Wednesday, August 05, 2009

How many books are too many?

Dear Author recently ran a poll (click on post title to view results and responses) that asked readers if the amount of published fiction should increase, decrease, or remain the same. The largest percentage of respondents voiced a desire to see fewer fiction titles published and a belief that too much of the stuff being put out was crap.

I'm resurrecting this topic because two of my publishers have recently made mention of a heavy influx of submissions over the summer, resulting in big additions to their stables. What does this mean?

Well, it probably means different things to readers, authors, and publishers.

For the companies: more writers = more releases = (ideally) more income. All publishers are scrambling for bigger pieces of the pie. This is a completely logical business goal. But, as stables grow, the multitude of new titles must somehow be accommodated. One way is to increase the number of weekly releases. Another is to increase the length of time between manuscript acceptance and publication. In any case, the business model is bound to change.

For readers: more published writers = more available books. Is this a good thing? I'm not sure. Many fiction readers complain their TBR piles are out of control. Many, like the respondents in the DA poll, have said they're dismayed by diminishing quality. Many admit their book-buying budgets are already stretched to the limit.

For authors: more fellow writers = more competition for release dates and royalties. Hard to get around that fact. As the pie slice expands for publishers and readers, it shrinks for the creators of the product. Only authors with huge, well-established followings are immune to this rather dismal outcome.

I've been through a "growth spurt" at EC, and it wasn't pretty. When that company doubled its number of weekly releases, my royalties immediately plummeted, and I wasn't alone. From what I've since seen and read, EC now issues titles just about every day of the week. They currently have ten "new releases" posted on their home page. If you count the other covers displayed there, some of which are print editions, 23 books greet you at the mouth of the Cave. Wow.

Anyway, I'd like to hear your input on this subject. How much reading material is too much? Or is there no such thing? Do you avid readers feel more is always better? Or do you think that when companies start popping out more and more titles, it's an indication they've lowered their standards for acceptance? Have you noticed a decline in quality that seems to correspond with a rise in the number of offerings? Or has quality remained consistent?

What's the optimum number of weekly releases per publisher? By that I mean, a number that satisfies your book hunger yet doesn't stress your budget or muddle your mind?

Authors, what's your take on publisher expansion? Has it ever affected you adversely, or aren't you fazed by it? Do you see it in a positive light, and if so, why?

I confess, I get the jits when one of my publishers introduces a plethora of new authors. My experience with this sort of development hasn't been good. Sad to say, becoming a better or more versatile writer isn't the solution -- not when readers are bombarded with a blinding number of choices.

My greatest fear as a craftsman is feeling forced into "assembly-line production" mode, which often seems like the only way to succeed at this gig. And, damn, I just don't want to go there.


Treva Harte said...

If a publisher doesn't have more releases per week because, you're right, sales go down after a certain limit is reached then it's true authors may have to 1) wait longer for their books to come out 2) work schedules out with publishers ahead of time 3) compete with better stories.

While I totally understand the fear, I'm not sure that hurts the reader, though. It may even help since presumably the quality of the stories will be better.

Kassa said...

As a random reader, I can say that too many released books is bad. I'm a voracious reader but even my TBR pile is out of control. When I see elisa's weekly list of newly published books, I admit, my heart plummets as only those names I recognize or publishers I frequent will have a chance for my cash. I want to read a lot more but with so many weekly , if not daily, how do you choose?

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Treva, and thanks for stopping by!

Theoretically, a high volume of submissions constitutes competition, and competition should encourage authors to turn in their best material.

However, a high volume of acceptances could indicate a lowering of publishers' standards.

Judging by the kvetching I've come across on some blogs and review sites, readers believe this to be the case. They see more and more titles available, but they find a disproportionate number of stinkers among the new releases.

I don't know the best way for any given publisher to garner a larger share of the market. I just find a reliance on quantity very alarming.

K. Z. Snow said...

Welcome, Kassa.

Believe me, the number of choices is dispiriting for authors, as well. Only the real stars in any given genre have a chance of standing out from the crowd. The rest of us, I think, feel kind of swallowed up by the herd. And the herd just keeps growing.

I strongly suspect the economy has spurred large numbers of people to try their hand at writing. That's the only way I can account for this apparent explosion of submissions at two different companies.

