Am I fiddling as Rome is burning?

The news abounds today —

Random House has announced a re-organization that is setting everyone to rampant discussion. Longtime publishing veterans Irwyn Applebaum and Steve Rubin will be stepping down.

— On top of their freeze on acquiring from last week, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has now announced layoffs. That’s after Rebecca Saletan resigned yesterday.

— Simon & Schuster and Thomas Nelson are also reducing staff — 35 positions and about 10% of the workforce, respectively. Who is next, one wonders?

On a personal note, it’s so very hard seeing friends get “right sized.” In fact, I’m getting right sick of it. These are wonderful and talented people with great taste, and I think the reading public will be the poorer for it. And one wonders about the shrinking number of imprints and how that will change competition for publication spots.

But what’s a girl to do? Chin up and back into the fray. Keep reading those queries and partials and manuscripts; keep sending out projects. To all you out there, don’t stop writing. If you don’t try, you don’t have a chance of succeeding. There are silver linings to be found. I had an author “orphaned” this week (before the book is even published) — but, no fear, it’s still going forward. And, I’ve also got a deal on the table for a new book, and I’m staying my course….. What’s your silver lining?

25 responses to “Am I fiddling as Rome is burning?

  1. In a strong economic downturn like this, I’m really surprised that a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment (reading) isn’t booming. I have to think that a clever publisher should be able to jockey itself to fill those gaps on the shelves that will be left by the big players pulling back, and it may be time to take the independents seriously…

  2. I had an author “orphaned” this week (before the book is even published)
    They have my sympathy – on my next book, I’ve now been orphaned twice between delivery and publication. Tell ’em it’s not the end of the world, even if you do end up adopted; it’s not the same, but hey, nothing ever is. And it’s not the worst: I had a book once that passed through five editors and three changes-of-genre (without my changing a word of the text) between commission and publication…

  3. *sigh* It’s hitting hard all over the book industry. My husband works on a printing press. People who’ve worked there longer than him (he’s been there 13 years) are getting laid off, people are being reshuffled between his plant and the other one in town. Jobs are slow, machines are breaking down and the company can’t/won’t fix them…so that’s the end of the guys who print covers.
    Silver lining: I didn’t think I’d ever have to be grateful for TWILIGHT, but guess who needs another million billion books printed.
    Heh.

  4. What’s your silver lining?
    Hyperinflation will wipe out my debt load!

  5. I was going to say it was having a mordant sense of humor and a knowledge that this too is a cycle, but I just got slammed for that so I guess my silver lining is that I feel virtuous buying people books, rather than industry-centric.

  6. Thank you for letting us know this kind of stuff. It’s both scary and sad. I really, really hope and pray that things change back for the better.
    I would hate to think of what our future-world would be like without books.
    My “Silver Lining”: Is that I still have faith in more than just me.
    *Sending encouraging & faith filled vibes your way* 🙂
    —THEA RAUTH

  7. That is rather depressing news to hear, especially for someone who has aspirations (or should that be delusions)of being an author someday.
    Still you never know unless you try so I’ll keep plugging at it..

  8. Hrmm, silver linings:
    1) Excuse to congratulate myself for not only regularly skewing the national reading average, but also funding the health of the book industry. I read 104 books last year and will probably make it into the 80’s this year, and the vast majority of those books I bought new. So far the majority of those I’ve read as library checkouts have already or will be bought in paperback release. ‘s Small Favor, I’m lookin’ at YOU.
    2) Motivation to make extra special sure Lament of the Dove doesn’t suck. 13,000 words slain in this draft, 7,000 more words to go!

  9. I’m currently looking for a job in publishing – I’m in Oxford in the UK – and while the UK publishing industry isn’t quite as vocal about it, it’s not looking good here, either. A number of companies have stopped hiring, some are eliminating already advertised positions, and one of the ones I’m interested in just had its listing revised downward by £1K ($1.5K. Or thereabouts. Who knows where the dollar will be tomorrow.)
    I’m currently rereading Michael Larsen’s book about agenting. Somewhere in it – and this was 1996 – he says ‘we used to moan “why can’t publishing be run like a business’. Now it is.”
    I think the man has a point.

