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Surviving Professionally in a Time of Catastrophic Change

When the river of catastrophic change flows through your life, you're left with a lot of bridges to nowhere. When the river of catastrophic change flows through your life, you're left with a lot of bridges to nowhere.

I’d like to do a semi regular column on what to do when catastrophic change hits your field.

To begin with, what is catastrophic change?

Catastrophic change is the term bandied about in my field for what we’re undergoing, but I can’t find a reliable page to point to, since the search engine takes me to links on psychoanalysis and climate predictions, and that’s not at all what I’m talking about here.

Catastrophic change is what happens when things change so fast that there’s no time for plateaus of stability in between.  The image is say that of a raging river.  Before the flood, there are the river banks, after the flood there are different river banks, but in between there is only turmoil.

My field, fiction writing, is at the very beginning of catastrophic change. Amazon opening the ability to self-publish to the public, and now Create Space opening the ability to get your printed books into bookstores are game changers on a scale that hasn’t fully been felt yet, across the publishing industry.  Right now, it feels like the water is ripping up all the familiar landscape – but this is just the very beginning.  I only became aware of this option in 2011, and though it felt to me, when I became aware of it, like I’d missed the boat, in fact I was one of the earliest professionals to dip my toes in publishing.

At the time I took a workshop with Dean Wesley Smith whose excellent Think Like A Publisher details some ways for professionals and beginners to profit from the change.  His wife, (and massively successful traditional-and-indie author) Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote an article about how this change is affecting some of the old prosJudith Tarr did a post on what the industry was like to writers (and readers) before.

By and large, at least in my opinion, this change is positive.  But even though a flood might bring much needed water to a parched region, in the middle of it it’s very hard for any individual to know where to be, what to do, what will bring success and what will destroy a career you’ve spent years establishing.

For those who don’t want to dwell into the dysfunctional bowels of the publishing industry ante nor the confused bowels of the publishing industry after (and trust me, it’s all bowels, all the way down,) since you’re reading this at PJmedia, it might be easier to understand the process of catastrophic change as it hit journalism started in around 2001.  Around 2000, we had newspapers, the main stream media, and plucky voices of dissent like Reason or National Review.  Now, newspapers are caught in a tsunami of change that has them scrambling for an online presence, trying out new ways of doing business, and still at risk of failing because the new, plugged-in model is leaner, more diverse, and – born of changing circumstances – better able to survive chaos.