the industry have noted a sense of near-panic from their authors. We know what authors are talking about in their circles– what they’re reading in blog posts. Their questions reveal the anxiety. When will I get my next sale? Is anyone still buying? If my numbers aren’t good, will I ever have another chance? Do publishers even care about publishing good books? Is anyone interested in promoting a new author, or are they just fighting for the same handful of A-list authors? Is traditional publishing dead? The zeitgeist fairly sizzles with negativity.
Don’t believe everything you hear.
Yes, you could make a case for each one of those worries, but here are some facts that fly in the face of this generalized author anxiety.
- Publishers are still buying. In 2011 I came close to doubling my sales goal. Doubling! We moaned about sales the year long (just because that’s what we all tend to do), but when all was tallied, it was humbling. I’m only one agent and I do have fabulous clients, but I’m guessing my story is repeated by many others.
- Just last week I received a very nice three-book offer from one of the finest publishers in our industry for books written in a genre long thought to be dormant, written by an author who had cringe-worthy past sales numbers. Bold move by a gutsy publisher. Just watch.
- I had another project go to auction last year with five publishers bidding vigorously. What happened with the author’s previous book? Minuscule sales to a niche audience.
- We keep hearing that publishers won’t even consider a nonfiction author without a platform. What about Ann Voskamp’s wondrous book One Thousand Gifts? Zondervan contracted this book from an unknown farmer’s wife, mother to six kids. Zero platform. Today? There’s no telling how long this book will top the bestseller lists.
- Traditional publishing is nowhere near dead. Print books still make up nearly 80% of all books sold. Most of the publishers with whom we do business are good stewards, maintaining a healthy business even in challenging times. It reminds me of Mark Twain. When he came across his own premature obituary he is quoted as saying, “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
The greatest danger is self-fulfilling prophecy. If we keep saying something long enough, we begin to believe it. As my sweet mother used to say, “Snap out of it!”
- Focus on the work. You are a writer–an artist. Worry steals all creativity.
- Stop listening to the dementors. (Remember these creatures from Harry Potter?) Dementors feed on positive emotions, sucking the very joy out of their victims. If you are hanging with naysayers, walk away. Just say no.
- It’s too easy to become suspicious of those in the industry–publishers, agents, editors. The trouble is, you’ll end up finding exactly what you are seeking. If you look for good and honorable, you’ll find good and honorable. If you seek to demonize, you’ll find plenty of examples. Pollyanna? Maybe, but it’s no less true.
- We need to stop obsessing over the unknown. We may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.
Chime in. What worries you? What disturbing things have you heard? Let’s tackle them together and see if we can find some balance.