Saturday, July 18, 2015

The State of Affairs by Deena Peterson




No, I didn't write a book.  But hopefully that headline grabbed your attention.  I'm throwing in my two cents on the publishing industry, specifically the CBA.  I've been reading a lot from agents, authors and publishing houses.  Thought it would be a good time for a blogger/reviewer to chime in.

Hope you all have on your steel toed boots, because I've already stepped on my own ten digits while processing my thoughts.  Here goes....

I've been blogging and sharing book reviews on a regular basis for the last 9 years.  When I first got my blog up and running, I mostly wrote reviews about books I had purchased and enjoyed.  My mother and best reading buddy had passed on to Jesus and I needed an outlet.  So 'A Peek at My Bookshelf' was born.

Soon after I started reviewing, I began to connect with other bloggers.  Through a chain of events, I found out about a blogging group where independent reviewers of Christian fiction gathered to pool their reviews and receive copies of new releases for free in exchange for the publicity.

I thought I'd died and gone to heaven (not literally, but everyone is allowed a bit of hyperbole now and again).  Then I found another group, and they offered all kinds of Christian books for review.  My blog (and my mailbox) exploded.  My kids were impressed by my now "work", and I was in book heaven.

Over the course of a few years, I've noticed a significant change in the industry.  Whereas before I could send an email to a publisher or representative and request a title I was interested in, that possibility began to blow away.

Bloggers were everywhere, and the market became saturated with reviews and opinions.  This was good, because more connection were made and more friendships forged along the way.  But it did limit what was now available in terms of a review in exchange for a book.  What once was a great and inexpensive marketing tool now morphed into a powerhouse industry.

Publishers created networks.  Reviewers could sign up as members, produce their stats for their reviews, and in return obtain a book for review.  Supply was limited, and most times you could only request one title at a time.  This became the new way to keep in reading material.

Then along came this little site called NetGalley, a clearinghouse for advance electronic copies of all kinds of genres and titles.  When NetGalley added the Kindle feature, once again I felt I'd entered the pearly gates of reading (again, a touch of hyperbole).  And again the industry exploded with blogs and reviews and critics (oh my!)(that wasn't hyperbole--that was sarcastic wit).

Another change I noticed in the publishing industry was the switch to what I call "safe stories".  Mostly Amish and tender romance, it seemed the books I personally found engaging were no longer a part of the CBA experience.  Many of my favorite edgier authors lost contracts or went independent so they could write the stories they believed in.

For myself, I saw this as an error in judgment.  It was freeing for me to know I could purchase the latest gritty crime thriller and not have to worry about a sexual component or coarse language.  But those stories went mainstream or extinct.  This worked to limit the reading audience to almost nothing but the traditional Christian reader.

These two trends have ultimately led to a crisis of sorts within the industry.  And our authors are suffering the most from the change.  Several big name publishers are no longer printing fiction, with Abingdon Press being the most recent to fall.  This means that 1) fewer titles are being published; 2) primarily the big, established names are on the shelves of the Christian bookstore; and 3) the days of a free book are soon to pass away into that good night.

And, quite frankly, it breaks my heart.

Don't misunderstand me.  I read a ton of books, so free titles are always highly appealing to me.  As it is, even with all of my freebies I spend a chunk of cash every month.  But if I had a dollar for every post, comment, article, opinion or lament about people asking for free copies of novels I'd be able to invest in another dozen shelves for my reading material.

The avenues for publication are narrowing.  Even going with the self-publishing route, authors still pay a hefty price.  The dollars normally allowed for publicity and promotion just aren't available any longer.  Many have to rely on word of mouth, which requires reviewers, which requires free books, which eats into the author's bottom line.

See the vicious cycle?  And going mainstream isn't always the answer.  Although it would be very refreshing to just go into a bookstore and see books and not 'fiction and literature' on fifteen shelves with two dedicated to 'inspirational fiction'.

I write all of this to get reviewers like myself to stop and take stock of what we are asking of the creative souls who bleed their imagination onto paper for our education, entertainment and flat out enjoyment.  Are we possibly asking too much?

I don't know how aware you are of industry trends, but now, thanks to Amazon, authors sometimes don't even receive proper payment for their work.  Pay by page, or some other such rot is what I've gotten wind of.

So, maybe it is time to dust off the old library card.  To break down and purchase a gift card for less expensive ebooks.  Or to just be willing to put our money where our mouth is and to purchase more than we ask for at no cost.   To do more than just post a five sentence review.  Something that truly demonstrates our love and appreciation for the authors who keep us in stories and keep reviewers in business.

I have no idea what the answer is.  I know what I'd like to see.  I'd like to see less complaining and judging when an author pushes the envelope with the story he or she is telling.  You don't like it?  Fine, mention it so readers know it is there, but don't lynch the author.  I'd like to see more thoughtful, well crafted reviews.

Even five lines are enough if they are well thought out and constructed.  Most letters of appreciation rather than request.  Maybe even a network of reviewers who are willing to cough up postage in order to share the freebies and get more mileage from a galley or an ARC.

And sign up on NetGalley.  Write reviews.  Give consistent feedback (I myself am bad in this area, but I'm working on it).  Because exciting things are still happening in our industry.  YA fiction is set to explode and be far better than the general market offerings.  Today's novels are a bit edgier and more real to everyday 'living on this dirtball life', with a resounding message of hope in Someone bigger.

So, I guess that's it.  Try not to hurt me too much.  I just love books, I love the ones who create these imaginary peoples we all love, and I love you, the reader.  Maybe, if we are more aware, and we work together, we can get the industry pumped up again. 

The talent is out there, readers.  We just have to shine the light on it.

Happy Reading!

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1 comment:

imaginak said...

Thank -you for caring. I can't find the words to say more