While there are few certainties in this life, outside of death and taxes… things are certainly more uncertain than they’ve been for a long time. For those of us who write futures, who play through the plausible scenarios in imaginary worlds, it’s possibly a little worse than for those who just wait and see.
The problem in a way, is that good writers follow logical progressions so their readers can say ‘And how the hell did that happen?” and toss the book against the wall. When the book happens to be on their kindle, this can make the writer very unpopular. Because, logical progression + human nature it’s the writer’s fault.
Of course, in the real non-fiction world, things don’t have to be as logical. I mean take politicians (please, as far as possible). If what they did and said had to make sense…
A part of this of course may be that we only see out part of what is going on. As a writer, unless we don’t want the reader to know the entire picture, we often have several points of view, to fill in these gaps. You know, like mass media does, interviewing the different sides of everything… oh. Wait. These days they’re as much part of the problem.
Looking at financial affairs at the moment would certainly have me throwing the book at the wall if it were fiction. Logic says we should either already be in a depression deeper than the 1930’s , or conversely in hyperinflation to make Zimbabwe and Weimar look like pikers. Instead we’re sort of just bubbling along. We pretend it’s OK, and the media and governments pretend it’s all under control. Who really knows? I have a personal belief that government and the ultra-wealthy who have a large degree of control over them (and somehow always come out just fine. If I wrote characters like that my book would end up against the wall) have decided there are just two choices and decided that inflation is better (for whom?) The debtors, which most governments are, and mysteriously many of the ultra wealthy will be just at the right time, leaving them with assets and their debtors with worthless money – probably digital, so not even toilet paper.
It’s probably – outside of a sensible degree of prepping in case society comes apart at the seams – not something we can do much about, except ride it out. Load up on debts and assets – and you’re bound to get sunk by a skyrocketing interest rate, instead of inflating your way out of debt. If you save – chronic inflation (particularly of food and to slightly lesser extent, shelter) takes hold (especially without wage inflation) expect major social unrest and any savings you had providently put away destroyed. I saw the lives of careful, provident people, who had saved all their lives for a secure peaceful, happy retirement turned into paupers, desperate and struggling to eat in a few months, in Zimbabwe – while the rich and powerful and politically connected got very much richer.
Writers in general have to be somewhat better prepared than most – and those of us who have done it for a while are. Our incomes are erratic, hard to predict, and often not great. No one is ever completely prepared of course. The unexpected WILL happen, which is why though I try to be asset solid, debt free and have at least a cash cushion. I’ve been caught a couple of times where payment was well overdue, and I had been assured it was on its way, and just HAD to pay someone else. The plumber, last time. Of course payment took another three months. The same was true when the exchange rate in South Africa went from ‘very much in my favor’ (late payments made me richer) to ‘worse by the day’ when of course the money I had budgeted for my kids school fees – which I could comfortably afford at the rate when I did that budget – was actually depreciated to less than needed by the time the check arrived. It made for very wary living. That wasn’t the same effect as hyperinflation – but my available money dropped to having 40% of the value it had had. That was crippling. And that was far from hyper-inflation or even stagflation.
It’s hard to predict exactly how bad that future will be. But there are a number of aspects that writers in particular need to consider. Most ordinary people, in ordinary jobs get paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly. In Weimar Germany, workers wanted to be paid twice a day – so they could buy something at lunch time – because by knock off time, that money would no longer buy the same thing – or anything at all. At best, most writers get paid two months after the sales. In worst case scenario, that can be nearer 18 months (A book, trad published, needs a full six month reporting period. 1 Jan-30 June, 1July-31 December. The publisher typically has 3 months to report. Being three months late on that is nothing but normal – so if reporting is due in March, you can expect the check in June – near the end of June. I had a book come out on 2 January. Which meant I saw the money (and sales figures for the first time) on the 26th of June – six days short of 18 months later. Contracts too are typically two or three stages of advance payment – so much on signing, so much on turn-in and sometimes so much on release. I’ve always had these in more or less equal splits. Which is all very well… until you are in an inflationary – or worse, hyperinflationary environment. Even two months can destroy the value of that payment.
What will this do to books? Will anyone buy them? What happens to publishers and authors in this? (What happens to all of us?)
So: keep your powder dry and don’t bet on money until you’ve spent it on something solid.