Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hold the Line

This morning I read another new story that monthly book sales have dropped. Last October, Torstar (the parent company of Harlequin Publishers) announced that the venerable romance house was eliminating 40 positions. It seems that 2006 was the year when imprints were cut or restyled because of slowing sales; when manuscripts that would've been eagerly snatched up two years ago were turned down, not because they were poorly written but because of (you guessed it) slowing sales and stagnant inventories; and independent bookstores as well as chains have suffered from waning booksales.

All of this reminds me of a scene from Braveheart when William Wallace stands with his men on the front line, facing the spectacularly armed British cavalry. As the horses thunder across the battle field, William calls to his men to hold. The horses come closer and behind them are legions of British soldiers. The men struggle to stay until finally William gives them the signal and they raise a line of spears to stave off the horses.

To me, the bad news is like the British cavalry thundering towards the writer who is holed up in an office, a car or a crowded coffeehouse, struggling to find the words that will give life to the story playing in her head. Our only defense is our stories and the hope that they will find their way to into the readers' hands. We can do our very best to hang in there by doing book signings, advertisements, press releases, etc. But ultimately it boils down to the reader finding the story and the author's persistence in holding the line until you either get mowed down, or you emerge victorious and make outlandish demands on our publisher.

Not that I ever plan to be demanding.

Tonight I think I'll watch Braveheart just to get the theme song out of my head.


Erica Orloff said...

As a writer, I think writing the best book is one obvious thing to do as a good offense. And being adaptable is the other. Staying up on who's buying what, watching market . . . knowing EVERYTHING is cyclical.


Mary Castillo said...

Hi Erica:

You're absolutely right about cycles. Hollywood had some tough years in 04 and 05 but they rebounded in 06. So it seems that it's time for books to take a breather and then catch their rebound in the (hopefully) near future!


P.S. I wonder how much of the decline is in customer satisfaction? Everyone is focused on high concept but are we doing so at the expense of richer stories?