Scary Forecasts

Sales will be slower next year. That’s a spooky forecast, and one that is easy to make, because your collective Mad Genii have seen this pattern for quite a while. 2020 is an election year in the US. The uncertainty will slow sales of books. Election years are like that, even when it is a year where the presidential election is more certain (2012) or a mid-term election. It is not one hundred percent guaranteed that sales will slow, but I’d be willing to bet money on it.

What does this mean for us, besides more time to write as we try to avoid political ads and campaign stuff on the TV and phone?

For one, we need to be prepared mentally. If sales do not go as well as they usually do for your books and stories, don’t beat yourself up.* Do not give up. Other people will be having the same feelings and similar problems. Assume that 2020 will be a slow year, even for those of us who have multiple releases. It is not you, it is the economy at large. Your work is still good, readers still like you. The economic headwinds slowing us down are the problem.

Two, prepare financially. If you write for a living, make certain that your catalogue is up to date, and keep writing, even as you consider what you might need to trim from your budget. People will still buy stories, and demand will build. However, cutting back where you can, and reevaluating spending priorities would be a good idea. It might also be time to re-budget your working time, and to consider a second line of income if you can do so. If you are on the border between doing well enough to quit your day job and not quite getting to that point, plan on working next year. If you are able to go full-time writer, great! If not, you still have that safety net to build up savings and retirement.

Three, be not afraid. People want stories. We tell stories. Even in dark times, uncertain times, people want to be encouraged, cheered, amused, entertained, distracted, inspired. That’s our job. Keep writing, keep looking at cover art. This might be the time to download Gimp and start playing with free images or your own photos to see if you can learn to do decent covers for yourself (see #2 above). Keep writing, and don’t let the fuss and furor discourage you.

Four, keep releasing stories. Sales build sales, and holding your work back “until the market improves” can backfire. Stories are not foodstuffs. A full story-silo is great, but it is not earning you money.

This too will pass. Elections come, elections go, the sun will still rise, kittens will be cute, puppies will chew things, the weather forecasters will be wrong, and readers will want stories.

Image: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


* OK, if you write something that stinks like a blend of overripe chicken and pig poo in late August, has no grammar to speak of, pounds MESSAGE into your readers with a baseball bat, and features characters so wooden that termites line up to buy a copy of your tome, yeah, go on and beat yourself up. (Or market it as deconstructionist, post-colonial New Wave, cutting edge, hyper-modernist literature.)


    1. Borrows still result in payments to authors. In fact, a lot of my income of late has been borrows, but that’s the result of having not put out anything for a while (bereavement, medical issues, busy convention season — I’m hoping to change things this winter, now that my writing brain is finally back again).

  1. does it really slow the sales of fiction, tho? it certainly isnt an absolute slowdown for things like movies, because a certain segment of the population will go for fiction during uncertain times to escape…

    1. Shoot, I remember the first Zoolander not doing too well at the box office. It came out two weeks after September 11, when people weren’t ready for comedy. Roger Ebert apparently apologized later for the poor review he gave the movie, on account of that angle.

      On the other hand, I remember movie critics billing The Fellowship of the Ring as “the movie we need right now.” It came out in December 2001. The movie coming out pushed me to finally read the books. I suspect that the “comfort food” effect Dorothy mentions below has a lot to do with the public’s reaction to FotR, because a lot of people already knew the story. Plus the “good triumphs over evil” theme, which the audience would have been clamoring for in those days.

      YMMV. Comedians have to “read the room,” and it’s good advice for authors to do so as well.

  2. It does. I’ve seen the pattern for the last 10 years – the length of the slowdown is directly related to the amount of drama generated by the election. I say drama, because my pet theory is that a large chunk of readers who normally get their drama fix from fiction are instead over-stimulated (whether they want it or not) by real life.

    As for reading to escape? I’d be highly interested in finding a way to see if their fiction consumption drops, or merely shifts to re-reads / re-watching. I know quite a few people whom, when overwhelmed, go back to comfort-reads (or watching their old favourites on TV, or queuing up the movies they love.) They don’t have to take chances; they know they’ll get what they want – and their exhausted / sick brains don’t have to work overhard at learning new names / personalities / places / problems.

    Oh, and pro-tip for anyone who hasn’t made this mistake:don’t release on a collective-national-trauma date. By which I mean, don’t release on April 15, when large numbers of the American reading public has just finished staring at screen after screen of numbers and paying large amounts of money to the government. Turns out that severely impacts their willingness to read screens of stories and shell out money for ’em. Nor in early November, on a presidential election year…

    1. I’ll second the “don’t release on April 15”. Also don’t release in March when everyone realizes that they have to come up with $$$ they didn’t plan for in order to pay the new ACA fee/tax. I hope that little fiasco won’t happen again.

      [Ambiguity of “fiasco” is deliberate.]

      1. I’ve also heard that December is bad because everyone’s buying old books that they know (or guess) will be received well as gifts.

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