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The Fairytale of Publishing, and Why It Needs to Die

This post is a real downer, by the way, so you may want to self-care by not reading it. That's totally OK. I'm writing this more for me than for you; just need to get stuff out of my head.


OK, I figured out why that self-publishing headline bothers me so much: Because it gives a false impression as to what the publishing life is really like. Notice how the major media news outlets only talk about books - especially self-published books - if they're "successful".


They tell you when the author makes enough money publishing to quit their day job. They tell you when the author sells enough copies that they attract attention from agents and publishers. They tell you when a traditional publisher picks up the book, and it sells to foreign-language markets, international tours, and TV/film rights are sold.


These are probably meant to be inspirational pieces, as in "It could happen to you, too!" But those chances of it happening are very, very low. And thus I think people go into self-publishing, and maybe publishing at large, thinking they'll live a fairytale life from now on.


And my theory is that this is what a lot of author angst comes from - because it turns out self-publishing isn't a fairytale for them. They go in expecting rewards, or at least making enough money to achieve their goals. They expect only positivity, and seek out validation.


And so it's really not that surprising when they get sad and angry and disappointed that people would rather spend $5 on a cup of coffee, rather than their ebook. When people point out errors in their novels, or things that didn't work for them.


And I can't help but think that maybe so many dreams wouldn't be crushed if they knew ahead of time what was in store for them. How expensive everything is, from websites, to editing, to formatting, to cover art, to printing, to promoting. And that all has to come before people can buy copies, and thus the author starting to earn money. They're already in debt.


Because the major media at large, and upbeat book blogs and industry websites tend to focus on the "successes", these aspiring authors aren't getting the full story, so they can't make fully-informed decisions. Because they don't want to be fully-informed? It's hard to tell.


And traditionally-published authors have other worries, too: Publishers folding, and not paying you what you're owed (bitch better have my money). Your editor leaves the publisher, leaving your book orphaned. Contracts cancelled, option books rejected. Crowdfunded projects that don't get funded.


I remember a traditionally-published author had quit her day job to write full time. But then there was more pressure on her writing to bring in an income. So she got a day job again, but continues to write, and she seems to be enjoying writing more that there's not as much pressure on her to sell.


On the other hand, there's so much doom-and-gloom from WITHIN publishing circles. "Authors are living below the poverty-line." Likely yes, if writing is their only source of income.

I think what's difficult for everyone who loves books to face is...book buying is a luxury that fewer and fewer people are able to afford, thus sales are down, thus and publishers and authors aren't making as much money as they may have in previous times. They may blame piracy and "reader entitlement", but the big issue is...people have to prioritise their spending, and books have to come below paying for shelter, the bills, food, transport, clothing, home repairs, appliances, health care for humans AND pets, and all the other necessities that literally keep us alive and relatively safe. People should NOT be shamed for valuing all of these things above books, or for putting their own finances ahead of authors'.


And it's hard, SO HARD, sometimes to accept all this. We're told that everyone has their place in the world, and when we think we've found our place...it's not enough. It's not valuable enough.


It's a depressing reality, which is why it's hard for so many people to face. And maybe it wouldn't be so hard if only writers knew what they were getting into ahead of time. That the dream they're buying into is only reality for a very small percentage of authors.


It's nice to have dreams, but we also need to protect people. Selling a false ideal to vulnerable dreamers isn't fair to them, or their families. They need protection, and being fully-informed about the truth may provide that protection. But they have to want it. Because it's so bloody hard to face the facts, and it hurts.