Just in the last few weeks, economists and financial experts have been throwing around the dreaded “R” word. Recession.
To be clear, they’re speaking of the USA heading toward a recession. However, it doesn’t really matter where you sit on the globe, a recession in the USA tends to reach out and clobber a whole lot of other people.
I’m in Canada, but my biggest fiction market is the United States. If discretionary spending slows south of the 48th parallel, for sure my business will be impacted.
How Likely Is A Recession?
The experts are hedging their bets, of course. Bankrate says the odds of a recession kicking in before the Presidential elections in November 2020 are about even. That is, a recession is 50% likely to happen.
They’re the only ones willing to put a percentage of likelihood on their guess, and even they are playing safe.
The reason everyone is suddenly panicking about a recession is the reversion, for the first time in years, of the yield curve–a particularly accurate measure of a potential recession. CNN has a coherent explanation of that…but they, like everyone else, point out that the yield curve is only an indicator. It might still be wrong.
What Can You Do As An Indie?
The strategies and tactics an indie author should use to offset the effects of a recession are pretty sensible financial strategies for any economic state. There is a heap of advice for writers out there, most of it financial in nature; Forbes, for example. Most of that advice boils down to: Reduce your expenses, pay off debt, stash your cash. Good advice for all times, as I said.
There’s a couple of schools of thought here.
- Indie Fiction Writers will thrive during a recession.
- Indie Fiction Writers will be squeezed out of business during a recession.
It’s basically two extremes. Why?
Because of how people spend their money during a recession. Historical data shows that people spend more money on books during a recession…but only books of a certain type. In the 2009 recession, the biggest series blowing out best seller lists was the Twilight series–escapist in the extreme.
The other type of book that sells well during recessions are the self-help books, especially if they impart a big dose of motivation, too.
Early to Rise points out that products which sell best during a recession are the cheapest ones. And indie-published fiction is the cheapest going.
On the down-side, people stop spending. A lot. They become selective about how they use their discretionary dollars. Indie authors are competing against streaming TV, movies, games, and more. Whoever can best help people forget their woes for a while wins.
So how can you, as a prolific indie fiction writer, hedge your bets?
Prolific tactics to minimize the effects of a recession.
There are three advantages that indie authors have over everyone else in publishing, and any of the other forms of entertainment:
- We’re micro-entrepreneurs, who can pivot their entire business in a matter of hours.
- We can create and release product faster than any other form of entertainment out there.
- We can price down in the basement, and still thrive.
How to use those factors in a recession?
Reconsider the genre you’re writing in.
Escapist fiction — fantasy, SF and any genre with a speculative element that takes a reader out of the everyday humdrum and hard times sells far better than more mundane fiction during a recession (Twilight, Hunger Games, Dan Brown, for example, all did well during recessions).
If you’re well established in your genre, but it has no speculative elements at all, you don’t have to give it up altogether:
- You could start a new series in your genre that does have a spec-fic element (making it a cross-over), so you don’t alienate your readership altogether.
- You could start writing in a speculative fiction genre in addition to the one you’re currently writing. This would mean developing a pen name, to keep your also-boughts clean.
- You could start the new genre and phase out the other as the new genre is established — you could always come back to that other genre later.
As always, sales will be your best indicator of whether you need to maintain the old genre.
Monitor your Prices.
This is not actually a prolificacy-related point, but if consumers buy whatever is cheapest during a recession, then you need to watch your prices and tweak them to find if the average price point has shifted downward (which is very likely).
Also, it is possible that flat-rate subscription services will boom (Kindle Unlimited, Playster, Scribd, etc). The factor here is how severe the recession becomes. If people are counting every penny, then they may not be able to justify even a monthly subscription.
Which brings me to the next point:
Get your books into the library system
There are a handful of ways to manage this–ebooks can be put into Overdrive, and Ingram Spark has a good track record getting print editions into the libraries, too. Woo your local library and encourage readers everywhere to request your books at their local library. Note: If you’re in KU, then you can’t put your ebooks into the library systems, but you can include print editions. For your better sellers, create a hardcover edition, which libraries tend to prefer.
Consider adding non-fiction to your ouvre
You may already be writing non-fiction on the side (or fiction on the side), in which case, reconsider your subject matter. DIY, how to save money, and motivational how-tos are all super-popular during a recession.
If you’ve never written non-fiction before, but you don’t want to add a spec-fic genre to your current stable, then non-fiction might be a way to recession-proof your indie business.
Write More, faster.
The faster you write and produce books, the greater your backlist by the time a recession does hit. As most of your income derives from backlist sales, the bigger your backlist, the higher your income. It’s simple math.
Also, being able to produce a steady, reliable stream of the escapist fiction that readers crave will make them love you all the more.
Consider writing shorter novels, which lets you sell them at lower prices, and get them out faster.
Do everything you can to increase your productivity, so you’re getting the books and stories out there.
Learn how to do more yourself.
This is deep-end-of-the-pool survival stuff for when the SHTF* big time. If the recession dips down toward depression levels, then teaching yourself how to do stuff that you are currently farming out will pay off in the medium-to-long-term. Formatting your own books, line editing yourself, typesetting print editions, even making your own covers are all possible DIY tasks. Yes, most gurus say you should never make your own covers and a lot of other tasks, including editing, because you can’t possibly do as good a job as the pros.
However, if your income reduces to the point where you are forced to offset every big ticket expense, then DIY is the only way to keep the books coming out.
Being a prolific writer pays off here: You can write books faster, which frees up time to do all the extra production tasks you used to farm out.
[*Prepper parlance: Shit Hits The Fan]
And if the worst happens…
If you’re writing full time and are forced back into part-time or full-time work, then being able to write fast and get books out quickly will help you write around the day job.
And, if the reverse happens and you lose your day job (as unemployment rises during a recession), then having a healthy backlist and being able to write faster (while you’re job hunting, or living off your severance cheque), could make the difference between disaster and scraping through.
Writing more, faster, will always be a hedge against hard times.
Classic pulp fiction hit its peak in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Pulp fiction, even stories set in contemporary times, had little to do with real life. The villains were dastardly, the heroes chisel-jawed and courageous, the femme fatales gravitationally gifted.
Science fiction soared to the heights of popularity in the pulps, as did a dozen other genres. In its heyday, the pulp fiction industry supported over 150 magazines and their writers.
Writers who could write fast and tell an entertaining story, often in a dozen different genres and pen names, thrived. Sometimes they did very well indeed. Isaac Asimov got his start in the pulps. So did Raymond Chandler and Frank Gruber (a.k.a Max Brand).