Responding to the Difficult Economy

I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
Charles Swindoll

The biggest news in our world today is the economy, and many are suffering the effects. Last week we were bombarded with news of difficult realities in the publishing industry. What should our response be? I asked a handful of literary agents the question: What’s the one thing you’d like to tell writers in these difficult economic times? Here are some of their responses; I’ll post more on Thursday.

Wendy Lawton, Books and Such:

We all flinched at the painful reports of layoffs in our industry and at the grim prognostications that followed. No one is buying. The industry is grinding to a halt. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, “Reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated.” Good writers and good publishers are still working together to make great books. In the last sixty days, I sold twelve books, working out the details of two three-book deals Thursday—the day after “Black Wednesday” in publishing. The sky is not falling. We either sit around and wring our hands or we roll up our sleeves. We can’t do both.

Steve Laube, The Steve Laube Agency:

Don’t panic.

Publishing has always been a business in flux. Like the addictive dieter, publishers get pudgy and then have to cut away the fat. Only to turn around and grow again. If you have been a student of the industry, the patterns have been consistent.

This time around the surrounding economy is driving some of the changes. It is to be expected. But is does not mean the demise of publishing. Hardly. It only means the author must work that much harder to write the best stories or craft the best non-fiction advice. At the same time a wise author will spend the time, money, and resources to build their platform/visibility. If it was easy, they wouldn’t call it work. 🙂

Kate Schafer Testerman, KT Literary:

It’s been said before, but the best way to have a long-lasting career in this difficult industry (at any time, not just recently) is to write brilliantly. Even in a difficult economy a book that keeps me up late reading, that I find sneaking into my head, that tells a unique story with an unforgettable voice —I’m still going to go out of my way to find a publisher for that book.

If I can add anything else, always be the best author you can be—and that includes all the work you need to do besides putting words on paper. Promote your book on your blog or website, build a community of readers, help your sales and marketing team come up with ideas of how to promote you and your work, talk to librarians and booksellers, and make friends with other writers for other great ideas!

Beth Jusino, Alive Communications:

It’s not enough to be good. To make it right now, you have to be great. Your nonfiction book idea has to be focused and contemporary and fill a need; your story idea needs to be compelling from the first page. Your writing has to be tight, edited, clean, and undeniably compelling. This is not a season for laziness. This is not the time to “float” an idea before it’s developed, or to try to write something that was popular five years ago. The world has changed dramatically—especially the world of books and reading. This isn’t meant to be a discouragement. Publishers are still acquiring books from established and first-time authors. They’re still looking for The Next Big Thing. They’ve just set the bar higher for all of us.

Greg Johnson, WordServe Literary:

I was talking with an editor from Thomas Nelson the day after the shakeup. We were lamenting the state of book publishing, book sellers…generally where the industry was going. I told her that from our company we were digging deeper to find ways to become better partners with publishers and authors. I think this has always been the case with WordServe authors, but I assured her we were going to explore further the ways we can help in the book selling process; that we weren’t going to be an agency that did the deal and disappeared. She was delighted to hear that. Publishers feel they’re all alone sometimes bearing the brunt of returns, authors who won’t step up to the plate, and agents who complain.

So if there is one thing an author can do (or continue to do), is find ways to truly PARTNER with a publisher to market and PR their books. Our authors are combing the web for blogs and websites who will review their work. They’re talking to magazine editors to get articles printed. And while speaking is slow throughout America , they’re trying to get more gigs. When a publisher sees or hears of an author going above and beyond, they want to continue to work with that author to push the book…even well beyond the four month “front list” window. The more an author sees themselves as a partner, the more books are sold.

Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs.
Mario Andretti


What have you, personally, worried about the most in this difficult economy?

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Anonymous on December 18, 2008 at 11:22 PM

    >I worry about when the economic downturn will become a reality. I see it on the news, in the papers, and hear it on the radio but I don’t see any evidence of it in either my life or of the lives of the people around me. I keep waiting for some thing horrible to come rolling around the corner with a big red tag on it that reads ‘depression’.

  2. Sharon A. Lavy on December 9, 2008 at 6:16 PM

    >As writers, we can’t not write. But it is always nice to have that hope of eventually publishing if we hone our craft.

    Thank you for a positive post.

  3. Jill Corcoran on December 9, 2008 at 2:43 AM

    >Thank you for your positive message and for taking the time to ask and share your peers’ opinions.

    On Thursday, I wrote a KEEP WRITING post and added links to a number of other agents who have also tried to let writers and illustrators know that this is not the end of publishing. I hope you do not mind that I have modified that post and added a link to your blog.

  4. Marla Taviano on December 8, 2008 at 10:59 PM

    >I may be a weirdo, but I feel a little invigorated by this new challenge: make it GOOD or it won’t sell.

