Monday, April 27, 2009

May Column

From Heart of the Bay, the newsletter of the San Francisco chapter of Romance Writers of America

Note from the Prez

I’m writing this at a card table, on the day of the newsletter deadline, sitting on a folding chair in the kitchen of my new home while I wait for the Comcast guy to show up.

I’m worried about a thousand different things, from what my new neighbors think of my bumper stickers to where I packed all the power cords to why the coffee tastes different brewed five miles from my old house. And of course the eternal question – whether this will be the day Comcast actually shows up when they said they would.

I can’t control any of those things.

In the universe of problems and issues affecting me, it currently feels like I’m a ping-pong ball in a game being played in the Fates’ rec room. I think that’s a pretty accurate reflection of the mood of the country as a whole. On a larger scale, people everywhere are waiting to see how the events of each new day will affect their lives, their livelihoods, their prospects and futures.

Publishing’s no different. I imagine current boardroom discussions are a blend of How do we preserve and capitalize on existing assets and What does innovation look like in this climate and – most of all - What’s next?

Helplessness is a dangerous feeling whether it’s personal or systemic through an organization. The companies and people who thrive are those who follow a very simple set of principles:
• Focus on what you can control
• Let go of the rest

Take a hypothetical publishing company, Acme Books, whose numbers at the new year teetered toward the danger zone. Here are some things Acme cannot control:
• Reader tastes
• Shrinking distribution channels
• Wholesaler business practices
• Fuel and other costs
• Disappearing review coverage

And here are some things Acme can control:
• Maintaining awareness of reader trends
• Overhead, including personnel
• Production, warehousing and distribution practices
• Format mix (hardcover, trade, mass market, and electronic)
• Cutting authors, backlist, etc.
• Buying new titles strategically

Acting accordingly may ensure Acme’s survival. Each of these measures comes at a cost, but nobody said this was going to be easy.

Every successful author I know has been the “victim” of a publishing decision at some point, losing a contract or editor or release date or promotion assistance to cutbacks. But none of this happened because the industry didn’t like them personally or wished them ill. As difficult as it is, you must try to remember that these are business – not personal - decisions. The key is to waste as little time as possible in the victim place and move on to what you can control.

Comcast just called to say they’re on their way as I typed the period on that last sentence. I’ll take that as today’s unexpected blessing. And on a day when it seems like much of the future is out of my hands, what I can control is sitting here at the card table and putting my time in.

Chapter member Carol Lynn Stewart is a great example for the rest of us, incidentally. Carol Lynn celebrated two sales last month, to two different publishers, for manuscripts that she had struggled to place. She did exactly what I’m suggesting we all do, refusing to give up in the face of rejection, and focusing on what she could control: finding new markets to submit to, paying attention to current publishing needs and shaping her query accordingly.

Hang in there, sisters. Act instead of reacting, move forward instead of getting stuck in blame and victimhood, and we’ll all weather the current challenges.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Those are some words to live by...