It’s been a busy week in the writing world on two different fronts: one which fiction writers may already be aware of, and another that probably won’t have registered with writers using Windows computers.
The first event concerned Woman’s Weekly magazine, whose staff issued an email, out of the blue, last week to advise that following a restructure at Time Inc (owners of the Woman’s Weekly brand), the entire fiction team was moving on.
Rumours began circulating when email advice to regular contributors mentioned they were not looking for submissions at the moment, and there were fears that Woman’s Weekly might also go the same way as Take A Break’s Fiction Feast did at the end of last year by only accepting material from regular contributors, not new writers. However, this turned out not to be quite the case, as you can see from this post on the excellent Womag Writers Blog. (Submissions will be open to regular contributors all of the time, and to all writers (including new writers) for some of the time.)
The second event concerned Apple writers using a writing app called Ulysses. Until now, writers wanting to use this app had to buy a copy of the software and download it to their devices. Now, they’re switching to a subscription model where you pay a monthly/annual fee to continue using the service (a bit like the Microsoft Officer 365 service).
Many writers were outraged by this, especially those who’d recently spent over £50 buying desktop and mobile device versions of the software. The software company behind the app explained in another blog post the reason behind this.
I was surprised by many writers’ reactions to this, for software companies are in a similar situation to that of novelists. For example, the developers behind the other well-known writing software, Scrivener, released version 2 in November 2010 (and the Windows version in November 2011). As a software developer, they received a huge boost in sales/income when version 2 was released, and then watched sales drop to a steady trickle afterwards. Scrivener 3 is scheduled for release later this year, no doubt creating another huge spike in sales/income, followed by a gradual drop in sales once everyone has updated and only those new to Scrivener are buying it.
Novelists face a similar pay spike. Months of no income while the book is being written, can be followed by a huge spike in income once the novel has been published, which is then followed by a drop in sales after the immediate rush. Novelists can find it difficult to generate another huge spike in sales, without writing another novel … which takes time.
By moving to a subscription model, the software developers are trying to avoid the sales spikes and even out their cash flow by creating a continuous, steady subscription income. Surely writers can identify with this and wish they could do something similar? (It could be argued that Charles Dickens had this subscription model for his novels, as many of them were written in serial form first.) Of course, these subscriptions all add up. Every software company claims their software can be subscribed to for less than a coffee a month, but some people can find themselves consuming a lot of a coffee, and that’s when the doubts as a customer can kick in.
What both these events have in common is CHANGE. Many of us don’t like change. (We must be getting old!) But both these changes reflect that we live in unsettled times. The media world is changing. Print media is trying to survive. New electronic media is trying to find a business model that will enable it to grow and survive.
As writers we need to adapt. Markets close, new ones appear. Markets change. Ten years ago, self-publishing had the same reputation as vanity publishing. Today, it’s a respected form of earning a living. Thirty years ago, most of us in the writing business then were using typewriters. Today it’s computers or even tablets and smartphones.
Yes, change isn’t nice when it happens. It knocks us out of our comfort zones. But we should also see it as a new opportunity.
The opportunities for new fiction writers may be reduced at Women’s Weekly, if they can only submit stories during periods when submissions are open to all. So why not hone your fiction skills and try to sell several stories to them, so you can be classified as a regular writer, and submit all of the time? (At least this system of having open windows when all can submit, is better than the Take A Break Fiction Feast system that prevents new writers from breaking in at all.)
Or why not consider writing a longer forms of fiction: pocket novels, novellas, or even novels?
And if you don’t wish to use a subscription-only piece of writing software, then look for an alternative. (And perhaps write about your experience.) I’m a Scrivener user, but I’ve also been using Ulysses. This change in business model made me re-evaluate why I was using Ulysses. And it was because I didn’t know how to do something in Scrivener, yet I could see how to do it in Ulysses. I’ve since learned how to do what I wanted in Scrivener. Problem solved.
So even though many of us don’t like change, the solution is often to embrace it by changing. If we have change forced upon us, then the only way to take back control of our fate is to change ourselves. Yes, it’s unsettling. But often, it can lead to a whole new way of doing things, or even a new business opportunity.
Next time change comes you way, stop. Take a deep breath. Then release. And think about what your options might be. Things might not be as bad as you first think.