  5. Laurie Pace on December 8, 2008 at 10:14 PM

    >I am in total agreement with Rachel. I personally try to leave the word WORRY out of my vocabulary when it comes to something I have little control over. I think too often educated people do not necessarily worry, but they tend to over analyze everything and that brings on stress and frustration. I believe we think too much. We need to follow the spirit dwelling with in each of us, and listen for God instead of listening to ourselves.(Or to the TV news)

    On the front of writing/publishing etc, I would focus on the thought that the cost of a good book is often less than a trip to the movie by the time you buy popcorn. I would focus on redirecting parents to turn off the TV to save on electricity (and sanity) and direct personal attention to reading to that child every evening before bed.

    This is an opportunity to bring reading back into the lives of many that are so accustomed to instant gratification. There is something delicious about reading a book bite by bite, enjoying every chapter, thinking, contemplating and digesting it.

    This is a time to rejoice as God is strengthening us to be creative, to find our gifts and to use them.

    I have no room for worry, even when my Financial Adviser calls. I told him to call me in the new year because I didn’t want to know right now. I simply could not do anything about it. God is in control.

  6. Krista Phillips on December 8, 2008 at 9:28 PM

    >There’s a difference between being worried and prepared.

    Regarding the publishing industry, wow, the agents were spot on! Good books will still be published and sold. The cream of the crop will rise to the top.

    As for the economy as a whole, as Christians we are called to rely on God for our daily needs. BUT, I also believe God calls us to be wise as serpents and listen to us. We’re in tough times. Just as companies are tightening their belts, it’s time for individuals to be good stewards of what God has given us. Pay off your debts, Open a savings account. Start that 401k (the market is DOWN people. Buy low sell high!).

    It’s cyclical, this too shall pass, but let’s be prepared for the ride.

  7. D. Ann Graham on December 8, 2008 at 5:00 PM

    >I worry that it’s a long, long time from typing the words “Chapter One” of any manuscript to the eye of an actual reader falling on them. I worry that while we writers are busy stepping up, taking things up a notch, and working on our platforms ahead of time, that some hungry child or desperate adult will wander into a bookstore for a bit of escape from an unsettling world and find nothing but a hoard of demons, and beasts, and darkness reeking havoc in there. And when I hear that the glum economy is forcing industry moguls to restrict their editors to buying only the superbly crafted, printer-ready, great books in order to stay afloat, I say…

    Praise the Lord! As Christians, it’s time to put on our dancing shoes! Because there are multitudes of hungry people out there that are no longer looking just for a bit of escape reading, they are honestly and truly looking for the GREAT ESCAPE. And – hey — all systems are pointing toward the publishing industry gearing up to give it to them. Not that they approve of good literature so much as they happen to know it is the only guaranteed sell during tough times.

    Which makes all the talk we’ve been hearing lately about “writing from the heart,” or bringing to forefront that story inside that you’ve always been destined to write, seem heaven-sent. Because a great spiritual battle has been raging.

    Now, maybe it is finally time to “…feed the flock of the slaughter.”

  8. Rachel on December 8, 2008 at 4:33 PM


    I have been reading your blog for a while now, but this is my first comment.

    I have various worries related to the economy, but they are always dispelled when I remember that God is control of all things.

    Relating to the publishing industry, I can only say that the best, inexpensive entertainment I can think of is getting wrapped up in a really fabulous book that takes me away. I may not be able to afford travel in the coming months, but I can pick up a book set somewhere exotic. I may have to cut back on dinner and movies with friends, but I can pull an old favorite off the shelf. In my opinion, lean times will only help people to appreciate great writing even more.

  9. Richard Mabry on December 8, 2008 at 2:51 PM

    My pastor’s ears must be burning today, since both you and I list quotes from him on our blogs.

    Thanks for addressing the disturbing issue of the economy head-on. Yesterday, Dr. Swindoll emphasized another phrase that should sustain us through trying times–Luke 1:37 “For nothing is impossible with God.”

  10. lynnrush on December 8, 2008 at 11:57 AM

    >Thanks for this post, Rachelle. It’s encouraging.

    I haven’t worried too much about the writing industry as I’m fairly new to it…so I’m just taking it a little at a time. I worry more for those who have lost their jobs..and their families.

    Thanks for the post today, Rachelle.

  11. Kristi Holl on December 8, 2008 at 6:08 AM

    >Thank you for the collection of encouraging opinions. It’s bracing to hear some voices of reason and sanity after last week’s gloom and doom articles elsewhere. I think this recession will separate the sheep from the goats, or the men from the boys, or whatever. I suspect that many of us–maybe most of us–will need to bring our writing and marketing up another notch or two if we want to continue to publish. But that’s a good thing that will benefit writers, publishers, and readers.

    To answer your question: I haven’t worried much about writing in this economy. I’ve been writing for close to thirty years, and the cycles come and go. It’s one of those times where your favorite part of the Bible is “…and it came to pass.” 😎

    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog