Sunday, March 21, 2004

Mid-list writers (article in Salon)

I read an article in Salon about the difficulties of being a mid-list writer. The article is a pseudonymous, first-person memoir detailing one author's career in publishing, complete with accounts of how much money she actually made from book to book.

Her story was depressing -- it reminds me that the romantic ideal of living off one's writerly earnings is a very very long long shot. Many people make do with day jobs, and still write good books.

Still, I find the idea that the publishing industry as a whole is in decline hard to swallow. First, I wonder how badly they are doing if they printed 140,000 distinct titles last year!

Second, It's always been hard for ordinary people to write books and make enough money to live. In recent years it's perhaps become harder, but I'm not yet ready to write an epitaph for HarperCollins. On this issue, I'm curious to know how changes like the advent of Amazon and the spread of the huge chain bookstores might actually be benefitting publishing. For example, isn't it possible that people are buying more books as a result of "lifestyle friendly" bookstores like Barnes & Noble? Many people go there just to hang out -- and end up buying books.

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