Whoops, Where Did That Year Go?

Dear friends,

It has been an event-filled year in my life and so you haven’t heard from me in a while.  There were a few challenges that stalled my writing life: early-detected cancer (thank you, Baystate doctors for catching that so early), Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that made it hard to write and type (thank you Dr. Wintman for fixing my hand so well), and a head on car accident! (thank you Bailing Li for your skill in acupuncture).   When it rains it pours, but there were also some wonderful things that happened to fill the year.  Most wonderful was the addition of a new grandchild, and I got to be present within an hour of his birth.  I was also thrilled to be part of a Circle of Care helping an Afghan refugee family settle into American life, and got to be there within hours of their new baby’s birth as well.  We have become very close. 

After some fits and starts, I finally have the time, energy and focus to begin my writing in earnest again.  You may ask, what’s been going on with my first novel, Breathing Water?  Over most of a year, I sent queries out to 47 agents in batches of 8 or 9, waiting 6 – 8 weeks for responses each time.  I got a little bit of interest, including a few requests for complete manuscripts and a few who even said my writing was good.  Unfortunately, it never fit with what they were looking for in their lists.  Agents are the gatekeepers to traditional publishing, as mainstream publishing houses will not respond to individual authors.  If you want to publish in the traditional manner, bringing in their expertise of editing, cover design, distribution and a little bit of traditional marketing, you must find an agent and then they will try to sell the book for you.

Each year somewhere between 500,000 – 1 million new titles are published with traditional publishers.

Consider that each agent, and there are thousands of them, gets hundreds of queries every week.  Even though each author will send multiple queries, that still means for every traditionally published book, there were at least hundreds that did not get published this way.  That’s a lot of completed manuscripts just waiting to get out there.

So as I was contemplating whether to keep sending queries out to agents, I was also paying attention to the newest books that were being marketed in women’s fiction/ historical fiction.  I noticed that books about family relationships were shifting away from the audience that Breathing Water was written for, and toward a younger audience.

Have you noticed the topical trends in fiction as well?  Now there are enormous numbers of titles centered around the lives of women living during WWII, while there were very few prior to 2015.  Most have a cover with an image of a woman, or women, walking away from the viewer.  So, like clothing, there are also trends in books.  Breathing Water isn’t in fashion right now.

I realized that my second novel, Imprint and Inheritance, partially complete, would fit better than Breathing Water into the currently marketed milieau of traditionally published books.  So there my energies will go, and if that book doesn’t get picked up by an agent, there is always self-publishing, where books are printed on demand.  Last year, 2.3 million new titles were self-published, adding further to the number of books out there dying for readers. 

I’ve done a little research into the publishing world, and it turns out the number of published books (traditional and self) has been growing dramatically.  In 2005 there were 282,500 new books of both types, identified with ISBN numbers, while in 2022 there were about 3 million.  Unfortunately, sales have remained pretty steady, with a slight uptick during the worst of the pandemic.  With inflation factored in, there is a 38% decrease in sales between 2000 and 2022.  So with more books and the same or lower sales (because there are also audiobooks and other sales not included in these numbers), that generally means fewer copies of each book sold.

Here’s a snapshot of how many copies have recently sold for traditionally published books.

It’s kind of scary to see these numbers from the top 10 publishing houses, and I’m guessing it’s scary for them too.  Most of their money is made from the 50- 100,000+ copies sold, which was 1.1% of the books they published.  They admit that they cannot often predict which books will do well, but when 2/3 of the books they do choose to publish sell less than 1000 copies, they must focus on trying to find those big winners.  Remember, there were at least 10 times that number of books trying to get through the first step of acquiring an agent.  See the comments from Kristen McLean at NPD BookScan in this article, which is also illuminating.  Chart constructed from data she provided.

In addition, sales of previously published books, which now rarely go out of print with print-on-demand capabilities, has been increasing.  In 2005, new titles comprised 48% of books sold, while in 2021 it shrunk to 32%.  Also, most books make most of their sales within the first 2 years after publication.  These numbers demonstrate that customers are buying more from a small number of well-known authors and they are buying fewer titles from new authors. 

Things are even scarier in the self-publishing world.  90% of self-published authors sell less than 100 copies, and the average self-published author makes $1000 per year from their efforts.  20% make no income at all.  Only a lucky few make a lot of money from publishing books in any format. 

You may wonder, why bother? 

For the love of creation. 

Writing is an art, even though the end result becomes business.  I have some stories to tell and I feel more alive when those words have a chance to get out onto a computer screen, and hopefully into the minds of more than 1000 other individuals in this world.  If not, I’m having fun while I try.  Wish me luck!

Imprint and Inheritance is a story of mothers and their daughters spanning 3 generations.  This is a story of mothers who harm, and the struggle for forgiveness.

Fiana Mahoney is preparing to graduate from Teacher’s College in 1929 Brooklyn and marry a doctor. When she begins to hear voices, her world crashes around her.  Eventually, Fiana recovers enough to marry an alcoholic dreamer and start a family.

Her daughter, Colleen, finds herself motherless and homeless at 16 after her father has disappeared and Fiana is institutionalized.  Colleen dreams of the perfect family and creating the childhood that she never had for her own children.  Anna Marie grows up, oblivious to the imprint of her mother’s tumultuous childhood on her mother’s life, but also on her own.

Imprint and Inheritance is about the unavoidable connection between generations, courageous mothers who do their best with what life gave them, and daughters who try to love them as they are.

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