Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How Chain Stores kill Midlist Writers' Careers

As part of the CSFF blog tour held this week, talk came out about the rumor that Kathryn Mackel's Birthrighter's Project was originally intended as a trilogy, but was cut back to a two book series on account of sales not being what the publisher hoped for. Shannon McNear has posted a piece on the age old problem of Christian publishers' claims that SF/F doesn't sell in their market and so they don't publish SF/F or don't publicize the few books they do publish with the result that readers never know they're out there.

I can relate to all of this. As I believe I mentioned in a previous post, Legends of the Guardian-King was originally contracted with a descending advance rate so that the publishers wouldn't lose any more money than they had to if the series tanked and they had to cut it off before the end. To their credit, though the books have not sold as well as they had hoped, they have stuck with it, and for that I am deeply grateful and even a little awestruck after having read this account (and the one by Holly Lisle cited below). Writing and book publishing is a brutal business, made moreso by changes in bookselling methods over the last few decades.

As an illustration of just how brutal, Tina Kulesa, one of the tour partipants put up a link to a fascinating article by SF writer Holly Lisle on the "midlist writer's career death spiral" called Selling to the Net . In it she describes how books are ordered and sold by the chain bookstores, and what that does to a writer's career. This is not new information -- Donald Maas also outlined it in his book, The Career Novelist -- but it's sobering to be reminded of it, and also in some ways heartening because, in my case anyway, it reminds me of how God has kept things alive when by other considerations they might not have been.