The Apocalypse and the lonely writer
Jerry Pournelle always said bad times were good for writers. We’re cheap entertainment. Note this wasn’t true for trad publishing post 9/11 when everything tanked. At a guess because books were then too expensive, and most of them weren’t a ton of fun.
HOWEVER I’ve noticed that we sell fewer books as indies in the GOOD economic times, so I think the reverse holds. (In fact things seem to sell well in economic dips.)
Whatever else happens, I THINK we’re in for an economic hit, just because of China. Oh, and because our press is doing its best to crash the economy.
I don’t think it will be a massive hit, not compared to the rest of the world, but I think people might feel pinched, at least for a few months. Hopefully not too long.
And while I think China and maybe the Middle East are in for a rough time — I want to emphasize this — I don’t think our death percentage, etc. will be anywhere like China’s or the Middle East’s or even Europe’s. However (this is very important) I think the panic will last longer than the virus.
At this point I’m not 100% sure how serious the death toll will be in the US (probably lower than in Europe, btw) and not sure how it will be in Europe, either.
We simply don’t have enough numbers. China is not reliable (DUH) and frankly, no authority is. Yesterday I did a spit take at the Watt’s Up with that site saying we had numbers because UN. Oh, Reeeely? Then would you trust their numbers for global warming? No? Then shut up.
We have no clue what infection numbers are, or death numbers from those infections. AFAWCT the general death rate hasn’t gone up the last few months, but then again, it’s usually not released that early, is it? (Honest question.) BUT I do know even in the US no one is being tested unless there’s an identifiable “pathway” to have caught it.
And since some rumors have it that it’s been active in China since October… It could have come in through a hundred different ways.
I find it highly suspicious for instance that Portugal reports not a single infection. I think this result could only be achieved by inserting fingers in ears and yelling lalalalala.
Again, how it interacts with American or European immune systems versus Chinese is something else, and no, I’m not being a racist, in this. China has environmental and other stresses we simply don’t have. So does Iran, for that matter.
Again, unless it was extinction rebellion (rolls eyes) it’s unlikely to be apocalyptic here, but as the disaster in China unfolds, it’s going to chill the economy and bring on at least a moderate recession with some bits of “how do I get this thing I usually get from China?)
The very first point of our apocalypse and the lonely writer prep — or anyone who can work from home via the computer prep — is to check your equipment and figure out if you’re going to need something very short term/your computer is on its last legs/whatever. Because you might find that all that stuff goes up/can’t be got at any price in a couple of months.
And since we’re talking about computers and working on them:
There was an article about people self-quarantining, voluntarily, in San Francisco, and my circles made much fun of it, because, wait, feces in the street don’t worry you, but a virus in Wuhan DOES?
However, the thing is, honestly, none of us needs a terrible lot of incentive to self-quarantine because for most of us it’s fairly painless and if not pleasant, at least not unpleasant.
For instance, both of us can in fact work from home. (And keep our own hours, to a great extent.)
It is a point of dark amusement that just as panic over this hits, we’re having quite possibly the most “interactive” week in many months. You see, our car died and we must shop for another one. And also I have a series of doctor appointments (makes cross sign with fingers) for an unrelated problem, which means I’m going to doctors and hospitals a lot.
However, after this week we should be able to resume our semi-hermit-ical lifestyle, where our biggest outing is for walks in the botanic gardens, which granted interact with people but not within touching or sneezing distance.
It’s very easy for writers to stay home and work, have stuff delivered (remember to wipe it down with bleach wipes) and find both work and fun in the confines of “voluntary quarantine.”
Not just for writers, but I think pretty much for anyone who can work from home, for the next two/three months this is going to be a thing. We’re going to think and agonize (to an extent already are, at least the more paranoid/immune impaired of us) on whether to go out to a restaurant, or any public place that’s not, you know, something like the zoo which is open air and you can keep your distance.
