By Wendy Lawton
A new year. A new decade. Doesn’t it feel like time to touch base, time to plan, time to talk about what the year may hold for each of us? Your agent will tell you, however, that mapping out a career plan is not as easy as it once seemed to be.
This industry is in a constant state of change. The publishing world has continued to experience a huge sea changechange over the last decade.
- Ebooks used to be the big change. Some believed it would toll the end of the traditional book. Others felt like ebooks were a flash in the pan. Many predicted it would finish off traditional publishers. None of that happened. We’ve learned so much in the last decade. Ebooks have invigorated the once fallow backlist books, especially in fiction. The first predictions of indie authors getting rich off ebooks have settled into a typical pattern–a select few may, most will just slog along. ebooks first showed huge gains for publishers but as competition grew and promotion opportunities became more institutionalized, ebooks sales settled down a bit and traditional books picked up.
- We keep hearing that people are not reading as much as they used to. There’s far more competition for entertainment time. Happily, readers in the CBA are still solid book consumers.
- Publishers may not be cutting staff as they did after the 2008 recession–trying to do more with fewer professionals— but most are not expanding.
- The few brick and mortar bookstores who remain still struggle. In the last decade we’ve seen a number of important bookstore chains go under, often leaving the publishers taking huge losses. Amazon is still the. . . well, amazon of all retailers.
- The number of CBA publishers still seeking fiction has shrunk significantly. We compete for every potential fiction slot.
All of these changes impact the author. And those are only a fraction of the changes taking place in the book world.
Some of the questions I ask my clients in their intake data are, “What are your immediate goals?” and “What goals do you hope to have achieved in five years?” and “At the end of your career as a writer, what would you like to have accomplished?”
I need to know those things so that we can plan to make them happen if they are realistic goals. Career planning has always been one of the things we do best. We work hard to make sure that every decision takes the writer closer to his goals. Sometimes that means turning down a seemingly wonderful opportunity that will take a writer off course.
So, then, why is planning harder than it used to be? We’re finding that as the market gets tighter and tighter and as things change, there are no guarantees. We’re not even seeing the same patterns we saw in the past. If we turn down an opportunity there are no guarantees another will come. It’s crazymaking.
It used to be we could plot a writer’s potential career trajectory based on the number patterns of the first few books. We used to expect to up the advance on each subsequent book. Now? All kinds of strange patterns are emerging. We’re watching and keeping track of all the data.
So what does it come down to? The basic truth we all knew– it’s all in God’s hands. Miracles happen. And, on the other hand, the “sure thing” can fall flat with no explanation.
What can an author do? The author can work harder than ever at her craft. She can take care of her readers, collecting their names and keeping in touch with them. She can use social media skillfully and appropriately.
What can an agent do? We need to be reading everything, tracking everything, watching trends and keeping in touch with publishers and our fellow agents. We need to keep identifying patterns and spotting new opportunities for our clients. We need to think out of the box.
We’re sensing a little fear and desperation on the part of many writers these days. Our job is to diffuse that. Just as smart investors get rich in challenging times, change means new opportunities for writers. We need to grab hold of those opportunities on behalf of our clients.
It may not be as easy to chart a career these days, but these are exciting times. We stand at the portal of a new decade. And, best of all, we know who’s in control.
Your turn: Where do you hope to be in five years? At the end of your career? Do any of the changes we’re observing threaten those goals? Do any offer new opportunities?
The plans of the minnow
by the wing-beat of the heron.
Very profound, Andrew.
Elissa, thank you so much.
Emily | To Unearth
My goals include growing my writing and editing business, but I know I need to start making more connections in person. What I’ve been struggling with is the constant change in the world of social media, which, in turn, affects how publishers view my “tribe.” I am constantly battling the changing algorithms, and this year I want to focus on growing my readers from around my city and doing more face-to-face Bible studies and teaching sessions. That’s how I want to take care of my readers this year. 🙂 Thanks for all this encouragement!
Great post, Wendy. As someone who wants to begin her publishing journey on a traditional track, I have dreams and goals I’m aiming toward, but I am in a waiting place until I connect with an agent. So, I keep working my craft and writing and setting up my platform until God puts that next step into place. 🙂
Linda Elliott Long
Jeanne, I’m in the same place you are! I send you encouragement!
