Hello, hello, is anyone out there reading? Reading fiction for pleasure?

One of my longtime fans, an avid reader, told me neither of his kids read for pleasure. “They’re nineties kids,” he said. Meaning they watch the boob tube, play video games, cruise the Internet, listen to music. Their cultural pleasure is defined by their senses, by their eyes and ears. Not their minds.

I could summon no rebuttal or plea, and I was troubled. People who don’t read, who don’t use their minds, who don’t think and analyze—which is what reading, including fiction reading, encourages—can be so easily manipulated by the sensations of Big Media.

But the good news is, yes, plenty of people are reading. Children became acclimated to reading fiction for pleasure by the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter books. Young adults have learned to read for pleasure from Twilight and other YA books and, whatever you think of the quality of those books, if they encourage people to read, they’ve done a good thing.

We’re talking a multi-billion-dollar business. The fact that the Big Five Publishers continue to maintain posh editorial offices in fancy Manhattan skyscrapers (been there, seen them) is proof that the getting is still good.

For the Big Five Publishers. And for some authors.

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about last year:

A Strong Finish for Trade, Even with eBook Decline, As Every Other Major Publishing Segment Rises In 2013

Trade publishing finished 2013 with two strong months of sales, according to the publishers who report to the AAP, closing the gap to put full-year trade sales a little shy of the big 2012 results. Measured sales from the approximately 1,200 reporting publishers were $6.441 billion for 2013, down by $74 million (or 1 percent) from 2012 — which was a banner year, thanks to the Hunger Games and Fifty Shades trilogies. (By comparison, total AAP trade sales in 2011 were $6.082 billion, when Borders went bankrupt and liquidated.)

November sales of $651 million were up strongly, by $62 million (or 10.5 percent) compared to a year ago, with December sales of $530 million up 2 percent (or $12 million) over 2012. Adult sales showed the largest gains in November, while children’s and YA sales led the December increase.

The other headline for 2013 is that overall trade ebook sales declined — slightly — for the first time since the AAP has tracked such sales. Total publisher ebook sales for 2013 were $1.471 billion, down by $15 million, from 2012. All of the decline and then some came from children’s and YA ebooks, since the late-in-the-year rise of Veronica Roth’s Divergent books was not big enough to overcome the falloff from the success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games in 2012. Children’s ebooks comprised $170.5 million in 2013, compared to $232.5 million in 2012. Adult ebooks rose modestly, at $1.301 billion up 4 percent (or $48 million) from 2012.

What do you notice about this news?

Billions of dollars and brand-name successes you can count on the fingers of one hand. (I’ll get to the ebooks issue a little later.)

Brand-name fiction successes that literally drive the profits up or down of massive multinational corporations. The rest of those profits flow from business books, technical books, religious books, diet books, self-help books, some celebrity books. Those books don’t interest me and I’m not qualified to comment on them.

That said, what is a brand-name fiction success? Where does it come from? How does an author make this happen?

I’ll analyze the first of the two trilogies Publishers Weekly mentioned.

Suzanne Collins wrote some baby TV scripts for Nickolodeon and some baby books. She was well connected to East Coast Big Media. By her own account, she watched a Japanese TV show very similar to what she produced in The Hunger Games. She has an interesting background as the daughter of a high-ranking military officer in the U.S. Army. Scholastic, the publisher of Harry Potter in the U.S., picked up her book, got a great Stephen King blurb for the cover, and published 500,000 books. I’m not sure if that was the first print run, but that’s what got printed before THG hit gigantically big, thanks to a relentless publicity campaign on Amazon and elsewhere.

I’ve reviewed The Hunger Games on Goodreads, I thought it was a mediocre, weird science fiction book, kind of rambling and obsessed with food and clothes, and not at all the “non-stop speed rap” Stephen King claimed it was.

But The Hunger Games hit with the young adult audience, for reasons no one completely understands, and equally mediocre and nonsensical movies have been made, and Suzanne Collins has earned $50 million dollars. Since then, Collins has written a small children’s book about war that pretty much sank like a stone.

So that’s a conventional Traditional Publishing Phenom: a project that went through all the right channels and emerged—to everyone’s surprise—into a blockbuster.

But what about Fifty Shades of Grey? This trilogy has been such a puzzling Phenom, I’m not sure anyone understands it at all.

So there you have it, my friends. Traditional publishing has never been easy and looks to be getting worse than ever. What about all the other books? What about all the other authors?

What about your book? What about you, as an author? If you’re serious about writing fiction, is there any hope?

Yes, there is. But that hope comes with a lot of caveats.

Next: The Fifty Shades of Grey Phenom.

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony. Summer of Love, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords. The Gilded Age, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords. The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) includes all four books. On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony; Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony. Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

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