You hear it all the time. Goodbye 2020. What a year. Can’t wait for 2021. We yearn to move on. We ache for a better tomorrow. And in the literary world, the uncertainty from the last twelve months drives a similar desire.
According to Guardian journalist, Alex Clark, 2020 was a mixed year for the publishing life. While bookshops closed, literary festivals cancelled and hardback sales shrunk, digital books surged in the face of the pandemic. Lockdowns and work-from-home environments gave readers more time for books. Racism, COVID-19 and a divided nation drove authors to their keyboards, congesting the market. As a result, many established writers, such as novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls, are bowing out, focusing on other projects.
But is stepping down the answer? Is it time for career writers to walk away in the face of a flooded environment? Unless you’re well established, even the best rising stars in the literary world will face a noisy market. Getting your voice heard and your book in front of an audience will be more difficult than ever. Should budding authors, columnists and screenwriters retire?
The answer is a simple sentence word. No. Writers run a parallel struggle with the rest of the world. Confusion, mistrust and disorientation fog the future. There are new hurdles. But one thing is for certain in these turbulent times. They will change. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
The fingerprint of the literary world will never be the same. Digital books, who were already on the rise, have clinched a large part of reading retail. Bookstores and libraries will need to change the way they do business, focusing on alternative ways to sell physical copies. Top tier publishers will have to be more selective on how they sift through thousands of authors, and independent writers will need to get creative with getting books in readers’ hands. What doesn’t change though is a writer’s desire to create.
Storytellers are storytellers. Journalists need to report. Artists can’t cease the call for expression. Fresh stories, no matter what the temperature of the market, need writing. An author shouldn’t ever compromise their work because of business complications. Once the book is ready, then one can worry about market strategies, sales profits, and whether they need to find other ways to help establish income. It won’t be easy, but there’s no wisdom in trying to take the fire from a dragon.
We may want to move on from the past. The future may be confusing. But in the literary world, one thing is for certain. Readers need books. There will always be a desire to read insightful columns, inspiring stories, and other forms of written art. Authors are going to need to think of novel ways to get their work into readers’ hands, but it can never deny the call to write.
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Justin Alcala is a novelist and nerdologist. He’s the author of the novels Consumed (BLKDOG Publishing), The Devil in the Wide City (Solstice Publishing) and Dim Fairytales (AllThingsThatMatterPress). His short stories have been in dozens of anthologies and magazines including It Dances Now (Crimson Street Magazine) and The Offering (Horrified/Rogue Planet Press). When he’s not burning out his retinas in front of a computer, Justin is a passionate tabletop gamer. He’s also a blogger, folklore enthusiast and time traveler. He is an avid quester of anything righteous, from fighting dragons to acquiring magical breakfast eggs from the impregnable grocery fortress.
Most of Justin’s tales and characters take place in The Plenty Dreadful universe, a deranged supernatural version of the modern world. When writing, Justin enjoys immersing himself in the subject matter, from in-depth research to overseas travel. Much to the dismay of his family, he often locks himself away in his office-dungeon while playing themed videos and music over, and over, and over again. Justin currently resides with his dark queen, Mallory, their malevolent daughter, Lily, their fluffy Ragnarök bringing puppy, Fenrir, and their hellcat, Misery. Where his mind might be though is anyone’s guess.