This blog marks a full 12 months of INK Blogs by yours truly and it will sadly be my last, at least for the time being. I have very much enjoyed participating in INK and have learned a lot from my nonfiction colleagues. I especially appreciate Linda’s vision for the site and everyone’s passion for great nonfiction. To be honest, though, I’m about out of things to say right now and thought it would be a good opportunity to step aside for a fresher voice. I’d like to part with a few 2009 observations.
As this new year arrives, children’s nonfiction—like the rest of publishing—is facing scary times. Sales are down. Publishers are cutting staff, canceling projects, and delaying others. Proposals that would have been no-brainers a year ago are being turned down. All of these things affect writers as well as the books you’ll see coming out in the coming years. I’m guessing series and library publishers will keep doing their thing, but I expect trade nonfiction to be hit especially hard. The number of quality trade nonfiction books will probably fall and some of us will no longer be able to make a living at this.
The tendency I’ve observed in such times is for publishers to grow more conservative and look only for what’s been successful before. In doing so, they end up putting out weaker work, but they also shoot themselves in the foot. It’s only by taking chances, after all, that a publisher comes up with the next great thing, the next big—or moderate--hit. For those of us that like to work on a large variety of different work, this can be discouraging.
Instead of getting depressed, however, I’ve decided to use this down period to a) survive and b) invest in myself. That second part is especially important. Not being on the treadmill to meet deadlines and get out proposals gives a writer a real freedom to try new things. As anyone reading this blog knows, there are so many ways to present nonfiction that now is a good time to mess around with new approaches. Sure, they won’t all work, but I learn from each new thing I try—and some things will lead to better, more interesting books.
It also is a good time to diversify, something I’ve talked about before. One neat project I’m working on now is an environmental book for a curriculum company. After stating in my last blog that I probably wouldn’t write a global warming book, guess what this new book is about? It’s a neat project for several reasons. First, I really like the people I’m working with. They are much more down-to-earth and responsive than the harried, overworked staff of most large publishers. Second, I get to write about things that would never make it into a trade book on the same subject.
So, in saying “mas tarde” to my fellow bloggers and readers here, I’d like to wish you a wonderful 2009, but especially hope that you find the many silver linings in the world’s present situation. It’s these kinds of conditions that give rise to great art, new opportunities, and more meaningful relationships.