Treva Harte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Treva Harte said...

That would depend on the percentage accepted, yes? All I know was that we had three people (more than we usually do) doing the second reads on submissions for several weeks to try to contain the deluge.

It may be cyclical or it may be authors feeling desperate. In my experience most desperate authors don't write. They get bogged down. Also in my experience there are certain periods of time when many authors submit stories and others when not many do.

K. Z. Snow said...

Good point about the possible origins of the "deluge". I suppose it's possible, too, that authors sometimes get spooked by what they see going on in the publishing world -- in general or with specific companies, both print and electronic -- and feel a self-protective need to scatter their eggs into different baskets.

What struck me was the fact that not one but two publishers reported the same phenomenon over the same time period. And who knows how many more pubs experienced it as well?

I likely wouldn't have given this matter a second thought if I hadn't already felt the impact of "acquisitions en masse." But after having seen acceptance-to-publication times double while royalties are halved, or worse, I can't help getting a little concerned. It certainly won't keep me from writing, but it will keep me from growing my nails. ;-)

Kris said...

A question. Is the expansion mainly in one genre? For example, if the submissions have increased for m/m I would then suggest this has been in direct response to publishers calling for more stories in this genre, which is what they did earlier in the year.

Also, and excuse my ignorance, but wouldn't you expect an increase over the summer months, especially in relation to new US authors, because there are more people on holiday and they can 'dust off' the story or the keyboard? Obviously, I don't know a whole heap about the holiday trends in the US in summer to know if this is even a possiblity, but thought I'd throw it out there.

Re: the increase of releases - From my perspective it is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand there is a heck of a lot more variety and I'm actually more discerning in my purchases because I don't want to spend more than I can afford. On the other, I don't want my tbr to come and smother me in my sleep and, being very honest, I think the quality of some books is not the greatest.

Interestingly, it's the quality of the work of the well known authors that I've found lacking lately. I've actually found myself wishing that I'd tried that other new-to-me author instead. I'm not sure if anyone else has had similar experiences, but my own experience reinforces the point you were making K Z about readers tending to buy old faves and other authors getting lost in the mix.

Jenre said...

I have to admit that, like Kassa, my tbr is spiralling out of control, as is the list of books I want to buy and read. I have a stock of authors on my autobuy list and now-a-days, unless Wave has asked me to review something else or if a particular blurb jumps out at me from a list, I will read only those books from my autobuy authors.

I'm also trying (unsucessfully) to work my way through the backlists of my autobuy authors which means I am more likely to buy/read those than a new author.

All this means is that when I see huge lists of releases by publishers, many containing authors I don't know, I feel rather overwhelmed. I don't know whether any of these authors are any good or not, often there are no reviews yet to fall back on and so I'll ignore the newbies in favour of established authors I know I'll like. I can't always trust the publisher as even my favourite, most reliable publishers have been known to publish dross on occasion.

So to sum up: The number of releases recently, especially in m/m, are confusing and I've had my fingers burned too many times from buying books from unknown authors to want to take the risk. I already have a vast number of books/authors that I like and want to read so I'm sticking with them until I get a good solid recommendation from another blogger I can trust.

Treva Harte said...

Kris, for Loose Id, it's been an increase in all of our genres. if anything, m/m has been surprisingly low.

And Jenre, yes, a known author name almost always has an advantage over the unknown author. The first ms. usually has to really appeal. (Which is not to say we want our established authors to get lazy.) But we have turned down some ms. because they are not a good introduction to our readers.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Kris and Jen!

Interesting how many readers are intimidated by their own TBR piles. O_O

Everybody seems to be verifying what I thought -- that an increased number of releases makes people cling that much more tenaciously to favorite or big-name authors. Stands to reason; there's only so much money and time one can devote to a hobby.

Kris, re. your question about summer writers: I think winter is more conducive to writing, at least in three-quarters of the US. And that would explain the boom in spring/summer submissions. It also seems likely the economy has something to do with the inpouring of new mss. "Make money working at home!" and all that.

Treva Harte said...

Often we also get a lot at the beginning of the year -- not sure if it's because authors work writing all during the holidays or it's a New Year's resolution. The feast or famine thing is definitely there, though.

