I’m not famous. I don’t have a hoard of fans waiting in the wings to gobble up every book I produce. I don’t have legions of social media followers who hang on every word I type, every status update I produce. I don’t even have family members who wait with bated breath to find out when my latest book is going to drop, or what new project I might have brewing in the back of my head. I am reminded of just how woefully unsuccessful I am every time I post a cute meme or quirky status update to the sound of crickets chirping and the total lack of “likes,” “shares,” and “favorites” I get. Each release of a new book and the sales ranking plummeting into the abyss is just another painful reminder of how very, very unsuccessful I am as a writer. The lack of paying customers commissioning me to design their cover art or format their books is another stellar example of how bad I am at marketing not only my books, but my business and my brand.
Every time my mom comes over, I’m sitting at my computer, working on another project, formatting my latest book baby, frantically typing notes for book #15 in a series for which I haven’t even finished writing book #3 yet. And each time she asks me if I’ve made any money off of the many, many years I’ve spent writing and the thousands upon thousands of hours spent at my computer writing, designing, formatting, marketing, and promoting. Each time my reply is always the same – “No, not yet.” And each time she asks me, “Then why do you keep doing this? Are you happy?”
Ten years ago, five years ago, even two years ago I would have answered that question with a very quick “I don’t do this for money, so of course I’m happy.”
But I have a secret. Last year, after signing a contract with a publisher who has since shut their doors, my entire outlook on this endeavor has drastically changed. I’m no longer happy, and not making any money off of the insane amount of time and energy that goes into these projects is becoming harder and harder to bear. When the last glimmer of hope I had died within a few short days of signing my publishing contract and realizing I had been correct all along – that a publisher was going to do little more than slap their name on the inside cover of my book and still leave all the heavy lifting, i.e. all the marketing and promotion of my book to me while taking close to 76% of my royalties – the desire to keep going when I wasn’t getting a single thing in return just wasn’t there anymore.
There is a single truth in the publishing business today, a truth which is a bitter pill to swallow and very difficult for most writers to come to terms with, but a truth nonetheless – an over saturated market and poor quality has led the entire publishing industry to become little more than a dumping ground of everything from Grad A to Grade Z books and shorts. I equate this influx of books and writers to having a giant swimming pool. The problem with inviting everyone into the pool is that everyone will come play in the pool – including those who have no qualms about pooping and peeing in said pool. In other words, while most people will be decent enough to get out of the pool and go use the restroom like civilized, professional people, those who refuse to abide by the rules of “professionalism” ruin it for the rest of us, thus making us all play in the cesspool of urine and feces.
I’ve heard countless authors say the indie-publishing business is a revolution, that Amazon and other publishing platforms have allowed authors who would not normally be picked up by a publisher to have their words shared with the world. It’s a good thing, or so everyone wants to believe. But what happens when everyone is allowed access is the quality suffers greatly. What happens when suddenly anyone with a high school diploma can be a surgeon? Do you want someone operating on you who actually went to med school, or someone who thinks because they watched every single episode of ER three times they know as much about the field as any doctor would? It’s a bit over-the-top, but you get the idea. Everyone has been so focused on whether or not they could do it, they haven’t stopped to think if they should do it. Just because you can rent out a concert hall doesn’t mean you should start selling tickets and sing in front of a sold out crowd when you have never sang before in your life, have never had any formal training other than singing in the shower. It’s just not the same caliber as someone who has spent years studying and honing their craft.
Everyone thinks not having gatekeepers any more is a good thing. While I agree it has given a platform for thousands of writers who have been turned down countless times by trade publishers, it has, at the same time, created a very uneven playing ground. It has done everyone a great injustice, both readers and authors alike, and not for the reasons most authors think. It is less about the quality of the work it kept at bay and more about the quantity of the work it kept at bay. Think about it. No one is making any money off of literature these days. Publishing houses both big and small are shutting their doors. Authors who had made a decent living at this for decades before are now being forced to give up their dreams for one simple economic fact: law of supply and demand. For you see, those publishing companies weren’t necessarily doing much on quality control because, let’s face it, when you have such wonderful gems as Fifty Shades of Grey hitting the bookshelves, it’s painfully obvious some publishers will publish anything they come across if they think it will make them a quick buck. However, what authors fail to realized is those publishers weren’t just keeping a pile of craptacular books off the market, they were keeping a shit-ton of books in general from hitting the market.
