Writing is and always has been a dynamic profession. Times change, culture changes, and creators who want to survive have to change, too. I mean, yeah it was probably a tough shift to go from painting cool stories on cave walls to ‘telling’ a story when some know-it-all invented language. Then it probably sucked even more when an even bigger know-it-all invented this stupid thing called the written word.
Don’t even get me started on all the suddenly unemployed monks when that jerk Gutenberg invented the printing press.
Great now EVERYONE could be published *invents beer*
I’ve been blogging since most people thought a blog was an alien creature that melted/ate people.
*ponders* Not entirely inaccurate…
I literally began an early version of a blog on a site called Gather in 2004, then later, began an ‘official’ blog on Myspace. Yes, I am THAT old. I gleaned pretty early on that Web 2.0 and social media would very literally change the world forever.
I was even bold enough to dare posit the idea that novelists would finally have a way of creating a brand and a platform before the book was even finished/available to buy (much like non-fiction authors had been doing for, well, forever).
Writing and the ‘Good Old Days’
First of all, I might have to break some bubbles here. I’ve done it before, but not in a while. Writing has never really had what we might consider ‘good old days.’
As a profession? Writing has always been a meat grinder. Just instead of great-great-granny’s cast-iron hand-cranked meat-grinder, it’s now a meat-grinder Alexa can power via voice command.
I already mentioned I was an early adopter when it came to social media. Granted, I hated it, loathed email, and generally anything techie. That said, I might be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.
Okay, most of the time.
As early as 2004, I saw a way authors might be able to beat the terrible odds and escape the 93% failure rate. Yes, you read correctly.
As of 2004 (according to statistics from Book Expo of America), 93% of authors failed to sell out even their initial print runs. That used to be around 10,000 books for a first-time author. 93% of authors failed to even sell a thousand books and half that number failed to sell even 500. Most sold fewer than 100.
Only 1 out of 10 published authors ever saw a second book in print.
***Namely because people who couldn’t even sell over a 1000 books were generally considered a bad investment.
Remember, this is back in the alleged ‘good old days’ of publishing.
For those who want a breakdown of how traditional publishing worked, go to The Ugly Truth of Publishing & How BEST to Support Writers.
Even back in the ‘good old days,’ I felt the reason so many authors failed was that they were an unknown commodity. If the stars didn’t happen to align just right, most writers failed because blind luck is just a bad business plan.
When it was the ONLY business plan? Then fine. Once social media popped onto the scene, then ‘blind luck’ went from ‘bad plan’ to ‘just plain stupid plan.’
When I pitched a book about how to use social media just after FB became available to the hoi polloi, an agent literally laughed in my face.
He then explained to me in small words how Facebook and the internet were a fad, just like audio books. Aaaand, the last time I saw him, he kind of ran away from me in the opposite direction.
The Evolution of Publishing
I shifted my blog in roughly 2008 to focus on teaching craft (product) as well as introducing authors to social media (brand). To me, it was obvious that the same digital tsunami that had already erased Tower Records, Kodak, and Blockbuster (to name a few), was heading straight for the Big Six
I blogged until I was blue in the face ways NY publishing could outwit Amazon, namely because monopolies give me hives. I’d grown up with the Big Six and genuinely wanted them to succeed. Yet, while I kept posting all these blogs about needing to update and even suggestions HOW to update? Big Publishing wanted to shake snow globes of ‘1950s New York’ and pretend computers had never been invented.
I love you! Why won’t you LISTEN?
Finally, in the summer of 2019 I wrote the blog posts I never wanted to write, Barnes & Noble SOLD: Goliath has Fallen & What This Means for Writers, then Amazon Publishing: The Road to Conquest & How Bezos Razed New York, and a couple months later Penguin SOLD.
Of course, then there was the March 2020 blog post I didn’t have the heart to publish, detailing how and why ViacomCBS was ditching the iconic Simon & Schuster.
We’d already been slammed by the pandemic, and I couldn’t shake the eerie mental picture of all writers simultaneously walking into the sea.