Tam said...

My TBR pile (can you have a "pile" in a computer file?) is relatively small. Maybe a dozen. I can't seem to buy more books if I have that many sitting there. Once I get down to less than 6 or 8, I go on a spree.

What does that mean? It likely means I miss some of the new stuff that I might buy otherwise. I will likely go back and search for a book that was released 3 weeks ago by an autobuy author, but I'm unlikely to go searching for new "old" stuff. (3 weeks shouldn't be considered old, but ...)

I do NOT go to all the sites everyweek to see what's new. And I often read the blurbs for new books and think "That sounds good" or reviews and think "Oh, I must read that" but I can't afford to buy ALL the books that appeal to me. Plus I'm new to the m/m genre so there are back lists that call my name too.

Is more good? Well, I suppose in the sense that it gives you more choice. I prefer to read certain genres. If you love sci-fi and there is a 50% increase in books available you HOPE there's a 50% increase in the books you love and can buy. Now if a publisher goes from 5 new releases a week to 20, I'd have to wonder about the quality because really? You found 15 amazing new authors all at once or your current authors are churning out books 75% faster? Unlikely but I don't blame the authors if the quality declines. If I submit crap and you publish it, then the publisher is ultimately responsible.

Too many books can be overwhelming and like Jen, I tend to go to the tried and true although I love trying new authors. But if there are 10 books and I can only get 6, I'm going to be biased as to whom I purchase.

I know in paper books there is the "summer reads" phenomenon in North America. Lists of beach reads, etc. which are probably saved up by publishers to be released at a time of year people are more likely to read, I'm not sure that happens in e-publishing. I've never seen anything about "beach reads" on an e-pub site. (Sand in the circuitry sucks - take that how you will ;-))

So in some ways more is better because I like choice. If I only want to read about blond haired blue eyed boys, I'm more likely to find my quota amongst 1000 books than 100. Will they all be good? Unlikely, but maybe I'll get lucky. But that also means I won't buy that amazing black haired brown eyed boy book which I would have loved. Its a crap shoot.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hiya, Tam!

More variety would be appealing to readers...but only if, as you said, they could afford to buy a lot more books (most can't) and the increase in offerings didn't mean a decrease in quality.

Now if a publisher goes from 5 new releases a week to 20, I'd have to wonder about the quality because really? You found 15 amazing new authors all at once or your current authors are churning out books 75% faster?

Yeah, exactly. That sort of leap, or just a sudden doubling of releases, makes me wary for all kinds of reasons. Good writers don't sprout up overnight like toadstools. Somebody might have a great imagination, but that doesn't mean he or she can produce a readable book.

I was perusing some excerpts last night and came upon one that was HORRENDOUS -- dumbass characters and awkward prose riddled with errors. It was actually painful to read. Granted, the section was unedited, but no material that indicates such a gross lack of skill should ever be accepted by a legitimate publisher. Yet I know for a fact this person is a multipublished author, and her horridly written story will be released by a fairly high-profile epub.

I just don't get it.

MB (Leah) said...

This is an interesting post K.Z. and it makes me think.

As a reader, I feel very overwhelmed by all the new books coming out. I'm a slow reader and as it is, I can only get through maybe 2 books a week if I push it.

I think compared to many others my TBR pile is not that huge, but it's still disheartening because more books come out that I wish to read.

It becomes though, like when you just go shopping and the fridge and freezer are packed with goodies and you're hungry but there's so many things to choose from that you eat the same thing you've eaten for the last few days not wanting to have to choose really.

The gluttony of books out there is good and bad.

I tend to almost auto buy authors I like, but will put reading their books on the back burner for authors whose books look good but I haven't tried. This is because I know the quality of auto buy authors and that I'll probably like what they write. However, I'm bored so easily and love trying new genres and authors and tend to actually read them first.

It's a difficult thing.

One thing I will say, I think the general bad quality of writing when so many books gets published really bring the average down to the lowest common denominator, which I don't think is good. It gives the impression that most epubs are offering crap.

