The Publishing Biz: Will it Break You?

Photo: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launch the Internet these days and you’ll find a deluge of opinions on what it takes to make it as a writer. You can glean expertise about search engine optimization, how to build a platform or leverage social media, garner advice on author branding, book promotion and networking, and find out what’s happening right this moment in the explosive world of ebooks. If the odds were against a writer back in the day, they really have their work cut out now.

You might tremble before the daunting writing, publishing and now marketing journey and wonder how you can possibly succeed. Do you look around and ask, “Are my writing dreams even relevant anymore?” Maybe you think…

  • With ebooks at everyone’s fingertips, the number of titles available has skyrocketed. There are simply too many books out there for any one author to garner much attention. Besides, you’ve missed the latest trend. Your chosen genre has been overdone. Editors have seen it all before and you have nothing new to offer.
  • The economy is still too scary, weak or unstable for you to venture into something so uncertain, and few authors earn enough to quite their day jobs anyway, so why bother?
  • Publishing houses aren’t taking many risks on new authors, and if they do, they aren’t investing in them the way they used to. The good old days are over, and while self-publishing is an option, you don’t have money to invest in it, let alone a website and SEO, and it’s all too complicated anyway.
  • Everyone else is better at social media than you. You’re not part of the ‘in’ social media networking crowd, and that train has already left the station without you—agents and publishers will take one look at your Klout score and break a nail trying to hit the ‘thanks, but no thanks’ button. You can’t possibly catch up.
  • You’re too utterly exhausted after working, volunteering, cooking, cleaning, carpooling, commuting, going to church, tweeting and generally living life to step it up in the writing and publishing game, especially to keep up with rules that seem to change everyday. If you thought you didn’t have the time before, you really don’t have the time now.
  • You don’t have a platform—you’re not even sure you know what a platform is. It probably takes too much time and effort to build one, and frankly, you’d rather stick a rusty fork in your eye than have to promote yourself anyway.
  • It’s easier to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. Industry changes may be a passing phase you can wait out—maybe when the kids are grown, you graduate or you retire. Eventually, the world will revert back to the way it was before, when writers had only to write and there was plenty of ozone left in the northern hemisphere.
  • Your old writing dream is in jeopardy, and you can’t come up with a new one you’re as passionate about, so you’re left to lurk about in a fog no one can lead you from with any certainty.

Maybe you believe some of this—maybe not, but the most likely reason you may fail to achieve your writing dreams is you will simply give them up. Any excuse will work. Pick one.

You can be paralyzed by the changes of today and uncertainty of tomorrow, or you can refuse to dwell on the reasons ‘why not’ and learn what works and what doesn’t from trial and error and from those working alongside you—those who keep putting themselves out there so others can keep dreaming.

What about you? Has the industry changed too much for the dream to appeal to you anymore? Or are you in it for better or worse?

27 thoughts on “The Publishing Biz: Will it Break You?

  1. I think relative newcomers like me have an advantage. We don’t have any memories of the “good old days” of publishing, when authors got big advances and there was hardly any competition…wait, when WAS that anyway?

    Read Balzac. Back in the heyday of newspaper publishing in the 1900s when a greedy public waited eagerly for the next serialized installment of the latest novels, writers starved in garrets.

    Look at Virginia Woolf. She and her husband started up their own little press to publish her own work and other people (like T.S. Eliot) who were great writers but had trouble breaking in. (OK and to stop her from going mad as well; not all ideas pan out.)

    What I’m saying is that it’s always been hard to be a writer. But now we have more options. And yes, self-publishing is expensive, but so was printing out manuscripts to send in the post. And living in the big city so you’d have access to supplies of paper, ink and quill pens, and ye olde literarie agente.

    Now we get to write from anywhere, information and advice is available 24/7, and we have a smorgasbord of opportunities to choose from with just a little research. Yes, the flip side is that everyone and her grandmother has decided to write the book that’s inside them. So what? Social media has become important. And? Good social media tactics can be learned.

    The bottom line is that if you strive to become a really good writer, your work will stand out. And with a little luck and a lot of persistence, you will make something of yourself. That really hasn’t changed much in the last couple of hundred years.

      • Good post Rebecca and good comment Jane! Yes, it’s easier on newbies (like me) because we never belonged to the old world….This said, I suspect our ignorance of the hurdles that await us is what helps us to struggle on. To have a Big Publisher behind, someone savvy and in love with your writing to help you produce your book and market it, that would be a dream! A dream I’d embrace instantly if a Big Publisher ever approached me…Though they say (those who do have Big Publishers and Big Agents) that things are no longer the same, the everyone in the traditional publishing industry has run for cover and is only publishing and pushing the Big Name Authors…
        Ohe well, if that’s the case, I guess I’m just as well off on my own (sigh)…But you do put your finger on a very worrying point, Rebecca: discoverability. With numbers of books skyrocketing, how is one ever to be DISCOVERED? Any ideas? Suggestions? A platform, a brand name, a successful blog, sure, I’d go for all these things. But in the digital tsunami, will that be ENOUGH??