Anyway, according to an article in The New York Times, on March 4, 2020, ViacomCBS announced that, in light of plummeting profits, Simon & Schuster, was no longer essential to its business and that they were officially open to finding a buyer…which they scored in November of 2020.
The parent company, Viacom CBS, sold Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann SE & CO for $2.2 billion.
Why? Because Simon & Schuster was a financial black hole. ViacomCBS used the money from the sale to pay down its debts and to invest more in streaming content as part of their revised strategic growth plan.
All this to say, I wrote countless blogs trying to get the Big Six to evolve or die.
FYI? They dead.
What Does This Have to Do With Writing?
Or rather, what does this have to do with writers? I am speaking in VERY general terms, so don’t shout me down if this doesn’t apply. Two posts ago, we talked about how binging is BIG in the modern world. This is great news for those in the writing profession, for non-fiction and fiction authors alike. People are consuming a crazy amount of information and entertainment.
Writers who wanted to survive and thrive have ALWAYS had to shift with the times. Audiences change. Writing changes.
Hast thou not noticed-eth?
So as not to repeat the history of audience preferences and publishing economics, I highly suggest my VERY tongue-and cheek post Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish. For anyone in need of some more writing encouragement, then feel free to check out Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish Part 2.
Again, I am being sarcastic in these posts, so no need for pearl-clutching.
Here’s where I get tetchy, though.
I GET that writers LOVE the feel, smell, taste of paper. Great! Okay maybe not the taste, that’s kinda weird. We love browsing bookstores and la la la la la. Fantastic, we just sold A BOOK…to ourselves.
Brave Busy New Audiences
I’ve not had the time to sit down and physically read a book since I gave birth to a child. Like most people, my days are cram-packed even though I have actually learned that ‘No’ is a complete sentence. Despite limiting my commitments, modern life is exhausting.
Between cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, grocery shopping (like almost DAILY because Spawn is 5’7″ despite only being ELEVEN and eats his weight in food), doing the accounting, blogging, writing, editing, on and on? I have almost NO time to sit and read a PAPER book…without risking falling asleep.
I have passwords for my passwords…and have to reset them so many times I finally began paying my bills as a GUEST.
Y’all know what’s super fun? Trying to pay a bill on-line but the site is down? So you call to pay, but then the company keeps you on hold for two hours while an automated voice repeatedly tells you how much easier this could be if you just paid online.
Most of us would LOVE to sit and read a big thick hardback, but we’d also like to have teleportation devices, holo-decks and pizza that makes you skinnier the more you eat it. And odds of having any of these are about the same.
So what do we do? We change HOW we are informed and entertained.
Brave New Writing
As a long-time developmental editor, I can spot within 1-5 pages the writers who don’t do a lot of reading. When I encounter this, I often suggest listening to audio books because I understand people are slammed. But, seriously, you’d think I’d suggested they take up ‘murder for hire’ as a hobby.
I get it. Audio books aren’t ideal.
And yes, you have to train your ear to listen to a book and there is a learning curve. BUT there is a huge payoff. Consuming more books vastly increases your reservoir of knowledge, improves your vocabulary, demonstrates a myriad of techniques, lets you be more innovative because you can draw from different genres, etc.
Though not a hard and fast rule, authors who read prolifically are stronger writers than those who barely read at all.
For those who have the time to sit and read a stack of books? Go for it! I am TOTALLY jealous. But, for the life of me, I have never understood people who want to be best-selling authors, but don’t have time to read and don’t like audiobooks.
I ‘read’ anywhere from 1-4 books a week. Anything particularly superlative? I buy in paper because YES it does work a different part of the brain and YES I am a monster who dog-ears and highlights. But the author gets paid TWICE so I am pretty sure they don’t care.
If I am not PHYSICALLY at my computer or on the phone with a person (or an automated voice telling me how great their nonfunctioning website is), I am probably listening to a book.
