My son has taken to perusing my bookshelves. Once he read the Harry Potter series, he felt he was really over the whole middle grade/young adult thing. After all, nothing else even comes close in scope on the bookshelves in our library devoted to him and his two siblings.
This weekend he expressed desire to read Michael Crichton. Something about dinosaurs and alien spaceships and gorillas in the jungle that appeals to him. And as he looked over the shelves he commented, "Man, Mom, you've got shelves and shelves of just Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy and John Grisham!"
I found myself saying, without even thinking about it, "Yeah. I read them all about the same time. That was the hey-day of fiction."
As I shuffled him out the door to school, it struck me as true. I don't think I was just reading more then. After all, I am still working through about forty books a year. But fiction was bigger. Authors were bigger. There was room for more of them. It seems like now there can only be one blockbuster at a time. A Sparks. A Rowling. A Meyers. In the eighties, I collected dozens of bestselling authors and their collections. Crichton, Clancy, Grisham along with Higgins-Clark, Cornwell, and Grafton.
Lately, as I've been querying agents on my own book, I've wondered if this is the worst time possible to be trying to get published. Books aren't selling as well with the advent of the Internet and wider cable TV, there is much talk about the death of publishing, and the economy... well, that isn't helping anything. Maybe agents aren't acquiring. Maybe publishers aren't publishing. Maybe readers aren't reading.
But I don't think so. I think the standard is higher, now. They all have to be more selective, which is actually better for everyone. If I'm honest with myself, I don't want to just be published because there is excess money in the bin and people will buy anything. I want to be good at what I do, not just good enough. I don't want to be the book that gets published, shipped out to bookstores and then returned. I want to be the one that sells. And even now, in this recession, books that sell get published.
This recession won't last forever. I actually think it might be worse to be a new author coming out right now than a new author looking for representation. If I get picked up by an agent it may be another year or two before I see the book in print, and by then, who knows what the economy and book industry will look like?
Both Moonrat and Jenny Rappaport have very interesting articles on publishing and the economy today. Neither is predicting the end of books as we know it. And what they suggest is just what I intend to do this weekend:
Go buy a book. Write a book.
And have a great weekend!