I think I'd rather an epub put out only a few books a week but that they would be top notch. I don't look every week for what's new coming out but there are a few pubs that I go to first when I want to try new authors and those are Samhain and Loose-id and Amber Quill. I hate Liquid Silver's web site and the lack of search engine inside, but I will go to them after the others because there are authors there that I like and know the quality of.

The rest of the epubs I don't even search because of the crap they put out.

K. Z. Snow said...

Nice to "see" you again, Leah. And glad to hear that you visit Liquid Silver now and then! ;-)

Boy, that "crap" refrain has been repeated a lot lately. I have precious little time to read, so I'm not fully aware of general quality level. But I've sure seen a lot of bemoaning going on at different book sites.

Katrina Strauss said...

I view my fellow authors as peers rather than competitors. Yet as I struggle to stand out from the crowd in a saturated genre with a waning economy, there are days things feel rather competitive. And I hate feeling that way, since it sort of takes the fun out of what I do and why I initially set out to do it. All I can suggest is that those of us who believe in our vision stick with it and work the current market conditions to our advantage. (Just don't ask me how to follow said suggestion since I'm floundering in the dark here...)

K. Z. Snow said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Katrina.

One of the most regrettable aspects of saturation publishing is the desperately competitive atmosphere it establishes among authors. Constructive competition is the kind that spurs us to write better; destructive competition is the kind that makes us view our peers as adversaries in the scramble for dwindling royalties.

I appreciate the former. I despise the latter.

So if and when your floundering takes you from the dark to the light, please clue me in about working the current market to our advantage. :-)

K. Z. Snow said...

LEAH ~ I did some inquiring at Liquid Silver and was told the problem will be solved before the year is out.

MB (Leah) said...

Heh, K.Z. you're sweet. I emailed them not long ago bitching that I would think about buying from them if there were a search engine instead of having to slog through books I could probably care less about to get to ones I want and I got a response. Nice of them.

Said that there would be a search engine in the shopping cart area. That's makes no sense to me as it should be on the main page but it's better than nothing.

Seems odd that they wouldn't have search engine. They don't even have a separate category for gay/lesbian, which I think would be a great idea.

At the moment, I only go there for specific books, like yours, that I know I want already.

K. Z. Snow said...

I also mentioned the lack of a separate GLBT category. It's confusing to have all the Molten Silver (i.e., "hot") titles just glommed together under one umbrella.

LSB does have some very knowledgeable tech people on their staff, and they are unfailingly courteous and quick to respond to customer feedback. I just hope they get these issues resolved...because I have two GLBT titles coming up (including the sequel to InDescent)!

H said...

With announcements from the publishers, yahoo!groups and LJ, I get a fairly good "feel" for the new and upcoming stuff, I think. It can be daunting - and the TBB resolved into two different bookmark folders (the Books To Get and the Books to Get Maybe), so that if a book made more than two appearances in the TBTGM (implying more than one enthusiastic reader/reviewer I trust), it went into THTG folder. Tragically, I lost my bookmarks a couple of weeks ago, but as I only read m/m fiction these days, at least the "pool" is smaller. One of the m/m publisher sites I visit frequently has had a huge increase in the number of releases and new-to-me authors recently and despite one (of the 3 "newbies") of the stories being nowhere near an HEA or HFN (I'm still rather irritated about this), the quality doesn't seem to suffered (although I did blink at the number and shuffled off to play Mindsweeper while I got over it *g*).
The authors who comment (rather than just promo) on the groups/communities I belong to, are readers too - and the recs from those "trusted" groups play a large role in the books I buy.
I do hope that there is not going to be an increase in the "wait" time between acceptance and publication - one of the (many) joys to be had from epublishers, I think, is that sense of connection between the publisher, reader and author.

p.s. My code check was "lesses" :)

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, H. (That was my mother's first initial.) "Lesses" Could that mean "less is more"? ;-)

Thanks so much for your comments. It seems you sort of have a system in place but still feel a little flustered by all the choices.

As I recently discovered, increased lag time is pretty much an inevitable consequence of a publisher signing on more authors and putting out more books. Yes, it is tough to keep assuring readers, "The book is coming!" when it isn't coming for another six months. Not only do people have short attention spans, but I think authors as well as readers have been spoiled by e-publishing's traditionally quick turnaround. It was always a big plus.