Why writers need a Plan B

Business PlanOne of the many talks I went to at LONCON3 was by Stephen Jones (editor of many horror collections and much else besides). His write up of the convention is on his blog: StephenJonesEditor.com and gives a good insight into how a professional views convention attendance. The talk I attended was on the nature of the writing industry and how it has changed. Stephen had many interesting things to say and I’ve collected a few for the benefit of those who weren’t there.

Key points

Sales of books are down; even for Stephen King sales are not what they were. The chances of a new author breaking into the field and making themselves wealthy are lower than they ever were. Against this background traditional publishers are becoming even more risk averse and the days when they might invest in a new author and allow them a couple of titles to find their feet are also all but gone.

The only way most writers will achieve financial independence will be to have a portfolio of writing projects on the go: books, collections, non-fiction, scripts or anything else that pays. Even those that can fund themselves through writing may end up at the end of their careers with no source of income and no assets to fund their retirement.

More and more people are self-publishing and the indie author is (in many ways) now not seen as simply a vanity exercise. This results in downwards pressure on prices and more risk for established publishers.

What does this all mean?

New (and existing) writers should assume that writing will have to start as a paying (hopefully) hobby, that could grow into an income. This will mean many more Indie Authors and the spiral of influence continues. At no point should they expect to be able to rely on this and they will always need other sources of income. These may be connected to writing (eg acting, cover design, editing) or wholly different – I know many writers with day jobs.

It’s not quite all doom and gloom; electronic publishing does mean more niche publishers are able to exist, though these too may be short term projects are part of a portfolio approach to work for the individuals involved in them. Possibly collective’s will emerge in a market where individual writers can collaborate on a few titles then move off to new projects.

Time will tell. I’d be interested in your thoughts and experiences.

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