Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Eliminating Old Writers To Make Room For New Writers

I spent the early evening finishing off a review for ComicMix (which should be posted tomorrow), and didn't manage to post anything during the day. So, since I do want to have something date-stamped every single day on this blog, I dig into the archives again, for things I said other places at other times.

In this case, an entity calling itself "veritas" advocated essentially the title of this post that on rec.arts.sf.written in early March of 2008. As usual, I was violently opposed:

You're assuming that the amount of money spent on books is pre-determined and entirely fungible; that's not even close to being true. The person who will buy Old Wine in New Bottles by Aged Author X is not guaranteed to instead buy I Roxxor Yr Soxxors by Hot Young Thing Y. Actually, they likely have entirely different audiences, and if you were able to force all the Xes to stop publishing, you'd just see a lot of readers staying home to re-read their old books (or watch more TV).

In publishing, there's a word for a year when the big old writers don't publish a book: a slump.

You can certainly say that you don't want your former favorite writers to keep writing works you don't like and tarnish your images of them, but other people do not exist in this world to please you.

Selling lots of books to people who want to read them is a good thing, and it will always be a good thing. New writers can do the same thing...as long as they write books that people want to read.

And then someone asked if that meant that old writers had big printings and new writers had small printings, and I went on further:
More than that: publishing books that are guaranteed successes generates money that can be used to publish riskier books. No guaranteed successes and publishing goes from a moderately profitable business to either penury or a boom-and-bust model.

And it's not as if "old" writers uniformly have big printings and "new" writers have tiny ones -- much more depends on the kind of book it is (big fat fantasy? small literary novel about a professor's adultery? historical romance with Scotsmen in it?) and the expectations the publisher has.


Carl V. Anderson said...

I certainly don't want to eliminate old writers to make way for new. I want my cake and I want to eat it too! Sure, writers who have been around a long time risk putting out that one, or two, or many novels that don't live up to one's standards of their earlier novels. That is a risk. However, as often as not, new fans will pick up those books, like them, and go back to check out their earlier work.

I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that success breeds the opportunity for publishers to take risks. We cannot expect them to take a bath on every single novel just to please us. At the end of the day, the process of getting books into our hands is still a business.

Adele said...

I'm with Carl, I want all the writers. Even the older writers may want to take the odd risk and produce something less profitable.

Anonymous said...

These arguments are usually built on the mistaken notion that fiction writers are fighting each other in the marketplace like gladiators, rather than actually funding each other, and that variety is bad when it's really the main thing that keeps fiction publishing afloat. I particularly like your people don't exist to please you line.

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