I listen to books (and podcasts) when I do laundry, wash dishes, clean house, in the car, while waiting in a doctor’s office. If I am out and about, I probably will read on my phone, because I have far higher odds of remembering my PHONE than I do of remembering to bring along a BOOK.
This is simply reality in the modern world. A ton of people commute, and in a car. NOT a great idea to whip out that paper book (though I have, frighteningly enough, seen people do this).
It’s why so many global conglomerates (like ViacomCBS )are ditching publishers and investing in streamed content.
Modern audiences CAN and DO watch videos on their phones. People are listening to audiobooks now more than ever. Another weird shift? Podcasting is now huge.
Podcasting…WHAT Does That Have to Do With WRITING?
Yes, podcasting. I actually brought up this trend about three to four years ago. It was the next shift I saw on the horizon. No, I didn’t blog about it, because I save some of the extra juicy content for people who take my classes *smooch*. The pandemic only made this shift I’d already seen coming happen faster…and go WAY bigger.
What would a writer want with a podcast? Great question.
One of the items on my stupid-long To Do List is to make a podcast from this blog. I have SEVENTEEN years of content, and almost 2,500 posts if I add this site to old sites to guest posts, and all the posts I did for Author Magazine, etc. etc.
That and I ‘get’ my blogs are long, but this is a teaching blog. I’d rather those who subscribe get ONE email instead of three or five because I’m breaking up a single lesson. Y’all get enough email, and feel free to leave my posts open in a tab and read it in bits.
Yes, my blogs are long, but they are a heck of a lot shorter than a 300 page craft book.
And I have funny memes…
But, a lot of my posts would be great content to record so that those who enjoy this blog could simply plug in their earphones and listen to a lesson while doing something else. A ten or twelve-minute read feels a lot longer than a 10 or 12-minute podcast episode.
Video might have killed the radio star, but the radio star is back from the grave and bigger than ever. I’ve seen authors do limited podcasts with short fiction to build their brand and buzz for their longer works. Or they release the first several chapters as a podcast to hook people to buy the full. I’ve seen authors take ancillary characters and tell their stories via podcast shorts. On and on.
It’s like the old timey radio shows and audiences LOVE them.
There are a crazy amount of options—ways we can think outside the book—and we’ll talk about them another time
I mean, I am SHAMELESS and do not care HOW people read my books so long as they pay to read them. Audio book, digital, paper? Don’t care. If someone wants my book acted out in interpretive dance? Email me and we’ll negotiate a price.
Writing is a Business
First of all, please understand writing CAN be a hobby. Not every creative thing we do has to be monetized. But, for those who do want to do this writing thing professionally, and even make a great living? We have GOT to think outside the
This is more important than ever because that brief honeymoon authors had when self-publishing was in the odd expanse between ‘Reserved for Talentless Hacks’ and ‘Maybe a Great New Business Model’ is over. During that brief window, writers were making crazy money for a lot of reasons.
First, Kindles were new and we needed something to load on them or they were a pretty darn expensive fly swatter. Secondly, the Big Six were bad at business and mothballed perfectly awesome titles. Thirdly, not everyone and their cat was publishing a book.
With well over a MILLION new self-published novels a year now? Discoverability is a nightmare. And YES, it seems I am always the bearer of bad news or tough love or bad love…whatever.
But, I want y’all to succeed and the more ways audiences can find us and fall in love with our content, the better. So yes, this means this job requires a lot.
There are SO many reasons pro writing is not for everyone.
Can we just write a book? Sure. Do we have to write a series? Nope. Can we just write a book and hang out on Facebook? Of course. Do we have to have a blog? No. Do we HAVE to do a podcast? No.
But, unless our names rhyme with ‘Stephen King?’ we’re going to have to work super smart UNTIL such time we hit that critical mass of being a household name. My goal, as it has always been, is to give y’all ways to work smarter, not harder. And, now that self-publishing is mainstream? We’re pretty much back to that 93% failure rate, probably higher.
