Ever since Houghton Mifflin announced that it was placing a freeze on acquisitions, people have been tolling the death knell of publishing. Books are dying, nobody has any money, yada yada yada. OK, it's true that this is not a great season, and numbers are down all over...but I think books will stick around a while longer.
Houghton Mifflin's announcement was unusual, but what they're doing isn't actually so earth-shattering. When times get tight, sales decline, and everyone looks at her submission pile with a gimlet eye. Houghton hastily amended its initial statement to explain that it would still pursue truly special projects. So essentially, their editors will still acquire manuscripts that are really good...which is what we all strive to do anyway. I doubt that any houses are buying so-so books just to fill slots these days--we're all holding out for the best of the best, because it's so tough to make any book work in the marketplace.
Same with bookstores; despite closures and reductions in stock, many people still buy books. And hey, maybe the current economic slump will give a boost to paperbacks, since they're cheaper. Maybe the Kindle will get people to try more titles, since it's so easy to download on the go--I know I buy more music now that I use iTunes. But all in all, I think it's too early to be bringing down the curtain on book publishing as we know it. Sure, this Christmas may be a little thin, but I bet there'll still be books under the tree.
Too many would-be writers are looking at recent events as some sort of indication that they missed their chance to be a published author. Trust me, you haven't. Because there isn't just one chance, and you only control part of it--by writing a terrific book. If you do your part, the "chance" will be there when you're ready for it, tumbling stock market or no. So take a deep breath, get back to the computer, and finish your book. I'm pretty sure we'll still be here to read it when it's ready.