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Books are back!
This might seem like a funny statement, but for years we’ve been predicting the end of physical books, the demise of the reader, the ascendence of TV series and other forms of virtual entertainment on our smartphones… However, 2018 was one of the best periods for the publishing industry, much to the relief of booksellers, authors, and their agents! According to NPD Bookscan, hardcover sales increased, driven mostly by growth in adult nonfiction titles. Bestsellers and critically-acclaimed books were in such demand this past holiday season, inventory was low and printers had difficulty keeping up.
Michelle Obama’s Becoming has sold over 3 million copies to date and her book tour continues to pack concert venues. Bob Woodward’s Fear and Bill Clinton/James Patterson’s The President is Missing have also passed the million-copy mark. Delia Owens’s debut novel, Where the Crawdads Sing has topped the New York Times Hardcover Fiction List and sold well over 290,000 copies in all formats.
Of course, Owens owes this phenomenal success to her talent as a writer and the unique story she wanted to tell, but she was also bolstered by being the September 2018 pick of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club. Witherspoon’s broad influence has made her the worthy successor to Oprah Winfrey’s groundbreaking Book Club. Created in 1996, Winfrey’s monthly literary endorsements made her the fairy godmother of the book world. With her seal of approval, lesser-known authors became household names, sales skyrocketed, and book groups grew into an intrinsic part of popular culture. Winfrey’s daytime talk show ended in 2011, but through her O Magazine, she continues to recommend books that often deal with race and class. Witherspoon gravitates towards female-centered narratives and her choices have boosted the careers of Jill Santopolo, Chanel Cleeton, and the February 2019 pick, Jasmine Guillory, to another level. There’s also the matter of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies which Witherspoon’s production company adapted into an HBO miniseries. It went on to win four Golden Globe Awards and Season 2 will air in June.
Other celebrities have entered the book recommendation arena, including actress Sarah Jessica Parker with her own publishing imprint; actress and activist Emma Watson; NFL quarterback Andrew Luck; and late-night TV host, Jimmy Fallon. Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” along with Seth Myers of “Late Night with Seth Myers” have also gotten in on the literature trend. Both programs have featured diverse writers such as memoirist Darnell Moore and award-winning authors Rebecca Makkai and Jesmyn Ward.
I have always been a certified book groupie. I go to as many author events I can in Stockholm and look for ones to attend in other cities when I’m traveling. There is a palpable sense of awe listening to a writer you admire, not only hearing about what inspires them but also the struggles they encountered before reaching a position of commercial or critical success. I love meeting other book groupies and discussing a particular author’s work. As an indie author, these connections not only fuel me, they also provide better insight into the reading public. What moves readers? Which book events are the most successful? Without these points of contact, I would feel very lonely in the literary world.
But what does this sunny outlook say about writing as a career? Sadly, the statistics aren’t as rosy. A recent survey of 5,000 published authors (both traditional and self-published) by the Authors Guild, a professional organization for book writers, reports that in 2017, the median-pay for full-time writers was $20,300; $6,080 for part-time writers. Many factors have contributed to this: the consolidation of publishing houses which have led to fewer deals, smaller advances, and lower royalties; the disappearance of magazines and newspapers which were an additional source of income; and Amazon’s grip on the self-publishing, e-book, and resale market. For the majority of writers, writing cannot be the sole source of income. It’s either a side hustle or you have to have a side hustle to pay the bills!
Writing sounds like a luxury–or agony depending on how you look at it. Nevertheless, I still believe that the pursuit of the writing life is a noble one, even if you don’t get published. You do it because you love it. Because you have to. Because you wouldn’t feel complete if you couldn’t put your thoughts on paper… So, good luck and keep writing!