I should have seen it coming when I couldn’t figure out how to write the year-end blogs. I found a dozen topics that fit, but none really interested me. They’re all important from different perspectives. The perspectives are so different from each other that they no longer feel like part of the same industry.
For example, traditionally published writers claim they care about craft, but really, they care about old-fashioned readership—which has been declining through the trade channels for the past five years or more. Bestselling books published by traditional publishers sell half of what they sold in 2009, and that was already down by another third from 1999.
Traditional publishers don’t help writers get an audience. Traditional publishers buy up copyright for the term of the copyright so that they can have assets on their accounting books. They take years to publish something, which is often unrecognizable from what the author initially intended.
Still, traditional writers hope for “legitimacy,” whatever that means, and strive to get agents, even though book agents take 15% of the book for the life of the book and do very little work (as well as often practicing law without a license).
Traditional publishing has changed for the worse in the decade plus since I started this blog, and still writers get sucked into trad pub. I was done about five years ago writing for writers who want to go that route, because I hate to see their dreams crushed.
Just this week, I watched a writer whom I respect, who should know better, try to find a new agent because the writer’s partner, also a writer, has a New York Times notable book (which is also a bestseller), and can’t get their book agent to return phone calls.
How discouraging. When someone else (not me) suggested hiring an attorney instead of a book agent, the writer (whom I respect a bit less now) essentially called that someone an ignorant idiot.
That same interchange could have happened in 2015 or 2009. No one learns on that side of the fence, and very few people change. They don’t want to.
On the indie side of the fence, learning is essential. Writers share knowledge and ideas, all while writing the books of their hearts (to use the romance term). Some writers go awry because they get caught up in analytics or trying to write “what sells” but writers have always been like that.
The problem with indie these days is that there are so many good ways to make a living that there’s no longer one path.
Okay…that’s not a problem. That’s a good thing.
I started writing this weekly blog at the advent of the indie movement, mostly to remind myself that this is a viable career path. Now I can’t imagine existing without indie publishing. Going back to traditional wouldn’t be possible for me.
It was barely possible in 2009. The contracts got worse, the editors were a nightmare, and I wasn’t about to give my copyright to some corporation for a mere five figures, when I knew the copyright on a single book could bring in licenses worth tens of thousands of dollars.
I wasn’t that desparate in 2009 and I’m certainly not that desperate now. As I noted in some recent blogs, my books are all in print. The books of my traditional friends? Not in print at all. Or if they are in print, my friends aren’t making a dime off of them.
It’s discouraging, but as I’ve seen over the past few years, people have dug in. It doesn’t matter that traditional writers now have to get a “real” job to make a living. Or that the changes in indie have made it possible for those of us who understand business to make a good living while writing what we love.
The world has changed.
And honestly, I’m not that interested in writing about the publishing industry weekly. There is no publishing industry anymore. There are different aspects of book publishing, all of which fascinate me, and none of which make me want to pontificate for a few thousand words every single week.
Then there’s my writing itself. In the spring, I made a list of the books clamoring to get out of my brain. The series that need finishing right now, the standalones I’ve been dying to write, the books I’ve intended to write since the turn of the century if not longer, as well as the short stories that rise to the top of my to-do list because I read an inspiring article or saw an amazing play.
I will have time to write all of that if I double down on my fiction writing. Or triple down. When I write fiction, I write a minimum of 1,000 new words per hour. The blog takes a minimum of 10 hours per week from idea to page, including the audio (which is maybe 20 minutes of that 10 hours). I love the audio. It’s fun.
The blog, not so much.
In fact it had become such a drag that I put it off until the last minute, and then have to give up even more fiction writing time to get it down.
And while the blog makes me more money per month than someone would earn making minimum wage (not counting all the nonfiction books I get out of it or the other perks), I could make more money if I write three novellas a year, whether I sell them to traditional markets or not.
The blog is self-sustaining financially, but it’s actively costing me money. My earnings as a fiction writer have gone up dramatically in the past fourteen years.
The earnings—for those of you who still have a traditional publishing dream—do not come when a book or story is released but slowly over the course of a year. I used to say that indie writers don’t get advances, but with presales and the rise of Kickstarter, indie writers make money before the book comes out. Sometimes that money is more than a typical book advance. Sometimes it’s less.
But it’s always at the beginning—and then the writer goes on to sell copies of the book for years, rather than a few months as it happens in traditional.
So each moment I spend writing fiction brings me more money than I made even five years ago. I used to clock my writing time at $500 per hour, but it’s more like $1000 per hour…and that doesn’t count other licenses like sales of related merchandise or movie options. I haven’t done that math.
Thirty dollars per hour writing a blog post that has little resale value or $1000 per hour writing stories that can sell for decades. It’s really a no brainer.
I never really worried about that when I needed the blog to explain the changes in the publishing industry to myself. I just wanted the blog to pay me for my time. I did turn the posts into many books, some of which sell really well and some of which need massive updating. But I don’t want to update them. I have other things to do.
Yes, you’re beginning to understand where this is going. The weekly blog on my website is going away. I will be using the time to write more stories, finish some book projects, do other book projects and, oddly enough, do a lot more promotion of my existing work.
Because there are times when my brain is too tired for fiction, but awake enough to write nonfiction or promotional material. I will use that brain power on something that can actually help my existing fiction works rather than explore something that I’m no longer interested in.
Except…I do like noting things about the publishing industry, from time to time. Some things catch my attention and I want to discuss them. I will do that on my Patreon page, which I am not shutting down.
I’ll be doing mostly short posts pointing out an article that writers might want to pay attention to, or commenting on some major change. I’m not going to do a long essay, unless I feel inspired.
I have a hunch I won’t feel inspired for a few months, and then something will grab me and I’ll have to make my opinion known.
Will I post a publishing industry blog here on my website? Probably not.
I will, however, get back to doing the Recommended Reading List, which got set aside in this strange year from hell, and absolutely will continue with the Free Fiction Monday posts. I’ll also be revamping the website (now that it has a new design) so that it serves 2020s instead of the 2000s.
So I’m not going away. I’m just not going to write something on a deadline week in and week out. I have too much fiction to write.
Did Dean’s fall have anything to do with this change? Not really. Except that I noticed just how much I would rather be writing fiction than commenting on changes that I really didn’t care about.
But I had had these feelings since I made that list of projects back in the spring, and maybe even before that. I was getting tired…not of the grind…but of the topic.
I really would rather be writing something else.
Thank you all for coming to the blog over the past 14 years, to read the roughly 1,000 posts on the industry that I’ve written. You’ve challenged me and supported me and given me ideas.
I value it all.
“Business Musings: All Good Things,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright olly18 on Deposit Photos.