  2. Any profession comes with challenges. I do my best to let the days unfold and follow the green lights. Takes a lot of the worry or envy out of things. Thank you Rebecca for the insights!

  3. Powerful post. Hard to swallow. Yes, I think some of my dreaming has been buried beneath the weight of these present realities. I’m standing at a crossroads right now as it pertains to my writing. This post came at the right time.

    peace~elaine

    • I’m glad I could help a little. I think we’ve all had some of these thoughts at one time or another. I tell myself if I’m doing just one thing every day to reach my writing goals and dreams, it’s a step in the right direction.

  4. You’ve hit on all the reasons not to bother, Rebecca. Those reasons weed out those who wouldn’t be successful anyway. The rest of us “crazies” are persistent and willing to learn, and you need those talents to make it in the writing world. With all the new and cheaper ways to publish and market, it’s never been a better time for writers!

  5. I personally feel a little broken by the publishing industry right now… things haven’t gone like I expected them to and I feel ready to say I’m done… that said, I love to write so it’s all bittersweet. Great post.

    • Thanks for sharing those thoughts, Erin. It actually surprises me to here this from you—you seem to have it all working for you! This just goes to show that we’ve all got those nagging doubts from time to time, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by change. We are not in it alone.

    • This reminds me of how I used to feel when I was a kid ‘if a human being on earth could do it, I could do it.’ Of course, I got in my own way a few times, but if you want something badly enough, this is a great perspective!

  6. Great post. The Internet component is daunting–and I’m really curious where all the ebook trends are taking the industry. But I also think there is great opportunity to share my heart in a variety of venues–and I believe as I seek God’s direction He’ll help me navigate all this. Of course there are days I have to remind myself of this. 😉

  7. There are hurdles to any job, especially if you’re talking about the arts. The odds are stacked against you, but if it is truly your passion, you will persevere, because you love what you’re doing.

    Still, it pays to be a little savvy, and pay attention to what’s going on in your particular industry, not so you can be daunted, but so you can be aware.

    • Great point. There have always been things I love about my ‘day job’ and things I despise about it. Those things I don’t like so much are always absolutely necessary, though. It helps to remember it’s part of the process. (:

  8. In the “old days” I was a nonfiction writer focused more on magazine articles. There’s been changes in that part of the industry too and it’s been painful to see so many markets disappear as magazines fold.
    Now I’m stepping out as a fiction author during this turbulent “who knows what’s next” time in publishing. I’m not walking –or running — away, but sometimes I feel like I’m on a plane that’s hit a bad pocket of turbulence. I’m hanging on, waiting for the pilot to figure out a way to fly the plane out of this mess. I’m not jumping out yet.

    • Glad to hear you’re hanging in there, Beth. If your fiction writing voice is as much fun as your blogging voice, I’m sure you’ll do well. It’s just a matter of time!

  9. Pingback: Sterling Editing » Written on the internet

  10. If I could get a contract, anyone could. Just sayin! I don’t have a massive platform, I am not a stellar writer. However, I am a story-teller.

    I think having a fresh idea, persistance, and learning the ropes is the best advice I could offer.

  11. Good post Rebecca and good comment Jane! i TRIED TO POST THIS EARLIER AND FOR SOME OBSCURE REASON IT CAME UP AS “ANONYMOUS” ! Sorry about that, it’s not my style at all! I always stand behind what I say! So here is my comment again:

    Yes, publishing is easier on newbies (like me) because we never belonged to the old world….This said, I suspect our ignorance of the hurdles that await us is what helps us to struggle on, as suggested by Jane Steen.

    To have a Big Publisher behind, someone savvy and in love with your writing to help you produce your book and market it, that would be a dream! A dream I’d embrace instantly if a Big Publisher ever approached me…Though they say (those who do have Big Publishers and Big Agents) that things are no longer the same, the everyone in the traditional publishing industry has run for cover and is only publishing and pushing the Big Name Authors leaving by the roadside any new author…

    Oh well, if that’s the case, I guess I’m just as well off on my own (sigh)…

    But you do put your finger on a very worrying point, Rebecca: discoverability. With the number of books skyrocketing, how is one ever to be DISCOVERED? Any ideas? Suggestions? A platform, a brand name, a successful blog, sure, I’d go for all these things. But in the digital tsunami, will that be ENOUGH??

    • Great thoughts, Claude—in particular what you say bout being new to the industry—that newness brings with it hope, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective—all good and necessary things, it seems, in this business. I’m not sure there’s a silver bullet for discoverability, I’m sure luck will still have something to do with it (on top of hard work, of course). but to me it seems it will boil down to word of mouth. So how do you get that WOM? That’s the golden question. For me, until I learn otherwise I’ll keep putting myself out there, try to add value, look for opportunities to give without expecting anything in return and worrying less about my Klout score than I do about getting involved with people of like interest. I will continue to watch and learn though, and I don’t plan on giving up anytime soon. (:

Comments are closed.