Thank you, Linda! I’ll send some in return! 🙂
Wendy L Macdonald
Dear Wendy, the following words of yours give me hope while my publishing plans are preempted by huge life events: “So what does it come down to? The basic truth we all knew– it’s all in God’s hands. Miracles happen.”
One thing I’ve noticed in the detour is my writing is deeper than it was before. And I cling tighter to the King.
Blessings on your plans for 2020 ~ Wendy Mac
If I may be indulged a second comment, this is for all of you in this blog community.
I’m honoured to have been here,
and pray this for each of you,
that you find a bright career,
and that all your dreams come true.
So long I’ve been inspired
(and too rarely did applaud)
your willingness and fire
to set your heart before your God.
The courage of the writer
to boldly seek divinity’s foil
and to make the flare shine brighter
through requested holy oil
is faith in which Lord’s heart delights
(and may He help you sell the movie rights!).
You all have inspired me more than you will know, this side of Heaven.
Mary Kay Moody
And you are inspiring me, Andrew. Honored to be a part of your on-line community. Prayers for you and Barb. And thank you for yours, truly.
Morgan Tarpley Smith
Hi Wendy! Thanks so much for this insight!
I’m definitely working toward a career as a published author. I’ve wanted to get ahead of myself so many times over the years, but you only get one good first impression and I want my impression to be the best one it can be.
This year I feel it’s time to pursue agent representation after polishing my current manuscript and currently writing my next manuscript’s first draft. It’s hard not to hear about changes and think we have to strike while the iron is hot, but it’s about quality of the book and what an unpublished author can bring to the table.
I want to be able to present myself as professional and prepared before pitching to agents. I plan to attend the ACFW Conference this year and pitch there, which is exciting and nerve-wracking. I’m definitely excited though and plan to work extra hard this year to prepare. 🙂
In five years I hope to still be writing. Every time I say I’m going to quit, God steps in and says, “No.” He’s not making me rich, nor is my road easy. If my main calling is helping other writers achieve their dream, that is good.
All in all, I’d like to have a good reading base. My books need to entertain and minister. Seeing as I write fiction, their main function is to entertain.
And if God is in the mood to perform a miracle in my writing life, I’d love to have an agent and a contract with a larger house. If no miracle happens, God is still good.
I want to amend yesterday’s response and be honest. What I want in five years? More than five years, as soon as possible I want:
1. An agent who believes in me. I was represented by Les Stobbe just before he retired and then moved to Bob H. of Laube. He dropped me because he didn’t believe in me. It devastated me, but in reality, it was best.
2. I want a contract with Thomas Nelson. The works they represent are not always sugar-sweet. They’re willing to explore good writing.
3. If I dream big, I’d like to make an income on my writing–of course, with all writers, I’d like to be the next Francine Rivers or Janette Oke.
4. Finally, I do want to mentor others who are struggling. If I want to “make it” as an author, I know other aspiring writers do, too.
Thank you for your insight, Wendy. In five years I probably won’t be around, but that’s for the Lord to decide. I”m nearing the end because of my health and age, but I still have many stories in my head. I’ve seen so many changes in the years since I started, but I’ve had my time, and I wish all the new authors coming along the greatest success.
I’ve enjoyed reading previous responses. Some very clever people out there. Jeanne, Linda, Morgan and Carol, keep honing your craft, attending conferences, and making connections. Persevere.
Martha, you hang in there, and get those stories out of your head, and on paper.
I’m five years past my sell-by date, and whenever my wife sees my old doctor at Walmart, he’s always surprised that I am still alive.
You’ll be gone when you’re gone.
Write on, until then.
Thank you, Andrew. I’m still writing, but just not as fast as I once did. My agent is very patient.
Martha, when I think of what you’ve accomplished in your career, not only with writing and with mentoring and loving so well, I’m humbled. I think the next years (God willing) will be every bit as fruitful.
Thank you, Wendy. I had so many wonderful ACFW people who inspired, encouraged, and supported me along the way. That’s the beauty of a family of Christian writers who rejoice in the success of others. Praise the Lord, we don’t do it alone.