Authors are battling the economics of words in the modern era of traditional and self-publishing. Many book deals encourage authors to release a set number of books a year and indies need to engineer their own ebooks, do their own layouts and generate the books to ePub and Kindle friendly formats. Trade authors need to pump out as many books as possible and indies shoulder a tremendous amount of burden to not only write a book, but market it stronger to get sales. All of these factors are contributing to the overall decline of quality and the death of the great American novel.
Author Tracy Hickman was responsible for the success of TCR publishing with his Dragonlance chronicles. Dragons of Autumn Twilight captured the imaginations of many youth in 1984. After his run with the publisher he engaged in self-publishing six years ago. He now works 12-14 hours a day writing four times the books he’s comfortable writing because he makes a fourth of what he used to. During a recent interview at AnomalyCon in Denver Tracy said “My audience of 6 million no longer find me because the book store is dying. A book signing in older days would have fans lining around blocks just to have my signature, but a booksigning now might only get six people. I have a 6 million following and they don’t remember me.”
Tracys comments of self-publishing eliminating success on the physical retail level are quite telling. Borders, B. Daltons and Waldens are all bankrupt and out of business, the process of book discovery has been severely diminished. Self-publishers normally just do it digitally and it limits the reach of the books, but does allow them to make more money.
Authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steele, Maya Banks and many others pump out more than five titles a year. They have big publishing deals that mandate X amount of books being sent out. Authors who do not have a well known names are often forced to either not write at all or change their genres. Many big New York publishing companies are not really accepting submissions for vampire paranormal or erotica books because the market is too saturated. Unless you are a EL James, Silva Day or Anne Rice you will have to write about something else.
Lee Siegel wrote a piece for the New York Observer back in 2010 declaring that the American public no longer talk about novels and that this creative form, once so full of fire, has lost its spark for ever. “For about a million reasons,” Siegel claimed, “fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the non-fiction writers.”
There has been no notable great American novels since self-publishing became popular in 2007. Authors who switch from trade to self-pub like having more flexibility and a greater revenue stream. The stark truth is that they are under the gun to write serialized fiction, short fiction and Kindle Singles in order to make mortgage payments and to sustain their lifestyle. There is no time to write that epic novel because they need to be making money pronto. Authors who sign with a publishing label are often stifled by their chosen literary genre and are discouraged by editors and agents to not branch out. All authors have to sell themselves by visiting libraries, doing book signings, visiting literary events, writing on a blog and engaging in social media. It is a full time job to promote yourself and write at the same time, all of these factors combine degrade the quality of literature.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.