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lynnec.jpgWriting is a precarious thing at the best of times, and stories are starting to emerge about authors having difficulties. On this blog, Sara Reinke announced that no more books in her Brethren series will be coming out with her present publisher.  And Gennita Low is having problems, too, with the release of “Virtually His” at MIRA.  It seems the publisher won’t give her a release date, and the future of the series is doubtful.

I have no doubt other authors will be having problems, too. Because as far as the publisher is concerned, it’s all about the bottom line. This has happened before, for instance when a genre is oversubscribed. Look at the plethora of Regency romances a few years ago. The fallout from that was pretty bloody with some fine authors losing their gig when the genre lost its place in the popularity stakes. And some editors, too. I still mourn the loss of Hilary Ross at Signet, who fought so hard for the genre she loved.

Now I think it’s because of the recession (are we allowed to call it that yet?) And the bottom line is, if you don’t make Wal-Mart, you’re stuffed. The bookstores and Amazon don’t cut it any more. If the marketing department projects your numbers based on a Wal-Mart presence, and you don’t make it, it’s seriously bad news.

Also the print market is in long-term decline. Numbers year on year are declining, so whereas some genres will fluctuate within that, overall sales are down. Computer games, TV and DVD, all have eaten into the novel market, as well as the increasing prices of paper and transport. Publishers are moving more strongly into electronic publishing, and they’re trying to make their ‘brands’ (that’s an author or a line) more global. As yet, they haven’t done well with that, especially in the romance genre, with the exception of Harlequin/Mills and Boon who have always taken a global outlook.

They’re doing better with electronic publishing. Erotic romance is perfect for electronic publishing. A reader doesn’t have to throw an obviously erotic read in with her groceries to go through the checkout, and she doesn’t have to hide the book from her kids. As long as she keeps her reader and her computer protected, she’s golden. Other genres are slower to catch on, but they are growing. And the big publishers know they will make a great deal of money from electronic publishing. The savings made from distribution and paper aren’t being passed on to the author in the form of royalties. The big publishers are keeping them for themselves. So they’ll be okay at the other end of the transition from paper to electronic. Not that the market will ever be solely one or the other, just that the balance will slowly change. Authors are in no position to demand more for electronic sales, when they are effectively being laid off, and there is a long queue of new hopefuls waiting to take their place.

In a shrinking market like this, the best sellers like Linda Howard, Nora Roberts and others are protected. They’ve built their audience and they have guaranteed sales, so although they may drop, they won’t drop too far. The big stars who make the big advances will still do okay, because everyone needs a loss leader. The lower end authors will continue to struggle, and write for the love of it. It’s the midlist authors who will suffer, particularly the ones who are print-only.

So what’s an author to do? Once she is labelled as being a ‘bad risk’ or ‘poor seller,’ even if it isn’t her fault (she has absolutely no say as to where her books are placed or what her projected sales are) once she gets that label, it’s hard to come back. Or maybe she was doing very nicely in a genre which took a nosedive. Publishers took all and any authors because of the increased demand for the books, and now they’re getting rid of the spare fat, as they see it. Because authors are essentially self-employed subcontractors, it’s easy to get rid of them, much easier than it is to get rid of regular staff.

She can change genres, and change her name. Many authors write in more than one genre (I do, as one humble example) and that helps, too. But I don’t change genres with the market, I write the stories that speak to me. So if both my genres fail, I’ll probably still be writing in them. But it does help hedge the market a bit. I know of at least two authors who switched markets and names, and although they don’t keep their previous identities a secret, they don’t exactly trumpet it to the world, either. There must be quite a few more.

There are more and more midlist authors moving to the electronic publishers, or placing a couple of books there. It doesn’t hurt and many authors write more books than their publishers are prepared to take. Also, electronic publishing can help to keep the backlist current, and that helps both the author and the reader looking for a series that is out of print (I went through agonies trying to get my missing copies of the books in Suzanne Brockmann’s Team Ten series because I came to it late).

What am I going to do? Nothing I can do except keep writing and ensure that I’m doing the best I can. I can only promote so much, and I haven’t the budget to do it on a big enough scale to be truly significant, so I’ll do what I do. In a way I’m protected because come what may, I’ll write. I always have. I’ve been published for eight years now, but I’ve been writing all my life. So I can make sure that what I do is worthwhile even if the only person who sees it is me.

Lynne Connolly