In my previous post, I wrote about how my first adult novel in thirteen years had been recently published. Since then, I’ve been observing first-hand just how much the literary landscape has changed for genre fiction writers since my last adult novel came out, in 2001. Some of these changes have surprised me, and not because I’ve been out of the publishing scene for 13 years; I’ve been right in it all along, only in the area of YA and children’s fiction, and that by comparison has not changed quite as much (though it certainly has not stood still either). But there are things within the world of publishing for children and young adults which to some extent quarantines it from some of the more extreme or challenging changes. I’ve been aware of what’s been going on in the world of adult fiction, but to experience it firsthand is something else — like a leap into a new world. This has led me to think about just what a difference thirteen years have made, and what these changes are.
Changes in format and timing. In publishing for young people, the ebook has scarcely had an impact. Print still dominates there. But in adult fiction, the rise of the ebook, particularly in genre fiction, has meant an explosion in the numbers of books published. More risks can be taken with ebooks, and so books may have more of a chance at publication. As well, indie authors now compete to some extent with commercial publishers (though not exactly in fair combat). For commercial publishers, it means they’ve had to adjust schedules, previous ideas of marketing, readership and relationship with authors. It’s been great to see my book (first published as an ebook, then as a POD) take shape so quickly, from contract in June to editing and design in September and release in November. That did not happen with my previous adult novel—indeed not with most of my novels for young people, even this year’s crop. Getting the book quickly on the market is certainly a great advantage. However, the low price of ebooks means that achieving the kinds of royalty payments you’d get on a print book is just that much harder and the lack of advances from most digital publishers is another challenge. And that huge and continuing flow of new ebooks is another major challenge. Discoverability is, it seems, more difficult in many ways, though there is the compensation that an ebook’s ‘shelf ‘ life is potentially not as short as a new print novel appearing on a bookshop shelf where it might only have a few weeks to have any kind of impact before it’s returned to the publisher to languish in a warehouse before being remaindered.
Changes in marketing. This is a general observation, not just to do with this book, for this is something that’s been happening a bit even in the children’s/YA publishing world (though not to the same extent). But in the world of adult fiction, especially in genre fiction, authors really have to be co-partners with their publishers as far as marketing and promotion are concerned. Guest blogs, questionnaires, interviews, blog tours, Facebook ads, Twitter campaigns, you name it. A lot of it is great fun and you get to interact directly with readers that way, but it’s time-consuming. Back in 2001, as well as being interviewed on radio and in print, I did write a couple of articles myself around the 12th century setting and inspiration of Forest of Dreams, but for my new book, I wrote a stream of posts and pieces for blogs and websites, including my own. Those articles in 2001 were printed in newspapers and I was paid; none of the writing I did for my new book was remunerated at all.
Changes in reception/reviewing. In 2001, books were mainly reviewed in magazines and newspapers and a bit on radio or TV. Today, though there are still review sections in print publications, space for them has shrunk dramatically, and most of the reviewing of adult genre novels, and certainly for ebooks, happens online, on blogs, podcasts, video journals, online journals and sites such as Goodreads and Amazon. This is certainly where the world of adult fiction and children’s fiction part company, for most reviewing of fiction for young people still happens in print—in specialist journals and magazines. There are of course also many blogs which regularly review YA and children’s fiction, but with a few exceptions, these are not usually very influential in directing buyers’ choices, unlike the library magazines, etc.
This seems to be different in adult fiction, especially genre fiction, where the dominance of online reviews is pretty much established now. There’s a lot of good aspects to this, of course. Any reader can have the chance to share his or her own experience of a book with fellow readers, so you get a multitude of voices, and many of them are vivid and interesting. However, the great attraction of online reviewing–the immediacy of posting, the almost instant reaction from readers to a book–can be a mixed blessing. Ironically, online amateur reviewers with strong views may act more like boundary-patrolling ‘gatekeepers’ and create more of an ‘ouch’ factor for authors than the old-style reviewers ever did. And with the online world thriving on impulse and strong opinions, there’s not always time or even inclination for the considered word, the quiet reflection, the careful crafting of a review, whether that’s positive or negative, which respects the lengthy and dedicated process of writing a book. This disconnection between the craft of reviewing and the craft of writing fiction feels to me like one of the biggest changes of all.
However, what hasn’t changed is the fact that authors are still expected to ‘suck it up’–no matter what freedom the online world is meant to give you in terms of interaction with readers, in truth you have to keep to the same unspoken rules as previously, and never respond directly to reviews. In ‘the old days’, that was not always easy either, of course, but you usually didn’t get to read all the reviews anyway. But given the immediacy of the online world, that’s not what it’s like anymore.
Over to you. What do you think has changed most in the last thirteen years, in terms of the experiences both for authors and readers, in adult genre fiction?