  10. Eep. So much for me ever getting a job at a publisher. There aren’t going to BE any…
    At least those who are left still need freelancers. Too bad that’s not a career.

    • Actually, I think as careers go, publishing is probably one of the safer ones out there. People will still need information, will still want to be entertained – and a book that you can read again and again is a pretty good investment when you think about it.

      • Hasn’t stopped hiring freezes and layoffs, though. Maybe it won’t be hit as bad as others, but I still think it’s a perilous time to be trying to get work. :-/

  11. The demand for books will never go away. 🙂

  12. Clearly, people won’t stop reading. The internet is proof of that. If anything, they are reading more now than ever when you factor in blogs and other information sources. It’s just that they are reading in different ways now. E-readers, like them or not, are not going to disappear.
    But the demand for books in a physical sense will disappear along with the typewriter and the fountain pen, which doesn’t mean people won’t be reading books anymore. And I think that’s where the silver lining rests.

  13. What’s your silver lining?
    Other than the prices at Disney World going way down? People go back to school during economic downturns, if they can possibly manage it. That example, plus a few graduates coming back to tell my students that the job prospects are bleak might convince more of them that what their teachers are trying to teach in school is worth learning.

  14. Silver lining:
    I look back to how the Great Depression affected publishing. Escapism’s popularity increased. And while “quality” wasn’t being printed, pulps were.
    I wonder what form of escapism will be our salvation this time around?
    I wonder what this will mean for eBooks?

  15. It seems pretty reasonable to assume that publishers going into an economic downturn will be tempted to cut costs by risking less on acquisitions from unknown, first-time authors. The silver lining? Sorry… don’t see one from where I’m sitting.

  16. This is depressing news but it’s good information to have – so thank you for sharing.
    My silver lining is that I am a day’s work away from finishing my first novel ever.
    I left you a question in the “Miss Manners” post a week or two ago, and I totally understand if you didn’t have time to get around to it but it’s something I’m interested in. Should I resubmit at the next open call for q’s?

  17. My silver lining? Thank god I have puppetry to fall back on.

  18. My silver lining is the webcomic world is still doing just fine.
    Another might be that with a sufficient shift in paradigm, publishing may well be able to recover. Physical media may be in lesser demand than digital, but physical is a lot harder to produce by one’s lonesome, so there’s still an incentive for authors to work with publishers for print, while there’s very little such incentive for digital. A publisher that’s prepared to create smaller runs and market them largely digitally (online stores) will likely still be able to do well, they just have to completely change their process and expectations to do it.

  19. my silver lining
    I love to write. I can never get canned for it by anyone. Sorry for all your friends loss 😦

  20. A great deal of what publishing seems to be going through right now results from what’s going on in the economy as a whole. (Yet as a writer I feel “closer” to publishing than to, say, the auto industry — so reading about layoffs and (quasi-)freezes in acquiring new manuscripts feels scarier than reading about someone in Detroit who’s lost his/her job. No credit to my compassion.)
    Yet under the surface, I think what’s also going on with publishing is a long-overdue reassessment of the question, “What IS a book, anyhow?”
    I’ve seen this mentioned nowhere else, but James Gleick (the “chaos guy”) had an interesting NYT Op-Ed column this weekend, which addresses that question and goes even further, speculating on what publishing might be on the brink of becoming.

  21. Timing On Queries
    Unlike Lou Grant, I like your spunk. Here’s a question that is sort of related to the bloodbath going on. I’ve got a book ready to enter into the query wars. With this time of year, the uncerainty of the publishing industry, and what I would have to believe is at the least a distracting situation for agents, might it better to hold off querying until say January rather than now? I’m thinking the mood is at such a gloom and doom level that agents are going to be even more stringent on looking at new authors. I know there’s the bromide that regardless of the environment, a great book will succeed. But even a great book might not get past the query level, I’m thinking.

  22. I’d like to second anonymous’s question. I have a book that is ready to go out. Is my timing bad? Are the houses going to cut back on acquisitions?

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