A Call to Action for Readers and Writers
Let’s all be clear about something. The coronavirus lockdown has been terrible for the publishing industry. The whole industry, from top to bottom, from writers, to publishing houses, to agents, to bookstores, to readers. It’s been a shitshow. Debut novels have fizzled, bookstores have struggled, writers have seen books delayed or even cancelled, and the books that have gone out have struggled with anemic sales figures. There are exceptions, of course, but overall we’re looking at a bad situation for people who love books.
Who does this hurt the most? Well, I can tell you that writers are in a bad way. But more than writers, I think readers are the ones who will lose out. Maybe their careers aren’t at stake, but if publishing can no longer put out an interesting and exciting line up of new books then readers are faced with a very dull future. Decisions are being made today that will impact what you can read next year, or even two or three years down the road.
What the industry is facing is a problem of discoverability. Amazon is fine for what it is, but what happens is readers who want a specific book go to Amazon, they pull up the book, they buy it, and they log off. That’s it. Amazon can talk about its recommendations algorithms, but anyone with access to sales numbers can see what happens when potential readers are no longer actively browsing bookshelves. Sales drop. Debuts flounder. Series disappear.
All of this is going to affect the decisions publishers make in the years to come. They’ll be less able to compete for exciting debuts. They’ll be less willing to sign longer series (and in my genre, fantasy, that’s a killer). Everything will focus on known formulas and proven sellers. It’s a vicious cycle.
What can we do? I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to start a project to recommend books to my readers and fans. Every day between now and Thanksgiving I’m going to spotlight one book and tell you why you should buy it. Some will be titles that came out this year, some will be old favorites that never got the attention they deserve. What I won’t be doing is recommending books that are already popular. Those already have their place on Amazon. They don’t need my attention.
If you’re a writer, I urge you to do something similar. Make an effort to promote and tag other authors. If you get tagged, please don’t just recommend the books of the people who tagged you. Don’t just recommend your friends, or people you want to be seen promoting for social standing. Point to books you enjoyed reading, and think other people would also enjoy.
If you’re a reader, please feel free to do the same. These days, word of mouth is simply the best algorithm we have. But most of all, buy some books. Show some love. These are hard times for all of us. Books make them easier. Writers make the world a better place. Do what you can to ensure writers can continue to share their dreams and enrich your lives.