Malls and real shops, to the extent we haven’t cut them out already, will probably be cut out, unless something is absolutely tempting. Restaurants, we’re only going to when we are meeting friends and/or celebrating soemthing, instead of because it’s Wednesday — say — and I’m tired. (To be fair, part of that is because getting new-to-us car and also doing a lot of house improvements. But other people might also be eating out less. At least marginally)
The thing is, there are several trends already in progress that won’t take a ton of push to go that way. It’s enough to not be sure what the heck is going on with the Xi-disease, for instance for me to say “um, let’s NOT go browse in the used bookstore. We have KUL, I’ll just read what’s available that way.” Or “You know, we have enough paper books, let’s not go to the Tattered Book Cover.”
Now, normally, as after 9/11, this might mean that bookstores and trad pubs posted a bad quarter.
However, most of the bookstores and therefore the advantage of traditional publishing are already teetering on the brink of disaster. I honestly don’t know if they come back from this, if it causes even a slight chill in mega-convention attendance (a lot of paper books these days are sold as a “souvenir of experience”) and bookstore browsing. It doesn’t even need to affect the economy that much, to take out bookstores (and with them trad pub)
Some maybe, but it would take very agile thinking and fast moving. Some might manage it, but I have yet to see anyone in trad pub really internalizing how much the industry has already changing, and that the 90s aren’t coming back. even some of the new style publishing houses have issues with this.
As for indie writers… well, since a lot of us put our books on KUL it might be a year of fat cows ahead, at least insofar as sales.
The determinant points will be that our writing be fun and immersive. If it is, I think we stand to cash in, given a few other conditions:
As part of a couple where I’m books, he’s media (he reads too, he’s just more visual — not difficult in this case — and therefore also watches two/three movies a week. I can tell you that it’s really easy for him to exhaust “what’s out there that I have any interest in watching” any given month. And that’s now, when production of visual entertainment is proceeding at a normal pace.
Now, unlike trad pubbers I don’t think that books are selling worse because people have movies. That’s not how that works. And I don’t think that even if production of video entertainment slows down “people will have to buy books.”
There are video games and a ton other ways to deliver story these days.
OTOH we’ve seen lasting entertainment trend shifts as a result of temporary inconvenience. Lest we forget, the reality show thing was the result of a script writer strike.
In the same way, it is possible that a slight change in the mix will get more people to read or to read more, instead of the more sociable activities they’ve been engaging in.
Does this mean we’re all going to get rich? I doubt it. But we might be able to make a decent living.
What might make a difference is the following (all of them already recommended things for indies):
Write series, if you can. Write fast if you can. As a reader of indie books, I can tell you I like “falling into” a series. If you have a couple of immersive series going and bring stuff out every other month you probably won’t starve.
It’s harder to say WHAT you should be writing, at least as to tone.
I know it was a thing in trad pub to think you published fluffy fantasy under the democrats, but horror under republicans, because “all you can do is scream and die.”
I think this is their own bias but what they were referring to then was the bad times of the seventies (Carter, but not only) and the good times, economically under Reagan. I think the traditional publishers were being goofy attaching genre to ideology, and it might be just as stupid to attach it to good/bad times.
How people deal with depression varies. Some people read scary/sad things to cope. Others deal with it by reading happy happy stuff. (During one of the hardest periods in my recent life, I listened to the Black Tide books on a loop. Because though post-apocalyptic they have a satisfying “this too shall pass” tone.)
I think however — and this might be biased by how I cope with things — that when overwhelmed and worried, people prefer “easy” books, hence my recommendation for immersive.
Easy is not the same as shallow or pablum. In fact very complex worlds can be easy to fall into.
But if you feel yourself deciding to make the reader “work for it” (some of us have issues when suddenly our brain decides we really need a complex invented language, say) don’t. Your over stressed (even if mostly because the news are telling him the plague is coming) reader probably doesn’t need that. (Note that’s probably a good idea at any time, really.)
So, this apocalypse, stay home and write very fast.
Making predictions is hard, particularly about the future, but it would seem to be a good time for ebooks and KUL, a bad time for traditional and physical books.
And there is a chance it won’t take much to make that prevalent if not permanent (?)
Which means work you put in now, might see you through the foreseeable future. And at the very least you won’t be worrying about an apocalypse!