Publishing doom and gloom

Here in the USA’s publishing capital, NYC, there are many signs of a publishing downturn: reports and rumours that books sales are down and that the big chains are ordering less books. A few of the big publishing houses are laying off staff, cutting expenses, not acquiring books, and various agents are seeing a slow-down in their sales, especially for debut novels.

Of all the genres children’s (which includes YA) seems to be the least affected. Sales have slowed but not nearly as drastically as in adults. The Times reports that while parents are curtailing their own spending they’re still buying their children presents. It’s interesting that the recent Times article that covered Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s freeze on acquisitions did not mention that the freeze does not apply to children’s books.

Children’s books are relatively inexpensive. Especially compared to adults. An average YA hardcover is US$16 while an average adult hardcover is US$24. Quite a difference. Adult books are also given higher advances (on average) and earn out slower, if they earn out at all. Several people told me that way more of their children’s list earns out than their adults. You hear that? We are profitable.

While sales are down, every single children’s division has at least one bona fide hit. Not all of those hits are as insanely huge as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books, which have earned every employee at Little Brown a bonus, but they’re still doing very nicely. Not to mention that Meyer’s books have also benefited other authors by creating a demand for “more like that, please!” I’ve gotten quite a few letters from Twilight fans telling me they turned to the Magic or Madness books because they’d run out of Meyer’s. I am very very very thankful to Stephenie Meyer. She and J. K. Rowling are a huge part of why children’s is as profitable as it is. Bless you both!

That said, we are in (at the very least) a recession. Libraries are seeing big increases in traffic and more and more people are borrowing when before they might have bought (which as I argued yesterday is far from a bad thing for authors). Like I said, sales are down. They’re down all over and for many things not just books. (Unless you make Spam, that is.)

So am I worried?

Well, sure. But not that much more than usual. Publishing is a risky business even when the economy is booming. Genres go in and out of fashion, as do authors. I know writers who were doing brilliantly in the 1980s, who are now only published in the small press world. How many of the super popular children’s writers of the eighties and nineties are popular and publishing now?1

Most writers don’t make a living writing even in the best of times. Unpublished writers who are freaking out that they’ll never break through in such tough times are forgetting that their odds aren’t great anyway. It’s not just the unpublished who have trouble. The vast majority of authors with one published book never publish a second. Even long established writing careers go into decline.

Publishing is a tough business no matter what the economic climate. But at least we’re in the strongest part of our industry, and at least we’re not on Broadway, or making cars.

  1. Judy Blume, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, J. K. Rowling and, um, probably heaps of others I’m not thinking of right now. []


  1. Patrick on #

    The sky!!! Look look!!! It is falling!

  2. smartass on #

    there’s a recession? no!

  3. Rebecca on #

    I dread graduation and the Job Search of Doom even more. I wish I understood economics better…. I have no idea what’s going to happen or if I’ll still do any of the things I planned to do in the next few years. But I guess the worst case scenario for me is moving back in with my parents, and if that’s all I have to complain about, I should count myself lucky.

    It’s good to know that, even if things are sucking right now, YA lit is still managing to keep on. I just hope everyone gets through all this okay. And writing is something we can all do for free. Yay!

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