***Most self-published authors sell fewer than a 100 books…like ever.
Chris McMullen has a fabulous post on this. Granted, it is an older post from 2014, but he breaks the industry down really nicely, and I felt his blog gave a far more accurate perspective. For instance, unlike old school publishing, indie and self-publishing have a lot of categories that simply never would have existed before (I.e. poetry books, family genealogies, etc.) that will throw off the averages.
BUT, for the person who believes, ‘Write a Book and They Will Come?’ Those who write ONE book and market it to death, who refuse to do social media, blog, or create additional content via other mediums? Yeah, that max of a hundred books probably
In the end…
I GET that it is a tough time to be a writer, but it’s also a FANTASTIC time to be a writer. It’s just that writing goes beyond the books, and we should be happy about that. Yes, more work but we finally can have SOME amount of control over our success.
We can actually have a better business plan than ‘Blind Luck.’
What are your thoughts about Brave New Writing?
Do you consume books in multiple ways? I listen to audio books, read on my phone, my Kindle and when the moon and stars align…paper. Seriously, writers make SO much money off me.
Are you excited or panicking about the podcasting thing?
***Don’t worry, I have an expert coming in to post and teach some classes so y’all can hit it with a stick and see if you might be game. Btw, I meant hitting the podcast idea, not the instructor.
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
AND REMEMBER to treat yourself to a class! I don’t reveal all my best intel on my blogs 😛 .
Practice Your Pitch: Master the Log-Line 10/14/21
Register HERE and use Pitch10 for $10 off if register by 10/1/21
Bring on the Binge: How to Plot & Write a Series 9/30/21
Register HERE and use Binge 20 for $20 off until 9/21/21
The Edge: How to Write Mystery, Suspense & Thriller 10/21/21
Register HERE and use Thrill10 for $10 off if you register by 10/14/21
A great blog, Kristen. Really. They always make me feel smarter afterward. And — even when there’s bad news — you deliver your seriously educated insight with hope and humor. How can we not love that?
You’re the best.
Awww, thanks because I hate telling y’all, “Well, everything you already know and do? SPIN THE WHEEL because we are changing again!” I figure I can at least make y’all laugh.
Fab post, Kristen! I’ve been listening to more podcasts myself lately, and I’ve also bernwondering whether this would be a good venue for me to expand into as an author. I’m definitely looking for guidance!
I multitask the death out of a book. It’s more fun that way and like you said, better for the brain. You’re a riot!
I’m terrible at retaining anything I only take in through my ears. So I read while I eat, while I cook, while I wait…
This was worth reading and very informative even though I am not a writer (except for blogs).As a reader I now have a whole new empathy/respect for authors and the publishing business in general. Thanks for the “education,” friend.
Thank you SO much for taking the time to comment ((HUGS)).
Your article was worth my time. Your humor and pictures liven my day, and I always find something that resonates to help me do better. Writing is hard work and this has given me the push to start reading more than my one book a week. Thank you.
I am working on making them shorter, but it is harder than it seems because I love to give EXAMPLES and ANALOGIES and all the references so y’all have it in one place. I’m glad it was worth your time. I value it tremendously and thanks so much for the comment. They always make me smile.
I don’t read nearly as much as I ought, but I’m trying! I just finished reading a Stephen King book, and am now reading a pre-published WIP by an author friend of mine. Yes, I’m a test reader! Oh, I did read a book titled “The Devil’s Dance” a while back, and my latest WIP is a romance-suspense-mystery. Quite a change-up from my previous dystopian works.
Another fabulous post! I have put the link on my website!
Much appreciated! Thrilled to see you here!
I love the thought of having more control over my own business. I’ve heard said many times that if you are not willing to invest the time and money in your own products/business then why should anyone else. The best investment you can make is investing in you. I see many new writers…Ruth Ware, Stasi Eldridge, etc. set up podcasts for their readers. Its not only smart but a necessity. Just like any business, we writers need to set ourselves apart from the competition. This us great post and update on the current publishing environment. You always provide us with the best information, Kristen.