Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Surviving in a Tough Economy

I assume I’m like everyone else in that I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of months watching the economy with interest and not a little trepidation. We are just finishing refinancing our house. The company I work for has had a significant slowdown in sales (and I’m over sales!) I’ve stopped checking my 401k. Oh, and yeah . . . I have my first national book trying to find a place in the market.

Obviously none of us know what will happen with the economy. I’m personally of the belief that while this is a major correction—even bigger than the dot com bubble and ’87, both of which I remember clearly—it is not the end of the world. I’ve had a lot of authors ask me how this will affect my book sales and theirs. I think that my answer is not what they expect. I believe book sales are much like the rest of life when things get tough.

At my office we had to do some layoffs. Letting people go is the worst part of being a manager. Especially when you have to let people go who you know are trying their best, and are good people. You know you have to make the cut, so you look carefully at the people who work for you and you decide who will have the least negative impact on the company. Not no impact. If they would have no impact, they shouldn’t be working there in the first place. But if you have to make a cut, who will it be.

The same thing is true at home. You may eat out less. You may have spaghetti more. You turn off lights and drive less. You look over your budget and decide where you can cut and where you can save. But many things are left alone, either because you value them more than others or because there is no room to cut.

How is this like books? People are still buying books. I know this because I track my sales as closely as I can. I know this because when I go into the bookstore, I see other people—like me—buying books. Maybe not as many. Definitely not as many. But they are buying books. And publishers are still publishing books. Of course book sales are down. The stores know it. The publishers know it. And the authors know it.

Buy that doesn’t mean the publishers have stopped publishing or that the bookstores have closed. Just like your home, and just like my work, people are just being a little more choosy. That means that if you want to sell books, your book has to stand out a little bit more. If you want to sell a book to a publisher, it has to have more going for it.

Two examples of what I mean. I walked into a Barnes and Noble the other day, not intending to buy anything. I was there on my lunch break and I love to look through the books. Not just to see how I am doing, but to see what else is new and exciting. But I got hooked by two books. The first book that hooked me had three things going for it. #1 it was by a total stud of an author, Neil Gaiman. If you haven’t read one of his books, you should. If you’ve seen the movie, Stardust, you have a very small glimpse into his unique and twisted imagination. I am awed every time I read one of his books.

The second reason I picked up the book was that it was on an end cap display. Not much the rest of us can do to match that, but I’m being totally honest. I would not have gone looking for this book because I had forgotten it was out. But the display caught my eye. The third reason I bought the book was that it had the coolest concept in the world. Imagine The Jungle Book with Mowgli being raised by ghosts instead of wolves, and in a graveyard instead of a jungle.

So I picked it up. I was on my way out the door when I bought the second book. No end cap (at least that I saw.) An author I didn’t know. A story that didn’t pique my interest right away. Why did I buy it? Because the Community Relations Manager—who I know well—suggested it. She told me it was great, and went and got it for me. I ended up buying both books. The Graveyard Book and The Hunger Games. Both were great reads. Both were well worth the dollars I am watching carefully. Buy sold me even in a tough economy. Both stood out enough that I not only bought them, but I am recommending them on this blog.

My second example is that I am trying to get Shadow Mountain to allow me to publish another fantasy novel between books two and three of the Farworld series. My Farworld books will still come out every September. But this would be an extra book that has nothing to do with Farworld. It would help me achieve my goal of writing full time a little sooner. But how do I get a publisher to agree to another book in this uncertain economy? Hopefully you’ve picked up enough from this post to guess. Buy making it stand out.

This book has to be different from what’s already out there. It has to appeal so strongly to my target audience that they will fork over money that might be watching closely. I know it should be fantasy. I know it should target the same MG/YA audience. But in this case, I don’t want it to be like all the other books out there. I don’t want dragons, or fairies, or magic. At least not in the traditional sense. I want it to be a story that makes the publisher go, “Wow! That’s a cool idea.”

Because here’s the thing. Being a great employee doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it helps a lot. Essential services are the last to get cut. And books that have a really cool concept, solid writing, and a plot that stands out from the crowd are the ones that will get sold.

You can spend the next twelve months bemoaning the slowdown, wishing you had turned in your book a year ago, and feeling sorry for yourself. Or you can decide that this just means you will have to work that much harder. When times get tough, winners don’t give up, they step up.
So what books have been good enough that you’ve offered up some hard earned cash lately? And how are you making sure you will have a job or sell a book yourself?


At 10/21/2008 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree - plus, books are an inexpensive form of entertainment that folks can use to take their minds off their troubles, and escape for a time.
I have a thing for owls, so when I saw "Wesley the Owl" on my recommendations from, I took a closer look - it is the story of a young Botanist who raised an owl in captivity. It was fascinating - and I didn't have to kill any mice!
Worth every penny to me.

At 10/21/2008 1:29 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

I recently read Sun and moon, ice and snow and truly enjoyed it.

At 10/21/2008 11:01 PM, Blogger Becky said...

I have been freaking out about the economy and so have been trying to get more educated on what is currently happening with the U.S. economy and how to protect myself and my family. Some of the books I have read have been a little depressing, but for the most part very helpful. I think the most helpful book that I have bought and one that has been the most helpful is "The Big Gamble," written by Jose Roncal and Jose Abbo.

At 10/21/2008 11:21 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Almost everyone on my gift giving lists gets books for Christmas or birthdays. Since I'm a writer, I like to support my industry, and since I'm a reader, I think it's one of the best uses of my resources.

At 10/22/2008 1:15 AM, Blogger Nancy Campbell Allen said...

This isn't really an answer to your question, Jeff, but I had to say here that last week I signed at Redwood Seagull, and the manager, Edie, told me she's been encouraging customers to do "Staycations." She helps them find a book, sells them a box of chocolates, sometimes a DVD, and tells them they may not be able to afford Hawaii right now, but they can stay home with a good book or movie.

The woman is a marketing genius, and nice, to boot. She has so many good ideas about how her store can continue to sell and I'm in awe of her talent with it.

It's hard now, but readers will find ways to still buy their books- you're right tho, Jeff, they'll just be more selective. I, for one, am one of those who must own what I'm reading. I buy my books. I know a lot of people have started to use libraries more than before, and that's ok. Jennie Hansen did an awesome presentation at the (oh, man, SLC?) library and sold books while she was there. It shows the library that people like Jennie's books, and maybe they should make sure there are more of hers on hand. Then someone checks it out, loves it so much she must own it, and then gloms Jennie's voila!

There are always ways to make it work, and I'm going to remain, (perhaps foolishly), optimistic.

Wow. A really long response to say, "Great post, Jeff."

At 10/22/2008 10:06 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

It really is a great post< Jeff! I wish I could be more helpful, but the last book I bought was Gaiman's -- Not that that will surprise anybody...


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