Mission: Change Lives

March 9, 2009

People have been asking me, “What kind of impact is the state of the economy having on the publishing world? And what kind of impact does it have on writers?”

It’s a good news / bad news situation.

When the economic ax started falling on Wall Street last fall, the book publishing world felt the pain early on. (Just as the American film industry is anchored in southern California, the publishing industry basically lives in New York City.)

Still, in the midst of massive publishing layoffs and much hand-wringing about how impossible it was to sell new book deals, we sold a two-book deal just before Christmas. And in just the past few weeks, we sold two more major book projects.

Even in the worst of environments, there’s always a market for new books.

Wait — let’s make that statement more general:

Even in the worst of environments, there’s always a market for anything that provides genuine value. In that sense, it’s always possible to make yourself more or less recession-proof. (Perhaps even depression-proof.)

That’s the good news. Here’s the other side.

The day we were supposed to close on one of those two new book deals, 60 people were laid off at the publishing company we were in talks with — including the person whose job it was to okay our deal. (Incredibly, that deal still went through, but not without all of us first checking twice to make sure all our limbs were still intact.)

And this: I recently turned in the manuscript for another book, right on deadline, only to discover that the editor who was in charge of that very book, the one I had emailed with just the week before, no longer had a job at that publishing house. What will become of the book? Not sure yet.

[Note a few days later: the book is fine. Whew. It’ll be in book stores later this year.] [Note many months later: that book was Flash Foresight; really glad it survived the crash!]

The moral? You can take steps to make yourself more or less recession-proof — but still, we’re all connected: the economy is one gigantic ecosystem, and what affects one of us, affects all of us. Which means that we each have enormous potential to change a lot of people’s lives.

Given all that, my aim for 2009 is the same as always, only perhaps with a tinge of greater urgency: to write books that help change people’s lives.

(Cartoon by David Horsey)

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