As the French saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or, to be fair to the French, Plus ça change, plus c' est la même chose.
So how does that pithy saying relate to readers, writers, and publishers? In my experience, as an author of nine stories under three different publishers, it means this: that all those parts of the writing business that have plagued, frustrated and delighted us at the beginning...well, all these elements are still there, albeit in slightly different forms.
The publishing industry never stops evolving if slowly, slowly, slowly. From an initial few big houses, to the many conglomerates of the 80’s and 90’s, and to the multitude of small publishers we have now, publishing has moved along. From having a handful of books come out a year, to e-publishing and self-publishing every story that is written, the shelves are still filled. The big publishers have been slow to accept electronic changes, but then they were slow to accept Indie publishers, too. Their’s has been a grudging acknowledgement, if not acceptance, that yes, the times they are a’changing.
The PR of the business has gone from the invention of the book tour (by a Harpercollins editor who can’t remember why she thought it was such a great idea) to blog tours online and every single venue in between. As the number of bookstores decline, so do the book signings, which were a mixed blessing, at best, I think—an expenditure of time and money for a very iffy outcome.
Mystery stories themselves have evolved from the traditional to what I call the “themed” series’s with recipes and knitting instructions; from police procedurals and village cozies to dystopian plots and supernatural protagonists. All of these are still labeled mysteries and it’s up to the reader to find the stories that fill their needs.
Distribution is in flux. As online choices grow (even beyond Amazon.com), there are more ways to advertise our book, but, still, no one can say if these increased venues actually create more sales and more readers. With one of my books that had really lovely preorder numbers, I hired a PR person. She had me doing signings and talks everywhere. She advertised. She did it all. Bottom line was there just a few more sales than the original preorder numbers. It was a tremenous amount of work and time spent for little advancement, sales wise.
Ahh, that bottom line. For the fact remains that there is no one foolproof method to get someone to buy a book. I’ve been at panels where an in-your-face author actually hands a book to an inquiring reader and then I’ve watched as this reluctant reader quietly puts the book back down on the pile and sneaks away, bookless. No one has figured out what actually sways the buyer. Agents and editors like to follow trends of “best or better sellers,” but these trends have a short life span. By the time the copycat book is written, generally the hot trend is over. No wonder agents and editors get so frustrated. Perhaps it’s the cover, the back copy, the reviewer’s blurbs or the author’s reputation that cinches the sale. No one knows for certain.
What has stayed the same in our business is that it’s still a whopping 5% of writers who make plenty of money from their work. And often there are the same names, too, year after year. The rest of us count the pennies we make, do our writing, try to advertise our works in various venues, and hope for the best. We don’t know what works to sell, but we might get lucky! To end with another quotation (this from the English poet Alexander Pope) Hope springs eternal, and that’s something all of us writers understand. Maybe this new story we’ve sweated so hard over will be our “breakout” book! Hope is what keeps us doing what we love to do, writing our stories.