Once you find your niche, you may want to consider what path you’d like your career to take. I suspect that most of us don’t really decide on a career path. There wasn’t much of a choice when many of us started writing. Back then the choices numbered in the single digits. As in two. Fiction and non-fiction.
If you chose to write non-fiction, which many did because it seemed to offer a chance of earning a real living, you could write for magazines or newspapers.
If you chose to write fiction, where few of the authors earned a living wage, you made a name for yourself writing short stories, then you got an agent who sold your novels to one of about 30 publishers.
Nowadays the choices have changed somewhat. Newspapers are on the ropes. Most of the print magazines that are still alive are more ads than articles. There aren’t many print mags publishing short stories anymore, and the big publishers have bought up one another until there are only six, each with a number of imprints. Meanwhile, an amazing number of small presses have sprung up. Some are healthy and growing, like Samhain and The Wild Rose Press, others such as Triskellion have failed (as 50% of all start-up businesses do). Simultaneously, online opportunities to publish have exploded. You can even self-publish, both digitally or through offset or Print-on-demand (POD).
More titles than ever before are being published, but fewer copies of each. Advances in many genres are being lowered. “Two and out” is not uncommon: your book must succeed quickly, and each book has to sell more than the one before, or your print run will be cut. (Then, in the definition of self-fulfilling prophesy, you will automatically sell fewer copies and you will be cut.) If booksellers don’t unpack and shelve your books promptly, well, too bad.
Amazon announced that last quarter, e-books outsold mass-market. According to a publisher I recently dined with, mass-market is dying. E-books comprise 8.3% of sales and are growing. But that means that at present, traditional books are still 92% of sales.
Planning a career in this time of flux isn’t easy. A lot depends on a writer’s priorities. We all want people to read our work, but how many is enough for a good start? How long are you willing to wait until an agent or editor deems you marketable enough? How much of your writing time are you willing to put toward self-promotion? Are you willing to do everything and self-publish? How important is it to you to have the validation that comes from selling a book to a publisher? Does it have to be one of the Big Six, or will a small press sale do it for you? Is cash-flow important?
There are no right answers, and no single right path. I suspect that as in evolution, the successful author is going to be the one who best adapts to the changing environment.