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?