Let me repeat that. Publishers were ensuring the few thousand authors who had trade publishing deals kept their jobs by purposely keeping the market from being flooded with hundreds of thousands of books each year. When you control the supply, you control the market. Now that the gatekeepers are no longer in place, the walls have come crumbling down, and what was once a lucrative market for a few thousand choice writers has become a market which has totally bottomed out thanks to an influx of books – again, the simple law of supply and demand. There is now way too much supply and not nearly enough demand for the books that are out there, thereby making an already small piece of pie virtually non-existent. Yet again, let me repeat what publishers already know – when you control the supply, you control the market.
In addition to keeping the influx of books at bay thereby keeping the few authors who were able to make a living at their career of choice busy at their computers, the bypassing of publishers Amazon has granted has imposed a far greater injustice to the hundreds of thousands of wannabe writers out there besides a lack of monetary compensation for their work. Back in the “good old days,” query letters and sample manuscripts were looked over by trained editors who had decades of experience in their field. Rejection letters were oftentimes accompanied with helpful, although admittedly scathing, pointers on what the author needed to improve in their writing. At the young age of fifteen I began my journey into this bitterly cruel world where editors had no qualms about dashing a young girl’s hopes and dreams of becoming a writer. By the time I finished high school, I had received enough rejection letters to wallpaper my entire bedroom. With those rejection letters came enough dream-crushing “pointers” from editors that it is a thousand wonders I didn’t just give up before I ever got started. So the question remained, exactly why did I keep submitting sample chapters and open myself up to ridicule and openly mean rejection letters from editors who were basically telling me I would never make it as a writer? Because with those rejection letters came the gut-wrenching truth: pointers on how I could better myself as a writer. I received free advice with each one of those rejections, advice on how to improve as a writer, advice on my strengths and weaknesses, advice on how to hone my craft. More importantly, I listened. It’s why I am the caliber of story teller that I have become over the years.
Today, writers rarely hear the honest truth about their abilities to weave a good tale, and it has left them all with the inability to not only conduct themselves in a professional manner, but it has left them with unrealistic expectations of success. Perhaps the greatest injustice of all, however, is without trained editors looking over these manuscripts and pointing out everything which needs to be improved, it has left today’s writer with an unwillingness to accept the cold-hard truth that many, many of them just aren’t good writers. When no one is telling them the honest truth, it has left countless authors at the mercy of ruthless reviewers who are more than willing to openly share their thoughts en masse and publicly through Amazon, GoodReads, and countless blogs on just how much they need to improve their craft. Needless to say, it has caused more than a bit of heartache for authors who have sabotaged their own careers by handling the situation and bad reviews with less than grace and poise. If you want someone to pat you on the head and tell you how great you are, give your manuscript to your family and friends. If you want to know exactly how good you are and whether or not you have a chance of competing in the industry and find out what you need to improve on, send your manuscript to the big boy publishers. As the old saying goes, sometimes the truth hurts.
This brings me back to the point of my post. My mom keeps asking me why I keep doing this if I’m not happy and I’m not making any money. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked this myself. Why do I keep torturing myself writing books no one reads? Up until last year, I did it just because I loved to write. But in recent months, I’ve come to realize that I’m tired. I’m tired of giving my work away, I’m tired of having other authors sabotage the entire industry, their careers as well as mine, by producing sub par books and pricing them so cheap I have no hope of every making any money. I’m tired of giving away my talents and not getting compensated for it.
It stops here. I’m damn good at what I do, I have a wealth of knowledge and a lot of talent, and from here on out I’m going to get paid for it. I’ve given so much of myself, more than I care to admit, but there is only so much I can give before the well runs dry. I don’t know about the rest of the authors out there, but I’m tired of working for free, and I’m not going to do it anymore.